How Weaponizing Citizenship Hurts the Justice System

Should governments permit their citizens who joined ISIS’s caliphate to return home? According to the law, yes. In spite of it, some countries are saying no.

Hoda Muthana, a college student and American citizen, left her home in Alabama for Syria, becoming an ISIS bride and the mother of a now 18-month-old son. Four years after she left the United States, Hoda is expressing enormous regret and remorse, pleading for the U.S. government to uphold her constitutional right to return to America [PDF], and accepting that she will likely face serious legal consequence as a result.

Likewise, Shamima Begum, a British citizen who at age 15 left for Syria, is also asking the United Kingdom to respect her right to return, along with her newborn, who is also a British citizen. Despite their legal obligations, the United States and the United Kingdom have not only barred these women’s entry but are attacking the foundations of that right by going after Hoda and Shamima’s citizenship—a status which is indisputably theirs to hold. 

Deprivation of citizenship is an act usually linked with despotic and authoritarian regimes. Images come to mind of mass expulsion of Dominicans of Haitian descent expelled from the Dominican Republic, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the coercion of Japanese-Americans to relinquish citizenship using internment during World War II. Yet today, citizenship revocation is a dangerous trend emerging among political leaders in what most would call established democracies. The United States and the United Kingdom have come too far to revert to arcane practices of exile and banishment.

Citizenship is the most fundamental of human rights. It is not a privilege, reserved for those without flaw, but instead a right in every legal sense of the word. The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged this fact in 1967 when it held that a government lacks authority to revoke citizenship, declaring that the court did “no more than to give to this citizen that which is his own.” 

The Court has ruled many times on the unconstitutionality of unilateral citizenship deprivation, including in cases of criminal misconduct, holding that “[c]itizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior . . . deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the government may use to express its displeasure at a citizen’s conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be.” Just as we would not expect another parent to care for one’s own misbehaving child, the government cannot offload those they deem undesirable onto other foreign states. Similarly, in these situations, it is not another nation’s responsibility to deal with another nation’s citizens. If misconduct makes one unworthy of citizenship in one country, it would presumably make one equally unworthy of citizenship elsewhere.

Relinquishing responsibility for one’s citizens by transforming them into foreigners undermines the global cohesion needed to address the cross-jurisdictional threat of terrorism, and there is no evidence that stripping citizenship is effective in tackling the problem. Not only is the method absurd; it is negligent at best. Rejecting suspected terrorists from entering their own county based on a national security rationale is antithetical to national security. The U.S. government has even asked other governments to do what they will not in Muthana’s case. In early February 2019, the U.S. State Department called “upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens” implicated for involvement with ISIS in Syria.

Some analysts point to the lack of availability of evidence in ISIS-related cases, and the concern there is not enough to convict, meaning perpetrators could walk free in their home countries. However, the United States and the United Kingdom have robust legal systems in place to deal with criminal misconduct—and particularly terrorism. Banishing citizens for such misconduct not only allows the person to evade accountability; it undermines a country’s claim of having strong rule of law and signals that it can't—or won't—administer justice in these cases.

The options are simple: allow citizens to return and face justice, or keep them out and let them remain free with impunity. Exiling nationals is the work of tyrants, not democracies; and revocation of citizenship without due process is contrary to the values of the U.S. justice system and the British one on which it was modeled. Declaring Hoda and Shamima no longer citizens is not just illegal, it is wrong.

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I agree and would be happy to sign an appropriate petition.

We have the same question in Switzerland and it does not seem to be answered yet. I think those young ones should go back to their own countries and be re-educated and not be judged in a court. They have been called to join ISIS and it was an exiting change from a boring life.
Reminds us of the Spanish war.

Declaring Hoda and Shamima no longer citizens is not just illegal, it is wrong.

Today, more than ever, core human rights' principles will keep us all from havoc. They are there like a beacon for all of us to see and abide by.

I am reading at this minute that the Swiß government has decided not to let the Swiß who joined ISIS come back home. They say they should take their own responsibilities and be judges where ever they are.

Common sense says that revoking citizenship of people who repent after having turned against us will only further alienate them and lead to retaliation. I vote to welcome these people back to the U.S. and place them on probation and a requirement to make restitution. Once they have fulfilled that requirement, they are one within the U.S. family. Isn't it better to help them in such a way that they feel gratitude instead of bitterness?

Attacks on Citizenship should not be a political tool for any government to use on its citizens!

The matter is not Deprivation of citizenship, but the interest of application of law vs those whom have broken it.
They should be hold as nationals and preserve their citinzenship related rights, but also be processed for the crimes they’ve committed.

The article is quite write that denying the legal right to return is the illegal, unconstitutional and disrespect for fundamental inalienable human, social and political rights.

Governments are showing their weakness, panic and taking the law into own hands without due process, comparable to marshal laws, as a result governments only lose the vote of confidence.

Right to repatriate and prosecution is the civil and organised way forward, should there be not sufficient evidence, is the government or the members of justice resort to desperate measures of giving into corruption by fabricating evidence to force their own ideas and give in to the fear of terrorism? I doubt. It's an offense to anyone, to not abide by law including members of parliament. By analogy then, anyone taking part to a war (most of the wars are illegal) should not be allowed to return, but join the enemy forces and indirectly contribute to its expansion, or to make the person as a refugee, whom the country of origin is illegally neglecting to protect, in violation of international laws.

The issue is a matter of international law, which rulings are above sovereign states, deserving sanctiond at worst. Could the answers lie in the opinion of the UN, beyond the nation states whom are not respecting the foundations of the civilized nations? States may be seen of giving up their sovereign rights to govern. The prosecution of the members of the terrorist organisations are the duties of the sovereign states, it comes with that responsibility or is it exchanging it with the state on whose territory the combat is taking place?

One thing we must remember, politicians want to please the society with a need to gain votes and do not want to be seen of taking a side or another, which simply leaves a vacuum of order misplaced and political rumors. The law is clear and justice must be bound. There has been bigger matters e.g. world wars, this is rather small and there is no need to invent new laws to deal with few people returning.

Infelizmente colhemos os frutos que plantamos. Esses povos só trouxeram desgraça ao mundo e consequentemente a proteção de um povo trabalhador e honesto (Americanos) custa o sacrifício dos que não devem (Síria), mas fazem parte de uma família de membros contaminados. Não tiro a razão de Trump, mas a justiça no Tribunal é a melhor solução. Na verdade precisamos ajudar a reconstruir o país deles e levá-los de volta pra casa. Precisamos ser menos políticos e mais inteligentes na reconstrução de pátrias falidas.

Bring her home. This is an example proving how weak United States citizenship really is if the government can arbitrarily revoke anyone's citizenship to make political points to stir up a Nationalist base for their support. Young people are not fully mature to make decisions that will affect their entire lives and frequently make mistakes. She ran away from home but ran further than most. It is time to bring her home. PLEASE . . .

Liberty is being presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court where morality and rule of law are decided upon by a jury of the defendants peers. There has been a frieghtening trend in the US to skip due process and go directly to sentencing. Tyrany and despotism is what America escaped to be free. They say history repeats itself, hopefully we will stop this before it goes full circle.

Please read this statement--good points are made.

While I agree with the author that citizenship stripping is an abhorrent practice, she is simply assuming that Hoda is in fact a US citizen. To my knowledge, neither the Obama nor the Trump administrations have asserted they have the right to strip a US citizen of their citizenship for misbehaviour. They are making a factual argument that she is not in fact, nor has she ever been, a US citizen. It is a case that will decided on the facts. The UK, on the other hand, does believe it has the right to revoke citizenship, but as a result of parliamentary supremacy, they probably do. There the argument against citizenship stripping has to be a moral and political one.

I agree.

There is no evidence that keeping suspected terrorists out of the country keeps us safer? Are you crazy? And this is war, a war that ISIS declared in the West with innumerable social media posts. And in war, the rules of war apply, not criminal law. Many of these women do to even have the common sense to say that ISIS and terrorism is wrong, and they think that the countries that they support attacks on will take them back. If the love Islam and hate the West, they can stay in Islamic countries. See how great they are.

As a veteran of the United States Navy, it is my humble opinion that if you renounce your country & encourage others to kill your fellow Americans, as was clearly stated in social media posts, then you have renounced your rights as a citizen of this great nation. You cannot have it both ways. Either you support your country & work within the system to make changes. By becoming "radicalized", leaving your country ON YOUR OWN, & encouraging others to kill & maim your fellow countrymen, it appears to me that you've made your decision. You chose to leave this great nation. Now you must live with the consequences. As far as I'm concerned, you should NEVER be allowed to return!


I think Hoda and Shamima and many others who are trapped in this cycle should be allowed to return home and face the courts of law in their respective countries. revoking of their citizenship will not solve the terrorism problems and will deny justices for both the perpetrators and the victims. We need to promote restorative justice rather than distributive justice. USA and UK have well founded legal systems to handle these type of cases

It is not difficult to discern that the practical man in social reform is exactly the same animal as the practical man in every other department of human energy, and may be discovered suffering from the same twin disabilities which stamp the practical man wherever found: an inability to define his own first principles and an inability to follow the consequences proceeding from his own action.

Conversely, fifty years ago it would have seemed quite impossible in America that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose but simply for the satisfaction of his whims. The defense of individual rights has reach such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.

'The defense of individual rights has reach such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.'

And this is why so many ppl do not think they shd be allowed to return. In the UK, the gov was very conscious of the public mood. But also of law. Apparently Shamima Begum effectively had dual citizenship through her mother -Bangladesh - and it is legal to remove nationality in cases of dual nationality. Also, she could apply to live with her husband in Denmark.

I believe the decision to strip citizenship followed an interview with her where she showed little remorse. It's also important to consider that deradicalisation programs in the UK appear to have little success.

EU laws prevent us deporting vile people who preach our destruction and prisoners seem to lead fairly comfortable lives these days. They can also vote now thanks to the EU.
I'm more sympathetic to those who show remorse. For instance I would agree with them being allowed back to face justice on a temporary basis that would be rescinded immediately there was evidence of continued support for ISIS &/or the form of Islam that doesn't respect Western values.

Como pueden considerarse paises libres y democráticos al tiempo que niegan el respecto a la ciudadanía a mujeres y niños partiendo de prejuicios políticos?

Dress it up any which way you want but both Hoda Muthana and Shamima Begun chose their current misfortunate situations.
When Isis was successful they were happy to renounce the West, produce babies for the caliphate, join in the rape and murder of Yazidi, and worst. Only now with things going tits up for them do they wish to return to the countries they once publicly wanted to destroy. Prison in the UK or USA is a holiday compared to life in a refugee camp surrounded by those who they went to Syria to dominate.
To allow these women, and the thousands of others both male and female who believe as they do to return is madness and little short of appeasement. The West is in a war with Islam and thus far we are losing. Their stated aim is to use our laws to conquer us, and then their laws to force us all to be muslims.
It's loopholes being used to keep Muthana, Begum and the others out, but unfortunately it's all we have until our feeble politicians put the safety and security of the law abiding majority before the 'rights' of those who would slit our throats or blow us to kingdom come in a heartbeat.

In times of war sometimes the unpalatable must be contemplated to protect the innocent. Heed the words of those two women, the words of the imams who preach to them and their ilk. according to them islam is already at war with the West.

We have to fight like with like or there will be no liberal, democratic West for our children and grandchildren to inherit, only 7th century theocracy, child marriage, female g genital mulitation, misogengy, death and destruction for minorities. Women and religious minorities have no rights where islam rules.

I think if she left and joined ISIS and gave them support she gave up her citizenship by doing that. She's a terrorist now as I see it. Should could get in contact with Iran and see if they might like to let her come there.

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