Revoking Citizenship for Americans Who Fight With Syrian Jihadists

Joseph Klein is a Harvard-trained lawyer and the author of Global Deception: The UN’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom and Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations & Radical Islam.


syrian_islamists_146545445Syria has become a magnet for many radical Islamist sympathizers from outside Syria, who have gone over to join the jihad against Bashar Assad’s regime. While the vast bulk of the foreigners are from other Middle Eastern countries or from North Africa and Asia, Westerners, including some Americans, have also shown up to fight.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller expressed concern last month that Americans fighting with jihadists abroad, including in Syria, will bring back the training and radical ideas they picked up and decide to “undertake an attack upon the homeland.”

Syria, Mueller said, is a harbor for “radical extremists who want to do harm” to the United States.

Estimates vary as to how many Americans may be involved in actual fighting with the jihadists against the Assad regime, but it could be as many as several dozen. That number may rise further if the Syrian conflict intensifies and the United States becomes more deeply involved. Europeans have joined the jihadists from countries such as Germany, France, Great Britain and Belgium. They would be able to enter the United States rather easily, because European nationals often do not require an advance visa to do so.

Tracking the movements of would-be jihadist Americans and Europeans in places like Syria is hard enough. But even with good tracking methods and border controls, a serious question confronts us: What do we do about the American citizens – native born or naturalized – seeking to return to their own country after their Syria jihad days are over? Can the U.S. government strip them of their citizenship on grounds related to their active participation on the side of terrorists sworn to America’s destruction?

Consider this question in the context of the government’s indefinite detention and target lists of U.S. citizens abroad who are suspected of engaging in hostilities against the United States under the auspices of a foreign terrorist organization. Such extreme actions against U.S. citizens have not yet been adjudicated flatly illegal by the courts. On the face of it, wouldn’t stripping such an individual of his or her U.S. citizenship be less onerous than depriving the individual of his or her life or liberty? It would seem so, but things are not always as simple as they may appear to be.

Before looking at the limited legal bases for removal of citizenship that currently exist, including proof that a citizen has taken up arms against the United States, what happens when an American citizen is fighting abroad alongside terrorists against a foreign regime that the United States government itself views as an adversary? This would be the case in Syria today.

As former FBI Director Mueller fears, the individual currently operating with the jihadists against the Assad regime, which the U.S. government also opposes, may pick up training and become more motivated to use that training to carry out an attack on the homeland upon his or her return to the United States. However, possibilities of such future action, without some sort of concrete overt conduct by the U.S. citizen in that direction, is most likely insufficient in itself to legally justify removal of citizenship.

More generally, the Supreme Court ruled over 45 years ago that citizens of the United States may not be deprived of their citizenship involuntarily (Afroyim v. Rusk). “Congress has no power under the Constitution to divest a person of his United States citizenship absent his voluntary renunciation thereof,” the 1967 majority opinion stated in a case involving a Polish-born man who had voted in an Israeli election after having become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Citing the citizenship privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court concluded in its 5 to 4 decision that “Once acquired, this Fourteenth Amendment citizenship was not to be shifted, canceled, or diluted at the will of the Federal Government, the States, or any other governmental unit.”

In a 1980 case (Vance v. Terrazas), the Supreme Court ruled that intent to relinquish citizenship needed to be proved directly by itself, and not automatically inferred from an individual’s having voluntarily performed any action designated by Congress as being incompatible with an intent to keep one’s citizenship.

Thus, there is some well-established court precedents limiting the government’s ability to remove an individual’s citizenship. However, the tide may be turning in favor of the government when it comes to combating the scourge of terrorism.

While not a case involving citizenship revocation, a 6-3 Supreme Court decision in 2010, authored by Chief Justice Roberts (Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project), upheld a federal statute which makes it a federal crime to “knowingly provid[e] material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization,” as designated by the Secretary of State. The Roberts court concluded that the criminal ban did not violate the First Amendment freedom of speech or freedom of association protections.

Justice Roberts wrote that the “government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order” and cited the “common defense” clause of the preamble to the Constitution to support his conclusion:

“The Preamble to the Constitution proclaims that the people of the United States ordained and established that charter of government in part to ‘provide for the common defence.’ As Madison explained, ‘[s]ecurity against foreign danger is . . . an avowed and essential object of the American Union.’ We hold that, in regulating the particular forms of support that plaintiffs seek to provide to foreign terrorist organizations, Congress has pursued that objective consistent with the limitations of the First and Fifth Amendments.”

Such reasoning in an analogous case indicates that the current Supreme Court may well be inclined to revisit the limits on citizenship revocation established by decades-old decisions from the days of more liberal Supreme Court majorities, especially when support of terrorists is involved.

Of course, an individual’s conviction for an act of treason against the United States would be enough to trigger the government’s right to remove that person’s citizenship, but proof of treason is a very high hurdle for the government to overcome.

Short of proof of actual treason, the government may be able to argue that an individual’s intent to relinquish citizenship can be presumed by the very specific action of actively supporting armed forces engaged in hostilities against the United States. A federal statute (8 USC § 1481) provides that a citizen’s taking up arms against the U.S. provides sufficient grounds to establish that such an individual has in effect made the decision to voluntarily relinquish his or her U.S. citizenship. However, the statute containing such grounds for revocation of citizenship refers specifically to “the armed forces of a foreign state,” not to non-state militia or terrorist groups. Moreover, if application of this federal statute were to be challenged in a citizenship revocation hearing, the Roberts court would in fact have to move beyond the constraints imposed by the earlier Supreme Court cases in order for the government to prevail.

Naturalized citizens may run afoul of another federal statute (8 USC § 1451) and have their naturalization revoked on additional grounds such as refusal to testify before Congress within ten years of being naturalized regarding their involvement in any subversive activities. Subversive activities include belonging to a terrorist organization aimed at overthrowing or undermining the U.S. government. A naturalized citizen may also lose his or her citizenship if the U.S. government can prove that such person joined a subversive organization within five years of becoming a naturalized citizen. Subversive organizations would presumably include al Qaeda and its affiliates.

A bill introduced in the United States Senate last year, entitled the Enemy Expatriation Act, would authorize the federal government to revoke the citizenship of anyone voluntarily “engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States.” This standard is too broad, providing the Obama administration and future presidents with another weapon to punish or intimidate political enemies. It should focus instead specifically on the threat posed by citizens providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations and affiliates engaged in hostilities against the United States.

Congress would do well to consider adding language such as the following to the existing federal statute dealing with revocation of citizenship (8 USC § 1481):

“Any person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization shall lose his or her nationality by knowingly providing material resources or support to a foreign terrorist organization designated as such by the State Department, including by engaging in hostilities, operational or propaganda activities on behalf of, in coordination or under common cause with such foreign terrorist organization or its affiliates.”

Citizenship is not an absolute right. It carries responsibilities and obligations. A U.S. citizen who betrays his or her own country by teaming with foreign state or non-state entities bent on our destruction should forfeit the rights, protections and privileges of U.S. citizenship and be expelled from the country.

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  • Jakareh

    Revoking their citizenship would be way Islamophobic! What’s wrong with jihad, anyway? It’s all about self-improvement and doing good, wholesome things, like exercising and picking up your kids at school. I have that on the authority of ads on Chicago city buses, and you know the people who put those up really CAIR.

  • Warren Raymond

    OMG! The libtards would go apeshit over this one. Can you imagine how many heroes we would be creating? They already worship the Gitmo apes, they never got over “Abu Ghraib” and now revoking citizenship?

    What’s next, exile?

    Wish it were so!

    • 123

      I am against Al Qaida and generally against Arab countries. I also am against you and I am a proud liberal. I respect coervatives too.

      However, you personally Warren Raymond, you who call me a “libtard” you are not seeing me as a fellow citizen, but as an enemy. I like reciprocity: if you consider me an enemy, I certainly consider you an enemy too, and I will call you a “conservaturd”. Regards, you conservaturd.

  • Chris Caley

    I hate the fact that the Constitution made us 14th Amend citizens to begin with. Citizenship is not something to have in the hands of the 535 ass-clowns in Washington. Especially since DHS has designated people like Occupy Protestors and Ron Paul supporters as potential domestic terrorist. Before you knew it, every suspect class of citizen would be stateless.

    • Gee

      Didn’t they already classify returning veterans as potential domestic terrorists?

  • Texas Patriot

    Not only that. Supplying arms to Syrian jihadists should also be considered as aiding in the commission of crimes against humanity.

    • Headed4TheHills

      Well shucks, Tex, does that mean the Usurper in Chief is losin’ his citizenship? Jus’ when he’s extendin’ it to all them illegals?

      • objectivefactsmatter

        If justice is served in our time, then yes.

    • Gee

      Didn’t the US already do that with Nacro-terrorists in Mexico? I believe the person that authorized it was the Attorney General of the United Nations (oops meant States, my bad)

    • objectivefactsmatter

      “Not only that. It is entirely possible that supplying arms to Syrian jihadists should be considered as aiding in the commission of crimes against humanity.”

      Our government should be concerned with crimes against our nation.

      • Texas Patriot

        OFM: “Our government should be concerned with crimes against our nation.”

        Aiding and abetting Al Qaida-affiliated jihadists arguably IS a crime against our nation. Has AQ sworn to destroy America? Yes, indubitably. Are the rebels in Syria affiliated with AQ? Yes, apparently. Have some American politicians allied themselves with Syrian rebels? Yes, without question. Have American politicians caused arms to be supplied to Syrian rebels? Who knows?

        • objectivefactsmatter

          “Aiding and abetting Al Qaida-affiliated jihadists arguably IS a crime against our nation.”

          And that is what our government should be concerned with.

          “Are the rebels in Syria affiliated with AQ? Yes, apparently. Have some American politicians allied themselves with Syrian rebels? Yes, without question. Have American politicians caused arms to be supplied to Syrian rebels? Who knows?”

          We need to find out in comprehensive detail what can be proved. This is ridiculous as it is. Benghazi will certainly be a place of interest for that investigation when we finally go looking for traitors.

  • sendtheclunkerbacktochicago

    Here is one for ya Joe. Lt. Mike Zullo, the lead investigator is a 23 month long criminal investigation of Barach H. Obama has packaged their evidence and presenting it in briefings to Congresspersons and other Washington DC VIPS over the past 3 weeks. The evidence proves that Barack H. Obama has NO legitimate American birth certificate which resulted in him creating one using a computer to produce a PDF birth certificate made up of fraudulent information. Reed Hayes, a forensic document expert once used by the Obama administration declared it a complete and utter forgery. Many other document experts working for Major General Paul Vallely also declared it a forgery. Obama, the Commander in Chief may not be an American citizen. It is quite possible he may be a dual citizen, both making him a usurper and in need of an investigation. Obama may very well be this nation’s top national security risk and we are allowing him to make the decision to bomb the hell out of Syria. You have got to be kidding. How about looking into this Joe Klein?

  • WhiteHunter

    Astonishing. Voting in an election of a friendly, fully westernized ally (Israel) was thought to be sufficient grounds for revoking U.S. citizenship; but being caught armed, filthy, and putrid on a battlefield, shooting at U.S. troops and CIA agents–as Lindh, the filthy, traitorous idiot from California who now washes his feet 5 times a day and demands the consolation of an ayatollah and “prayer group” to mutter about Allah in prison did–has never been?
    Lindh should have been shot for treason right there, in that medieval mud fortress in Afghanistan. THEN let the ACLU and the Supreme Court dither about his “citizenship.”

  • R2D2Censored

    Had this proposed wording and statute been the “Law of the Land” back in the 1970′s; our current Secretary of State, John “Traitor” Kerry would have lost his citizenship!

  • Solo712
  • V2Media

    Oh my God, it’s all American troops will be withdrawn? Chân tay giả

  • LindaRivera

    U.S. forces have armed and trained FSA rebels, Al Qaeda and other Muslim terrorists to fight the Syrian people and the SECULAR Assad regime.
    Syria’s Christians are being specifically targeted for horrific atrocities by the U.S. backed Muslim terrorists. The Obama regime has blood guilt for every atrocity and murder of innocents.
    Under Assad, Christians have been protected.

    The ultimate U.S. goal is to destroy Syria’s secular government and replace it with the extremely cruel Muslim Brotherhood.

    It is highly possible that U.S. forces have armed and trained Muslims who left America, Europe and Britain to fight against Syria. The Muslim infidel-haters will return battle-experienced to fight DAILY JIHAD in Europe, Britain, America and Canada.

    In Britain, join Paul Weston’s heroic LIBERTY GB http://libertygb.org.uk/v1/

    Read Paul Weston’s outstanding article:
    Why Is This Not Treason?
    http://libertygb.org.uk/v1/index.php/news-libertygb/6024-why-is-this-not-treason

  • Guest

    Misplaced.

  • Drakken

    Quit trying to solve the muslim jihadist problem with a law enforcement/judicial system solution, and start using the military/intelligence community to deal with the problem with a more expedient means, otherwise this is just an exercise in futility.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      We actually need both. Even after we defeat them on the battlefield, sniveling fatalistic losers that remain alive will see this as allah’s call to go back and feign loyalty to the USA again.

      OTOH, maybe you’re thinking along the same lines as me that you don’t need to strip citizenship from traitors in order to shoot them.

      • Drakken

        Exactly! Shoot them now or pay the devil later.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    “Citizenship is not an absolute right. It carries responsibilities and obligations. A U.S. citizen who betrays his or her own country by teaming with foreign state or non-state entities bent on our destruction should forfeit the rights, protections and privileges of U.S. citizenship and be expelled from the country.”

    The only truly inalienable right is the right to due process. All other rights are contingent upon something or the other.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Syria has become a magnet for many radical Islamist sympathizers from outside Syria

    One of these days the writer is going to have to explain to us how he can consider some Muslims radical Islamists, much less radical Islamist sympathizers, when the reality is that all Muslims in the world are jihadists in one form or another. Otherwise, they are blasphemous apostates that according to the texts and tenets of Islam must be executed. Thus, what makes them radical as opposed to other jihadists?

    Former FBI Director Robert Mueller expressed concern last month that Americans fighting with jihadists abroad, including in Syria, will bring back the training and radical ideas they picked up and decide to “undertake an attack upon the homeland.”

    Proof positive that the former director was a bungling incompetent moron that didn’t have the first clue.

    Syria, Mueller said, is a harbor for “radical extremists who want to do harm” to the United States.

    Yeah right…what a moron! I bet that moron also believes that the millions of stealth jihadists living in America are really moderate Muslims, even though the existence of so-called moderate Muslims is an impossibility given the very totalitarian nature of Islam.

    Tracking the movements of would-be jihadist Americans and Europeans in places like Syria is hard enough.

    Starting with GWB, if our politicians weren’t incredibly incompetent to say the least, instead of doubling the size, scope, and power of the federal government in order to allegedly stop terrorist attacks on the homeland, which isn’t even an Islamic manifestation, by the way, they would have outlawed Islam and banned and reversed mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage instead since in reality it is really stealth and deceptive non-violent jihad for the purpose of demographic conquest and common sense also says that zero Muslims living in America translates into zero jihad.

    What do we do about the American citizens – native born or naturalized – seeking to return to their own country after their Syria jihad days are over?

    How about exercising common sense: All Muslims should be ethnically cleansed from the West and Islam should be banned and outlawed, since the sole fundamental purpose of Islam is the subjugation of all religions and all infidels into Islamic totalitarianism through violent and non-violent jihad and the eventual imposition of Sharia, which is Islamic totalitarian law, and because all Muslims are jihadists in one form or another. Otherwise, they are blasphemous apostates that the texts and tenets of Islam says must be executed.

    Can the U.S. government strip them of their citizenship on grounds related to their active participation on the side of terrorists sworn to America’s destruction?

    This writer still doesn’t have the foggiest notion about what he is talking about, as Muslims fight jihad, which is holy fighting in the cause of Allah for the establishment/expansion of Islam instead, and which is a manifestation unique only to Islamic society. Meanwhile, people like the Unabomber, Bernadine Dohrn, and Bill Ayers are terrorists, on the other hand. Indeed, because like a loon this writer and his ilk mislabel what is really jihad as somehow being terrorism, the left is able to get away with claiming that such attacks have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.

    Such extreme actions against U.S. citizens have not yet been adjudicated flatly illegal by the courts.

    If jihad were understood for what it actually is instead of conflated and morally equated as being terrorism, there would be no need for such idiotic adjudication. Indeed, jihad is specifically acts of war perpetrated against Americans by Muslims since jihad as opposed to terrorism is specifically and only holy fighting in the cause of Allah for the establishment/expansion of Islam.

    Okay…time to stop reading this garbage before I experience permanent brain damage. What a waste of my time as ususal. One would think that writers would at the very least be educated on the subject matter they are writing about, but that obviously isn’t the case at least with this particular writer, as he doesn’t have a clue.

    • moneekwa

      given the quran/ahadith state clearly that the true muslim has allegiance only to allaah and islam, NOT any man-made government, in my book, any profsed muslim, by declaring their adherence to islam, technically renounces their citizenship of any non-muslim country.

      • ObamaYoMoma

        I agree!

  • Muck Fuslims

    So Hussein Obama and all politicians and all administrative personnel who go along with his support and armament of the Syrian terrorists should be arrested.

  • http://dieabnehmlosung.de/ Daniel Paine

    Congress would do well to consider adding language such as the
    following to the existing federal statute dealing with revocation of
    citizenship (8 USC § 1481):

    spybubble funciona

  • USARetired

    AMEN to that! Fighting with any anti American rebel force, or enemy of America should cost hem their citizenship automatically, and without pause !

  • hyedenny

    “A U.S. citizen who betrays his or her own country by teaming with
    foreign state or non-state entities bent on our destruction should
    forfeit the rights, protections and privileges of U.S. citizenship and
    be expelled from the country.”

    STARTING WITH OBAMA.

  • gyrwan

    I don’t understand.
    Why should “Congress … to consider adding language …. to the existing federal statute dealing with revocation of citizenship (8 USC § 1481)”?

    If it’s alright to kill them without changing the law; then why change the law?

    If “providing material resources or support to a foreign terrorist organization” ALREADY works a legal renunciation of citizenship; then wouldn’t adding this language be redundant and unnecessary?

    • gyrwan

      What, btw, is the justification for revoking the citizenship of Americans who do not engage in hostilities against the United States, but engage in hostilities against another government?
      If this language had been in place in 1940, wouldn’t it have required that the U.S. government to revoke the citizenship of any American of French ancestry who went to France to join the resistance? Or an American who fought with Czech or Romanian resistance to the Soviets? Or any resistance or insurrection in any civil war?, … in any country? … anywhere? … ever?

  • 123

    Ted Cruz was born in Canada and you guys want him president. CANADA! Not the United States.

  • Tradewinds

    Good idea but make them get in the back of the line.. Thousands of Americans are lined up at our embassies to renounce their citizenship and just want to get out.. They are taxed without representation and when they try to vote, their vote seldom is ever counted.. Just like the military, Americans overseas just don’t count when it comes to being an American..