Revoking Citizenship of Terrorists and Traitors Is Assuredly the Right Thing to Do

By Dan Cadman on October 3, 2014

Andy Semotiuk recently wrote an opinion piece for Forbes magazine ("Immigration Law: Is Revoking the Citizenship of Terror Suspects Right or Wrong?"), arguing against a bill Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently attempted to move through the Senate under streamlined procedures.

That bill would have deemed joining the foreign terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of the Levant, or ISIL) as an act of renunciation of citizenship on the part of any American, native-born or naturalized. Cruz's attempt was blocked by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

The objection from Sen. Hirono is puzzling. There is already precedent in immigration and nationality law for such a bill. Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1481, deems that an individual loses his citizenship if he takes an oath or makes an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after having attained the age of 18 years; or enters or serves in the armed forces of a foreign state if such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States.

ISIS fighters take an oath not only to the "caliphate" they are joining, but a personal oath of loyalty to Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, known as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-styled "imam" and "caliph" who is head of ISIS, and who has made no secret of his ambitions to ultimately conquer not only the Levant but also the West. Nor is there any doubt that ISIS is engaged in hostilities against the United States: witness their beheading of American (and other Western) hostages; and take note of the tenor and substance of their propaganda videos.

Mr. Semotiuk seems to be arguing, though, not only against Cruz's bill, but against the whole notion of depriving individuals of their citizenship, arguing that "The alarming and growing Western reliance on denaturalization as a tool for dealing with criminal or odious behaviour is an abdication of society's responsibility in dealing with such conduct."

By way of example, he relates the example of Weekly Standard reporter and routine Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes, who was recently placed on a federal watchlist for travel to Turkey (a gateway to Syria and ISIS). He seems to suggest that, under a new regimen, Hayes would be subjected to automatic revocation of citizenship. This linkage is so tenuous, the analogy so strained, that it doesn't pass the straight face test.

As to Hayes' coming to federal authorities' attention after travel to Turkey: call me insensitive, call me illiberal, but I am pleased. For too long, our officials (and those of other Western nations) have been shockingly inattentive to who is traveling into conflict-affected areas, or why. That is the reason that the ranks of foreign ISIS fighters have swelled into the thousands. And that is also the reason why, at the behest of President Obama acting in a rare appearance as chairman, the United Nations Security Council recently voted to require nations to do exactly what our country has apparently done in Hayes' case: begin investigating such travel to attempt to impede the flow of foreign recruits showing up at ISIS's doorstep to be used as fighters, human bombs, or even, as one recent bizarre case revealed, as nurse-brides.

In making his argument that the proper course of action is not to strip individuals of citizenship, but to prosecute them, Mr. Semotiuk cites for his readers the contents of the federal law against treason (which, although he does not statutorily reference it, can be found at 18 U.S.C. § 2381). His anti-loss-of-citizenship stance is perhaps understandable. After all, he is, as the short bio attached to the article makes clear, an immigration lawyer; an advocate. Considered in this light, his opinion simply represents one more piece of advocacy, not with a particular client in mind, perhaps, but advocacy nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Mr. Semotiuk has been selective in his presentation of statutes. The very same statute I mentioned above, Section 349 of the INA, makes clear that acts of treason also merit loss of citizenship. How could it be otherwise? Treason is the ultimate betrayal; a deliberate breach of the social contract.

Among the propaganda and recruiting videos put out by ISIS (whose videographer is believed to be a "dual" Syrian and American citizen), is one directly aimed at foreigners contemplating joining the group. It makes proud use of the word traitor, in a clear attempt to minimize the enormity of betrayal to one's country; to encourage Americans and other westerners to take that final step, to make the final breach. It is the ultimate irony that the terrorists themselves do not hesitate to use the word that others, exercising an inappropriate and mistakenly liberal outlook, shy away from.

Does anyone doubt that we are in an existential struggle against this terrorist group with unfettered ambitions? And by "existential" I mean, literally, a struggle for existence in which there can only be one winner.

How, then, can we shy away from what is necessary to protect our shores from this menace? Sen. Cruz's bill seems to me a reasonable and reasoned way to take the language already embedded in statute and apply it to the asymmetrical threat posed by today's dangerous and terrorist-threatened world.