Revoking citizenship

Citizenship of any nation is not something to be taken lightly. It becomes part of who you are, as you have shown a commitment to living under the laws of that nation, becoming a part of that culture while adding a little bit of yourself to it. Making the choice of becoming a citizen of a nation different from that in which you were born is not something to be taken mildly.

Most of us who are citizens of the United States are not citizens by choice, but our continuing citizenship of the United States is by choice. We are natural-born citizens, meaning we were born under the jurisdiction of the United States and were immediately subject to her laws and any protections she affords from that moment onward. If you do not wish to continue your citizenship, you are free to renounce it and leave.

Citizenship has always been a matter of choice. Even if your citizenship of a particular nation was not obtained by choice, continuing to enjoy your citizenship is.

No matter who you are or what you do, the government of the United States does not have the power to involuntarily strip you of your citizenship, essentially leaving you “without country”.

But Lieberman’s intent with creating the Terrorism Expatriation Act, introduced in the House of Representatives on May 6, 2010, by Jason Altmire [R-PA(4)] as HR 5237, leaves a lot of questions open for scrutiny:

I think it’s time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship.

Lieberman pointed out in an interview with Neil Cavuto that there is a process through the Department of State by which a person is deprived of their citizenship, and this process is defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1940 (8 USC § 1481), along with specific conditions that are said to denote a person’s willingness to no longer be a citizen of the United States:

  • obtaining naturalization in a foreign state
  • taking an oath or affirmation of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision therein
  • serving in a foreign military actively engaged in hostilities against the United States, or at any time accepting a commission in any foreign military
  • obtaining employment in a foreign government, if you’ve obtained nationality of that nation or if the post requires an oath or affirmation of allegiance
  • formally renouncing your citizenship before a United States consular officer in a foreign country, in a manner prescribed by the State Department
  • committing an act of treason against the United States (as defined by Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution), or attempting to overthrow the United States or take up arms against her

With all of these criterion, one could reasonably agree that they constitute evidence that a person wishes to no longer be a citizen of the United States. What Lieberman wishes to do is amend this list to include a few other provisions:

  • providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization
  • engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States
  • engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against any country or armed force that is:
    • directly engaged along with the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States
    • providing direct operational support to the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States

Under the existing law, in accordance with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980), no citizen of the United States may be stripped of his or her citizenship unless it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that said person acted with the intent of relinquishing their citizenship. While the elements codified in law may be highly persuasive evidence that one wishes to relinquish their citizenship:

the trier of fact must in the end conclude that the citizen not only voluntarily committed the expatriating act prescribed in the statute, but also intended to relinquish his citizenship.1Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 at 261 (1980)

In other words, the action does not imply intent to relinquish citizenship.

Further, under 8 USC § 1483, except when a person formally renounces his or her citizenship during a time of war (and such renunciation is approved by the Attorney General of the United States), or in cases where a person has committed an act of treason:

no national of the United States can lose United States nationality under this chapter while within the United States or any of its outlying possessions, but loss of nationality shall result from the performance within the United States or any of its outlying possessions of any of the acts or the fulfillment of any of the conditions specified in this Part if and when the national thereafter takes up a residence outside the United States and its outlying possessions.

This means that had Lieberman’s proposals been law prior to the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, John Walker Lindh could have been subject to expatriation. But with § 1483 in place, Lieberman’s proposals would still not apply to Faisal Shahzad because he never made it out of the United States after the failed bombing, and neither HR 5237 nor Lieberman’s draft of the bill propose amending this section.

Initially when I read about Lieberman’s plans with the bill, I was enraged. The idea that the government would involuntarily strip a person of their citizenship is disgusting and should enrage any citizen of the United States. But after doing a little more investigation into the bill and the surrounding law, I can now fully appreciate the intention behind it.

If a US citizen leaves the United States and joins a terrorist organization in Pakistan or Afghanistan, then that can be interpreted as intent to no longer be a citizen of the United States. There is a formal process through which the Department of State may revoke a person’s citizenship, however a person’s citizenship cannot be revoked while the citizen is still within jurisdiction of the United States, except under two conditions previously mentioned.

So while Lieberman’s bill appears to have come in response to the Times Square bombing, it would still not apply to Faisal Shahzad because he never made it out of the country.

Follow-up: “Expatriation revisited