Expatriation revisited

Recall an earlier article I posted regarding HR 5237, the Terrorist Expatriation Act. The idea was first the brainchild of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and was introduced into the House of Representatives by Jason Altmire [R-PA(4)]. This bill, if passed into law, would amend the provisions of 8 USC § 1481 to provide for a paragraph 8 with the following subparagraphs:

  • (a) providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization;
  • (b) engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States; or
  • (c) engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against any country or armed force that is –
    • (1) directly engaged along with the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States; or
    • (2) providing direct operational support to the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States.

When I posted that article, I felt that the provision of 8 USC § 1483 that required the targeted citizen to be outside the United States before they can expatriated — that is, stripped of their United States citizenship — was enough of a safeguard to prevent abuse by our government. I know now that I was mistaken on that mark.

Let us refer to 8 USC § 1481(a)(7), which provides that a person may lose his or her nationality (citizenship) by

committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, violating or conspiring to violate any of the provisions of section 2383 of title 18, or willfully performing any act in violation of section 2385 of title 18, or violating section 2384 of title 18 by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, if and when he is convicted thereof by a court martial or by a court of competent jurisdiction. (emphasis added)

The emphasized text is the key to this paragraph. All other provisions in paragraphs 1 through 6 of 8 USC § 1481(a) are voluntary acts by the person relinquishing their citizenship. Paragraph 7, however, is distinguished from the preceding paragraphs in that citizenship is not being voluntarily relinquished, but involuntarily stripped from the person, and this can only occur if the person has been subject to a trial or court martial and subsequently convicted.

Now look at the proposed paragraph 8 above. What is missing?

As an article from the CATO Institute points out, providing material support to a "foreign terrorist organization" as designated by the Department of State is a Federal crime1, as is engaging in "hostilities" against the United States2. But this bill would allow a person to be expatriated without a trial ensuing, usurping the criminal trial requirement that these facts be determined to exist beyond reasonable doubt and replacing it with a mere preponderance of the evidence.

So the proposed paragraph 8 does not require a criminal conviction before expatriation can occur. A person can be stripped of their citizenship without even being convicted of the associated Federal crimes. Does this smell bad to anyone? No presumption of innocence, no due process, no nothing.

The only safeguard against this is the Supreme Court requirement that the State Department show that the person committed the expatriating offense with the intent of also relinquishing citizenship.3 The expatriated person must also be given the ability to appeal the expatriation.

I stand by my previous statements when I said that I can "fully appreciate the intention behind" the bill. However, in light of these recent revelations, I cannot support it. If a person is to be stripped of their citizenship, it must occur following a criminal conviction and no sooner. The provision of 8 USC § 1483 would still require the person to be outside the United States before they can be expatriated unless the bill is amended to address that section as well.

  1. 18 USC § 2339B []
  2. defined in the bill as "any conflict subject to the laws of war" — i.e. treason (see Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States) []
  3. Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980) []