Taking advantage of the failed bombing attempt in New York City’s Times Square, for which Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin, has been arrested, U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman, Independent-Conn., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., have introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act.  A House version is being introduced by the Pennsylvania congressmen, Democrat Jason Altmire and Republican Charlie Dent. The bill would allow the State Department to revoke the citizenship of U.S. citizens, born or naturalized, who engage in, or help, foreign terrorism against the United States and its “allies.”

This bill, which builds on existing causes for which citizenship can be revoked, coincides with a campaign by the Republican right to strip the citizenship of U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants. There are thought to be about 4 million such children in the United States, and, of course, there are many adult U.S. citizens whose parents were undocumented.

Both of these proposals could lead to massive injustices and so must be stopped.

The worst aspect of the Lieberman-Brown bill is that it would allow the State Department to revoke people’s citizenship without initial action by a federal court. Although they would be able to challenge the decision in court, putting the initial decision into the hands of the executive branch would be a major infringement on the separation of powers and on U.S. citizens’ right to due process. Supposedly, the State Department could only revoke your citizenship if there was proof that you intended to renounce it, but the bill’s sponsors add that certain acts should be seen as an “implicit” renunciation.

Another issue is the question of who is a terrorist. Walking free on the streets of Miami are people who can, and do, boast about committing acts of brutal terrorism, such as the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in 1976, in which 73 innocent people were killed. These people are not treated as terrorists. Why?

First of all, their attacks were carried out against people the U.S. ruling class dislikes, such as the governments of Cuba and Nicaragua. Secondly, a number of them have had very close dealings with U.S. security agencies, and several are former C.I.A. agents. They literally know where the bodies are buried, and so are never brought to book here. Those of these people who are U.S. citizens would run no risk of having their citizenship revoked under Lieberman-Brown, because only involvement with “foreign” terrorist entities would be covered, not terrorism carried out under the auspices of the U.S. government and “our allies.”

Yet, Cuba as a nation, which has never carried out a single violent act against the United States, is kept on the State Department’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism, suggesting that somebody would try to use the law to persecute people seen as being close to Cuba.

A third problem is under the Lieberman-Brown bill, you could have your citizenship (or nationality; the language of the bill treats the two things as interchangeable) revoked for actions aimed against U.S. “allies.” The U.S. has some pretty funky allies over the years. Whether by coincidence or coordination, the Lieberman-Brown bill coincides with a push by some on the far right to get U.S. Jewish organizations who work for peace in the Middle East to be characterized as aiding and abetting terrorism. Colombian security agencies could act against people in the United States who have actively opposed President Uribe’s bloodthirsty regime, by making false claims of involvement with terrorism and thus threatening their citizenship.

The other citizenship-stripping effort is part of the anti-immigrant movement. It alleges that the 14th Amendment’s definition of citizens as being everybody “born or naturalized” in the United States and “subject to the jurisdiction” thereof was not intended to include children of people here illegally. At the time the 14th Amendment was ratified, today’s restrictive immigration laws did not exist. But even so, the amendment’s congressional sponsors made clear that they intended it to cover even people of Chinese and “Gypsy” (Roma) parentage born in this country. (Shortly afterward, Congress passed onerous anti-Chinese legislation, and of course, after Reconstruction the actual citizenship of African Americans was negated for many years, in both cases without a peep from the Supreme Court).

Is there a danger that such legislation would pass? I don’t know, and the Obama administration is not supporting it.  But, even if these two varieties of citizenship-stripping legislation are not fated to pass, they will be used to confuse the American public and chill dissent against U.S. foreign policy.



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.