US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he is barring a US-born former Islamic State (IS) group propagandist from returning home, making the highly unusual case that she is not a US citizen.
Trump’s refusal to admit 24-year-old Hoda Muthana comes just as he is pressing Europeans to repatriate their own IS fighters and is likely to face legal challenges, as US citizenship is extremely difficult to lose.
Trump on Twitter said that he has “instructed” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the country” — a break with usual US protocol not to comment on individuals’ immigration issues.
“Ms Hoda Muthana is not a US citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” Pompeo said in a terse statement. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid US passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”
The US generally grants citizenship to anyone born on its soil and Alabama-raised Muthana is believed to have traveled to Syria on a US passport.
However, a US official said that a later investigation showed that she had not been entitled to her passport.
“Ms Muthana’s citizenship has not been revoked because she was never a citizen,” the official said.
Officials declined further comment, but in a loophole that could boost the government’s case, Muthana’s father had been a diplomat from Yemen — and children of diplomats are not automatically given citizenship.
Muthana’s lawyer, Hassan Shilby, showed a birth certificate demonstrating that she was born in New Jersey in 1994 and said that her father ceased being a diplomat “months and months” before her birth.
“She is a US citizen. She had a valid passport. She may have broken the law and, if she has, she’s willing to pay the price,” Shilby told reporters at his office in Tampa, Florida.
Muthana wants due process and is willing to go to prison if convicted, he said.
“We cannot get to a point where we simply strip citizenship from those who break the law. That’s not what America is about. We have one of the greatest legal systems in the world and we have to abide by it,” he added.
Comparatively few Americans have embraced militant Islam, with the Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University identifying 64 who went to join the IS in Syria or Iraq.
Muthana, raised in a strict household in Hoover, Alabama, said that she was brainwashed by social media messages and headed to Syria without her parents’ knowledge in 2014.
Shortly afterward, Muthana posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women who appeared to torch their Western passports, including a US one.
She went on to post vivid calls on social media to kill Americans, glorifying the ruthless extremist group.
However, with the IS group down to its last stretch of land, Muthana said that she has renounced extremism and wants to return home with her toddler son, born to one of her three militant husbands.
“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a handwritten note to her lawyer.
The US decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. The UK has revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.
The British government asserted that she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship due to her heritage, but the Dhaka government on Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leading her to become effectively stateless.
US citizenship is significantly more difficult to lose. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1868 after the US Civil War as slavery was abolished, establishes that anyone born in the country is a citizen with full rights.
The US Supreme Court in the landmark 1967 Afroyim decision rejected the government’s attempt to revoke the nationality of a Polish-born naturalized American after he voted in Israel.
Last year, a federal judge rejected a bid to strip the nationality of a Pakistani-born naturalized American who was convicted in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.
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