In The News

January 9, 2012

Expatriation Bill Gains Steam in Light of Recent Terror Arrest

By Jennifer Scholtes, CQ Staff

The Kosovo-born man charged with plotting an attack in Florida adds to the list of incidents calling attention to bills aimed at easing the process of stripping suspected terrorists of U.S. citizenship, congressional aides said Monday.

Sami Osmakac — arrested Saturday after reportedly planning to wage attacks in the Tampa Bay area using firearms and explosives allegedly purchased from undercover FBI agents — joins the growing count of terrorism suspects who are naturalized Americans. Although legislation to allow the government to retract citizenship of those who engage in hostility against the United States has not moved through the committee process in recent years, cases such as Osmakac’s spark discussion about the bills, said aides for Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a sponsor of one of the measures.

Dent’s legislation (HR 3166) is a companion to a bill (S 1698) put forth by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn.

Under current law, the citizenship of naturalized Americans can be revoked if they have misrepresented themselves in order to secure that status. And both U.S.-born and naturalized citizens can be expatriated for several reasons, including joining armed forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or being convicted of treason.

But as the government continues to find that many attacks and plots against the United States turn out to be orchestrated by its own citizens, Lieberman and Dent have argued the statute should be updated to consider that threat.

“To me, somebody who takes up arms against the United States, whether they wear the uniform of a foreign country or they’re associated with a foreign terrorist organization, has given up their right to be an American citizen,” Lieberman has said.

Under his and Dent’s measures, the United States could revoke the citizenship of anyone who has engaged in or purposefully supported hostilities against the United States, regardless of whether they have joined an official enemy army.

Over the past few years, several major terrorism suspects have been U.S. citizens, including Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American convicted of attempting to bomb Times Square; Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested for plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting in Portland, Ore.; and Virginia-born Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged gunman in the 2009 Fort Hood massacre.

Others include Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani American arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb Washington, D.C.-area public transit stations; Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran who has been accused of plotting to assassinate a Saudi ambassador in the United States; Anwar al-Awlaki, the notorious Yemeni American al Qaeda recruiter the United States killed in a drone strike in September; and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American Muslim convert who killed an Army recruiter in Little Rock in 2009.

The expatriation bills have been put forth in Congress to strip terrorists of citizenship because of the symbolic importance of that right, to afford the government the ability to hold them in immigration detention facilities and to provide the United States more leniency in their prosecution, according to aides for Dent. The congressman has spoken to Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, about moving the legislation forward but it is unclear if the measure in on the path to markup, they said.

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