Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, told a crowd of 3,000 at a conservative summit in Dallas that Americans fighting with Islamic State militants should be exiled from the country saying, “we need to not let into this country any American who is fighting with ISIS.”
But some conservative politicians say that banishing American jihadists doesn’t go far enough, and that those who leave the country to fight for militant groups like the Islamic State, Hamas, or al Qaeda should be stripped of their citizenship.
On Friday, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in neighboring New Hampshire, called for Congress to pass legislation to strip “homegrown terrorists” of their American citizenship.
“One of the greatest threats facing the homeland today is the mayhem that will happen when hundreds of American ISIS fighters return to the United States to spread their terror here. Their goal is to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and plant a flag at the White House, and mass killing is their means for achieving that goal,” Mr. Brown said in a statement Friday.
The Islamic State, as its name implies, sees itself as not a terror group but a legitimate state, the successor to the Islamic caliphate. Fort Hood murderer Nidal Malik Hasan asked for citizenship in the caliphate last week.
Conservative commentator Allen West of Florida made the same argument as Mr. Brown Tuesday in a blog post discussing British Muslims’ involvement in terrorist groups when he wrote that more U.K. citizens are joining Islamic State forces than are signing up for the country’s own armed forces.
“Here is the deal. There has to be a law clearly defining that on this 21st Century battlefield, if you depart your country of citizenship and travel to ally with Islamic terrorist organizations, you have in turn renounced your citizenship and become an unlawful enemy combatant,” Mr. West wrote. “If engaged on the battlefield, you will be treated as the enemy. If captured on the battlefield, you will have lost your rights and will be treated as the enemy.”
The Obama administration, in defending the legality of the CIA’s drone-strike program, also has claimed the right to kill American citizens abroad if they are assisting al Qaeda or other Islamist terrorist groups, organizations that openly declare themselves to be at war with America.
In addition, several Western intelligence agencies — most notably Britain’s, which raised its terrorism alert this week for the first time in years as a result — have warned about the terrorist threat from Western-citizen Muslims returning home after trips to the Middle East fighting for the Islamic State or otherwise being radicalized.
But some politicians say that stripping any American of citizenship violates the Constitution.
Mr. Brown’s Republican primary opponent in New Hampshire, former state Sen. Jim Rubens, said that legislation on the issue has been brought up before and swiftly taken off the floor for a vote because it so “egregiously violated the Constitution.”
“This is a reaction based on fear and anger rather than smart counter-terrorism policy,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Mr. Rubens wrote in a statement Friday that the Supreme Court has long recognized that citizenship cannot be taken away unless a person obtained it illegally or has voluntarily and explicitly renounced it.
He added that the federal government already has a system in place to punish an American deemed to be a traitor, saying “Anyone found to be aiding terrorists should be brought to swift justice. Our system already allows for that without the stripping away of Constitutional rights of the citizens we are trying to protect.”
Adhering to a foreign enemy, whether a state or a terrorist group, has been one of the traditional definitions of treason. But centuries of Anglo-American common law and jurisprudence have not understood adherence to a foreign enemy to be an act that automatically makes one a non-citizen. Indeed the very fact that it doesn’t is the basis for saying one has committed treason against your country at all.