The Corner

Politics & Policy

No Convicted Terrorist Should Be a U.S. Citizen

Iyman Faris (Dept. of Justice/Handout via Reuters)

Over the past year and a half, the “Resist Trump” movement seems to have spread to the judiciary, with liberal judges defying the law and the Constitution to rule against the administration’s policies. Most of these judges were appointed by Barack Obama, and their decisions are more ideological than legal.

Those seeking a blatant example of ideological activism from the bench need look no further than a July 11 decision handed down by Judge Staci Yandle, a 2014 Obama appointee to the U.S. District Court in Illinois. The government sought to revoke the citizenship of a convicted terrorist. But Judge Yandle was having none of it.

“American citizenship is precious,” she observed. However, she ruled, the government had not met the “heavy burden of proof“ required to “divest a naturalized citizen of his or her citizenship.”

The naturalized citizen in question, Iyman Faris is currently serving a 20-year prison term after pleading guilty in 2003 to aiding and abetting an Al-Qaeda plot to sabotage the Brooklyn Bridge. A Pakistani by birth, he was known as Mohammad Rauf before he became an American citizen.

Faris’s connection to Al-Qaeda was neither fleeting nor tenuous. In 2000, he met Osama bin Laden at an Al-Qaeda training camp. Later, Faris worked with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attack in New York City.

Of course, you would not know any of this from reading Judge Yandle’s five-page opinion. There is no mention of Faris’s terrorist activities, his involvement with Al-Qaeda, his conviction, or the fact that he is still in a federal prison in Terra Haute, Ind.

Faris came to the U.S. from Bosnia in 1994, claiming asylum. It was later determined that he entered the country illegally, using someone else’s passport and visa.

Before his asylum claim could be adjudicated, Faris married an American citizen, using the marriage to obtain permanent residency status and then citizenship. In each case he falsely asserted that he had entered the U.S. from Canada.

Under federal law (8 U.S.C. §1451) the citizenship of a naturalized citizen can be revoked if the citizenship was “illegally procured” or “procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation.” That statute also provides for revocation if the naturalized citizen would have been precluded from becoming a citizen under another federal statute, 8 U.S.C. §1424.

Section 1424 bars citizenship for any alien who is a member of the Communist party. As relevant to convicted Al-Qaeda terrorist Iyman Faris, it also bars citizenship for an alien who advocates or is affiliated with any organization that wants to “overthrow by force or violence” the government of the United States or to assault or kill government officials or advocates the “unlawful damage, injury, or destruction of property” or “sabotage.”

From the false claims that Faris made on all of his immigration documents, to his impersonation fraud using someone else’s passport, to his conviction for terrorist activities, he would seem to easily fall within the conditions outlined in federal law for revocation of his citizenship. The government obviously wants to be able to deport him to Pakistan when he is released from federal prison on December 23, 2020.

But facts apparently do not matter to Judge Yandle. That Faris fraudulently used another person’s passport to enter the country was not a “material” misrepresentation in Yandle’s eyes. And as discussed earlier, the judge leaves out any discussion at all of what seems obviously to be a material fact: Faris’s conviction for terrorism and his admitted affiliation with Al-Qaeda.

Who could possibly be more deserving of revocation of citizenship than a convicted terrorist like Faris?

Judge Yandle’s ill-informed decision brings up another important question: Why must the government convince a judge such as Yandle to revoke a convicted terrorist’s citizenship in the first place? Isn’t there a better way to do this?

There is.

Any naturalized citizen who has been found guilty of terrorism against America, whose appeals have run their course, and whose conviction has not been overturned, should have his citizenship automatically revoked as a matter of federal law. The convicted terrorist has broken the compact he entered into: to become a responsible, law-abiding member of our Republic in exchange for receiving the privilege of citizenship. Break the compact and you lose the privilege. Neat. Tidy. Easy. Efficient.

Recall that in 2014 and 2017, Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) introduced the Expatriate Terrorist Act — a bill that would have revoked citizenship for being a member of, or providing assistance to, a terrorist organization. Membership alone, no conviction. Doubts were raised about its constitutionality over the lack of due process in such legislation.

But no such doubts could be legitimately raised over a law that revokes citizenship after a conviction, when a defendant has received all of the due-process rights he is entitled to under federal law and the Constitution.

Automatic revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists is a commonsense public policy, one that bears directly on public safety. Congress should enshrine this in law, rather than leave the question up to the whim of ideologically motivated federal judges.

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