The Slatest

Trump Administration Claims Alabama ISIS Wife Is Not a U.S. Citizen

Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, stand under an Islamic State (IS) group banner in the recently recaptured town of Al-Karamah, 26 kms from the IS bastion of Raqa, on March 26, 2017.
Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, stand under an Islamic State (IS) group banner in the recently recaptured town of Al-Karamah, 26 kms from the IS bastion of Raqa, on March 26, 2017.
DELIL SOULEIMAN/Getty Images

A few hours ago, in a post about the case of Shamima Begum, the teenager who traveled to Syria to marry an ISIS fighter and has now been stripped of her British citizenship, I noted that this was unlikely to happen with Americans who joined ISIS, due to differences in U.S. law. It appears I once again underestimated the Trump administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that Hoda Muthana, a former student of the University of Alabama at Birmingham who traveled to Syria to join ISIS four years ago and is now seeking to return home to face potential criminal charges, “is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

President Trump then followed up with a tweet: “I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!”

Pompeo’s statement is a little ambiguous, but it seems like he’s not saying that Muthana was stripped of her citizenship, which would most likely be illegal. (The State Department has not responded to a request for comment.) Rather, he’s saying that she was never a valid U.S. citizen.

[Update, Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m.: A State Department spokesperson confirmed the department’s position that “Ms. Muthana’s citizenship has not been revoked because she was never a US citizen,” adding, “there are many reasons that an individual previously issued a passport may subsequently be found ineligible for that passport.” The spokesperson declined to provide more specific information “due to privacy considerations.”]

In a twitter thread, New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who recently interviewed Muthana, said that she was concerned her citizenship might be called into question due to a technicality. Although Muthana was born in the U.S., she is the daughter of a Yemeni diplomat, which would make her ineligible for birthright citizenship. However, Muthana’s father was, according to her family, no longer a diplomat at the time of her birth and provided proof of this when she (successfully) applied for her first passport.

Those technicalities are for a court to work out, but the politics of it don’t look great given that just four days ago Trump demanded that European countries “take back” European ISIS fighters currently in custody for trial. There’s a recent tradition—dating back to Obama-era debates about closing Guantanamo—of U.S. politicians arguing against bringing terrorist suspects for trial and potential imprisonment in the United States, as if their mere presence on U.S. soil carried some risk of infection. Contrast this with the recent trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who the U.S. not only allowed but demanded him to be brought to the U.S. for trial. Despite being responsible for hundreds of murders and having escaped from prison multiple times, Guzman posed little discernable threat to the people of Brooklyn during the proceedings.

The Trump administraton might argue that Muthana, having traveled to join the caliphate, is simply not the responsibility of the U.S. justice system. But she was radicalized not in Syria but in Alabama. She is, vagaries of passport law notwithstanding, an American, and therefore remains America’s problem.