Constitutional Law

Judge rules woman who joined ISIS is not US citizen based on birthright citizenship exception

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled from the bench Thursday that an Alabama woman who joined the Islamic State group and traveled to Syria is not a U.S. citizen because of an exception to the Constitution’s grant of birthright citizenship.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled in the case of Hoda Muthana, who is with her 2-year-old son in a Syrian refugee camp. Her father filed the lawsuit before Walton in a bid to bring Muthana and her son home and to obtain a declaratory judgment that she is a citizen.

The New York Times, the Guardian and BuzzFeed News have coverage.

Muthana had at one time advocated terrorist attacks in social media posts, but she since said she was young and ignorant and she wants to return to the United States. She surrendered to Kurdish forces after fleeing ISIS-controlled territory in December 2018. She says she is willing to face prosecution here.

Muthana’s father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, had been a United Nations diplomat from Yemen. Under federal regulations and international law, children born to diplomats in the United States aren’t subject to the 14th Amendment’s citizenship requirement because they are under the jurisdiction of another country, according to BuzzFeed News.

The 14th Amendment partly reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

Ahmed Ali Muthana was fired from his diplomatic post shortly before his daughter was born in 1994. He did not notify the United Nations of his firing, however, until after the birth. The U.N. then notified the United States, which now contends that diplomatic status applied until it received the notice.

Ahmed Ali Muthana stayed in the United States after his firing, and he and his wife obtained permanent residency. Although he applied for naturalized citizenship for his other children born overseas, he did not make out an application for Hoda Muthana because he thought she was a citizen.

Hoda Muthana had received a passport in 2005 after her father supplied proof of the date of his firing. The U.S. government revoked the passport in January 2016.

Walton expressed sympathy for Ahmed Ali Muthana, but he ruled that there was enough evidence that Hoda Muthana was born while her father still had diplomatic status, according to BuzzFeed News.

“Kids do crazy things,” and parents don’t quit loving their children no matter what they do, Walton said. But that perception can’t influence his decision, he said.

Walton also said he was not intimidated by messages that he had received that were “spewed with hate” and threatened consequences if he was to rule for Hoda Muthana. Walton said his office received at least 6,000 communications, and most were hateful.

Muthana’s lawyer, Christina Jump, said she thought there was a likely basis for appeal, but she would wait until she sees Walton’s written decision.

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