Should This Terrorist Be Kicked Out of the US?

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The suspension cables holding up the Brooklyn Bridge. Iymam Faris was in on a plot to cut them. (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
The suspension cables holding up the Brooklyn Bridge. Iymam Faris was in on a plot to cut them. (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

If those who have naturalized citizenship commit terror offenses, should they be stripped of their citizenship and kicked out of the US?

Iyman Faris was convicted in May 2003 after pleading guilty to providing material support to al-Qaeda.

A naturalized American citizen originally from Pakistan, Faris, an Ohio truck driver, was convicted for his part in a plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge.

As his December 2020 release looms, the Trump administration is mounting a formidable campaign to strip Faris of his U.S. citizenship so that he can be kicked out of the US upon his release, reported Politico.

The fascinating legal case underway in the Department of Justice is being looked at for its long-stretching ramifications regarding convicted terrorists, immigration procedures, failed government deradicalization efforts and conflicting legal precedence by the Supreme Court.

Below we present the issues. After getting informed, please take a moment to answer our poll.


The Facts

In 2002, Iyman Faris, an al-Qaeda sleeper agent in the U.S., was tasked by an operative from the terror organization to find the necessary tools and materials to pull off a 9/11-style mass-casualty attack: to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge (by cutting through the suspension cables with blowtorches). Derailing a train in Washington, D.C. was to happen simultaneously.

Faris (a.k.a. Mohammad Rauf) had been on the agency’s radar a few months before 9/11, but his file was closed by November 2001. But in March 2003, he was picked up and held for questioning by the FBI in part after being fingered by both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Majid Kahn, al-Qaeda operative. Both Mohammed and Kahn had been arrested in Pakistan a few days earlier.

(FBI also had evidence against Faris obtained from wiretaps.)

By April, Faris confessed and agreed to work for the FBI as a double agent inside al-Qaeda. In May, Faris agreed to a plea bargain, pleading guilty to two charges: providing material support and resources to Al Qaeda and conspiracy (for providing the terrorist organization with information about possible U.S. attack targets).

Yet, just a few months later in September, he withdrew his guilty plea, claiming that he had only met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to get information about al-Qaeda for a book he wanted to write. He said Mohammed had fingered him as revenge, since Faris said he had refused to be recruited into al-Qaeda by Mohammed.

His appeal was rejected and in October 2003, Faris was sentenced to 20 years in prison.


Release from Prison

Last month’s release of John Walker Lindh, a radical Islamist who was convicted of aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan, has raised the issue of what should America do with unrepentant terrorists after they have served their sentences? Although U.S. courts hand out much stiffer sentences to terrorists than their counterparts in Europe, it is clear that deradicalization programs – whether they have had a long or short time to be absorbed – are clearly not working.

Lindh walked out of prison after serving 17 years of his 20-year sentence (a normal release date for a prisoner with good behavior). Faris is scheduled to do the same in December 2020. In fact, the release of a number of high-profile unrepentant terrorists will be coming up in the near future.


Stripping Citizenship

“There’s only two ways to lose your citizenship: one is when a person voluntarily gives it up and two is when there’s some fraud or illegality in its procurement … If you’re a native-born citizen, obviously you didn’t commit fraud to get your citizenship, so only a naturalized citizen can lose their citizenship involuntarily,” Case Western Reserve University law professor Andra Robertson said, as quoted in Politico.

That’s practically speaking. There is actually an old federal law on the books that may allow even a native American to be stripped of their citizenship if they commit treason. However the Supreme Court ruled close to 50 years ago that a native citizen can only void his or her citizenship through a voluntary decision – and that appears to be the law that is followed today.

Efforts have been underway to change this but they have been stymied. Senator Ted Cruz has repeatedly proposed a law which would allow stripping the U.S. citizenship of people convicted of providing material support to terrorists. Called the Expatriate Terrorist Act, the bill was first put forth in 2014, but has not made it out of committee to date.


How the Government Plans to Get Faris Out of the Country

Even before Lindh was released, the U.S. mounted a legal campaign to void Faris’ citizenship so he could be kicked out of the US. In 2018, the government argued in a U.S. district court that Faris had committed immigration fraud. He had used someone else’s passport to enter the country. He had also lied when he said he had entered the country by crossing over the Canadian border to Buffalo (he had actually flown into New York City).

However, the judge dismissed the case, ruling the government had not sufficiently established that those acts of “fraud” had impacted in any way the approval of his U.S. citizenship.

The day after Lindh was released, the justice department filed a new motion charging that Faris should be stripped of his citizenship since the oath of allegiance to the U.S. that he took when he was naturalized in 1999 was not sincere given his involvement with al-Qaeda between 2000 and 2003.

Legal experts contend it is a much more formidable argument than those that were rejected by the district court last year.


Operation Janus

Stripping Faris of his citizenship so he can be kicked out of the US is part of a ramped up effort by the Trump administration to void citizenship of naturalized citizens where fraud has taken place.

The effort, called Operation Janus, was actually started during the Obama administration but only pursued half-heartedly (for example, there was no follow-up by Obama-era officials on 315,000 cases of known fraud).


Going Forward

To some, getting unrepentant terrorists out of the country seems obvious, to others, “It’s part and parcel of the rest of the immigration policy which is just to demonize people from other countries. It’s an aggressive move,” says Joshua Dratel, a Manhattan defense attorney quoted in Politico.

Other options being bandied about are increasing the sentences of unrepentant prisoners to life in prison or even executing them. Both of these options are fraught with their own serious and most likely insurmountable problems.

This leaves us with the government’s push to void their citizenship and get them out of the country.

What do you think? Please take a moment to answer the following poll:

Should naturalized U.S. citizens convicted of terror offenses be stripped of their U.S. citizenship?




Islam and Prison (Part 1): Why Are So Many Inmates Converting?

Islam and Prison (Part 2): Why Do Some Inmates Radicalize? 

Islam and Prison (Part 3): America Vs. Europe


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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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