Stripping Citizenship Unconstitutional, Unnecessary

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

Stripping Citizenship Unconstitutional, Unnecessary

Bill would overstep limits on government power that protect Americans' rights

WASHINGTON - Human Rights First today decried proposed legislation that would
strip United States citizens of their citizenship for "providing
material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization" or
"engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities
against the United States" or any of its allies. The group stated that
the legislation, introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Scott
Brown and Congressmen Jason Altmire and Charlie Dent, is
unconstitutional and unnecessary. It would undermine carefully
constructed checks on government officials' power that protect our
country's freedoms.

"This proposed knee-jerk reaction bill ignores the mandates of the
U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court's decisions interpreting the
14th Amendment's citizenship clause which set severe limits on the
government's power to revoke citizenship. It also attempts to punish
and render stateless individuals who have not been convicted of any
crime, which violates both the U.S. Constitution and international
human rights law. Fear is never an excuse to give government this kind
of unchecked power," said Human Rights First's Daphne Eviatar. 

Eviatar continued, "This bill reeks of political posturing, not
protecting America's national security. It is a desperate attempt to go
around the constitution and push these cases into the ineffective and
legally questionable military commission system. They are not fooling
anyone."

Human Rights First noted that the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly
and unequivocally that Congress does not have the power to strip any
American of citizenship unless that individual has voluntarily
relinquished his citizenship. Even committing the most heinous crimes
does not automatically strip an American of his citizenship. As the
Supreme Court said in Vance v. Terrazas, "In the last
analysis, expatriation depends on the will of the citizen, rather than
on the will of Congress and its assessment of his conduct." Under the
U.S. Constitution, the government must prove that the individual
intended to relinquish his citizenship as well.

The Terrorist Expatriation Act proposed by Senators Lieberman and
Brown and Congressmen Jason Altmire and Charlie Dent purports to allow
the State Department to revoke citizenship based on a preponderance of
the evidence, a much lighter burden than is required to secure a
criminal conviction. The legislation is not only out of step with
American law, but it also implicates the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights which provides that "everyone has the right to a nationality"
and that one's citizenship may not be stripped arbitrarily.

"There are serious consequences that result from revoking someone's
citizenship. The Supreme Court has said that the matter is 'no light
trifle to be jeopardized any moment Congress decides to do so' and that
doing so 'means that a man is left without the protection of
citizenship in any country in the world.' No member of Congress has the
right or ability to undermine that kind of legal precedent," Eviatar
concluded.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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