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The Terrorist Expatriation Act: Joe Lieberman's Lawless New Law

Rabia Chaudry

It took the better part of a week to dig a nice large plot in my yard for a garden. When the last hunk of sod was yanked out, I realized that I needed to go purchase the organic fertilizer necessary for my project. That's when it hit me. A week after a Connecticut man was arrested for trying to blow up Times Square, I was planning on sauntering into Home Depot sporting a Muslim headscarf and buying around 20 bags of fertilizer. Did I mention I live in Connecticut? This was going to be tricky.

Times are scary for Muslims in America. Even the appearance of impropriety could set off a chain-reaction of suspicion. How many things in my life could look suspicious? Let me count the ways: I am a Muslim born in Pakistan - enough said. I own a book called "American Jihad". Its only a collection of stories of converts to Islam, but imagine that sound bite. I once volunteered with CAIR, a Muslim civil rights organization that, although never charged with any wrong-doing, has been blacklisted by the FBI as an "unindited co-conspirator" in the Holy Land Foundation money-laundering case. Speaking of the Holy Land Foundation, thinking they provided humanitarian relief to Palestinians, I may have given them a few bucks years ago. Reports by the neighbors of Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, say he did not like to go out in the daytime and that his yard was unkempt. I admit, I love to sleep in and if you saw the dandelion hell that is my yard right now, you might want to call the authorities too.

Now there is the added stress of Joe Lieberman's latest proposal. Last week Senator Lieberman introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act. This Act would expand on existing legislation that strips citizenship from individuals for a number of reasons, one of which is serving in the armed forces of a foreign state that is engaged in hostilities towards the U.S. Lieberman proposes including anyone who affiliates with a foreign terrorist organization or "fights against our country".

The problems begin with the title of the Act. Technically, it should be titled "The Suspected Terrorist Expatriation Act" since the proposal would strip citizenship from anyone accused, not convicted, of having terrorist ties. Legally, this proposal is problematic in a number of ways. First, in order for the Department of State to determine that citizenship has been lost, the existing legislation requires that the individual's actions were 1) voluntary and 2) performed with the specific intention of relinquishing citizenship. But if a person such as Shahzad, a naturalized citizen, enters the U.S. with an American passport, clearly he is demonstrating that he has no intention of relinquishing his citizenship. It can be assumed that the "intention" provision will be modified to meet Lieberman's objectives. Then there is the question of what it means to "fight against our country". Would this mean that someone like Joseph Stack, had he survived his fiery attack on the IRS, would lose his citizenship? Would it include members of extremist white militias, like the Hutaree? Would it include the nutjobs who bomb abortion clinics?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to be endorsing Lieberman's bill as well, telling the N.Y. Times "People who are serving foreign powers - or in this case, foreign terrorists - are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens." If the test here will be "serving foreign powers", will Lieberman be willing to strip citizenship from U.S. citizens who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces?

Lieberman points out that stripping citizenship would deny suspects the "rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them". Lieberman may not be aware that rights and privileges such as Miranda apply to non-citizens as well. These rights and privileges apply to anyone on U.S. soil. It seems then that Mr. Lieberman is attempting to create a new classification uniquely designed to apply only to Muslims suspected of terrorism, which is completely contrary to the Constitution and commonly-held notions of justice in the civilized world.

There is also the question of what would happen if a suspect was acquitted of charges after having his citizenship revoked? Would he or she then be re-naturalized? Or if a suspect is a natural-born citizen, having served his sentence,where would he be expected to live out the remainder of his life?

Reality is that this Act does little or nothing to protect us any further than existing laws already do. Lieberman purports that this law would prevent citizens overseas who are training to be terrorists from re-entering the country; however, arrest warrants and no-fly lists should be sufficient in this objective. What this Act would probably end up doing is expatriating innocent citizens overseas who, due to our proven poor intelligence, become suspects for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was naturalized as a child back in the seventies. I have no intention of ever joining a foreign armed service, or any armed service for that matter. I also have no intention of ever "fighting against" our country. Lately, it seems that being a Muslim in America is becoming increasingly precarious. I have not seen my elderly grandmother in Pakistan in a decade and I was hoping to visit her this year. Sadly, proposals such as Lieberman's make trips to Pakistan, and buying fertilizer, activities that a Muslim in America has to think hard and long about.


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Rabia Chaudry is  an immigration attorney, the President-Elect of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, and Fellow of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute.

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