US: Trump says Alabama woman who joined Islamic State will not be allowed back into country

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the woman was not a US citizen, but her lawyer said she was born in the US and had a valid passport.

Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Source: The New York Times

BAGHDAD — President Trump said Wednesday the United States would not re-admit an American-born woman who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State and now wants to come home.

The woman, Hoda Muthana, does not qualify for citizenship and has no legal basis to return to the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

In 2014, Ms. Muthana, then a 20-year-old student in Alabama, traveled to Turkey, hiding her plans from her family. She told them she was heading to a university event.

In fact she was smuggled into Syria, where she met up with the Islamic State and began urging attacks in the West.


Now, with the militant group driven out of Syria, Ms. Muthana says she is deeply sorry, but American officials appeared intent on closing the door to her return.

Mr. Trump said in a post on Twitter that he had directed the secretary of state “not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!”

Mr. Pompeo issued a statement declaring that she “is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States.”

Mr. Pompeo said Ms. Muthana did not have “any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

Ms. Muthana says she applied for and received a United States passport before leaving for Turkey. And she was born in the United States — ordinarily a guarantee of citizenship.


Mr. Pompeo’s statement did not offer a rationale for why the State Department does not consider Ms. Muthana a citizen. But American officials seem to be hinging their argument against allowing her back in on an exception in the law.

Ms. Muthana’s father was a Yemeni diplomat, and children born in the United States to active diplomats are not bestowed birthright citizenship, since diplomats are under the jurisdiction of their home countries.

That law does not apply in Ms. Muthana’s case, said Charlie Swift, the director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, who is representing her family. Ms. Muthana, he said, was born a month after her father was discharged from his position as a United Nations diplomat.

After she joined the Islamic State, Mr. Swift said, Ms. Muthana’s family received a letter indicating that her passport had been revoked. Her father sent the government evidence of his nondiplomatic status at the time of his daughter’s birth, but did not receive a response.

Mr. Swift said Ms. Muthana had in fact been issued two American passports: one when she was a child, and a renewal she applied for herself just before leaving for Syria. In the case of the first, he says that her father provided a letter from the United Nations proving that he had been discharged, to overcome the jurisdictional challenge.

Hassan Shibly, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida who is advising the family, provided a birth certificate for Ms. Muthana that showed she was born in Hackensack, N.J., on Oct. 28, 1994.

Mr. Shibly said that her father left the foreign service in June 1994. He later sent a photograph of a document, on the letterhead of the United States Mission to the United Nations and signed by one of its representatives in 2004, that dated the official end of his service to Sept. 1, 1994. Ms. Muthana, Mr. Shibly said, “is trying to turn herself in to federal authorities and face consequences for her actions.”

David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that if Ms. Muthana was carrying a valid American passport, she had an “irrebuttable presumption of citizenship in this country.”

“If the passport was a legitimate passport and she was a U.S. citizen, nothing that Pompeo says takes away her citizenship,” Mr. Leopold said.

On the other hand, he said, if her father was an accredited diplomat at the time of her birth, then Ms. Muthana would have been a permanent resident — not a citizen. In that case, he said, the government could have grounds to bar her from re-entry, though she could be eligible for a hearing.

There are circumstances, Mr. Leopold said, in which the government can revoke citizenship, such as a conviction for an act of treason. But taking an oath of allegiance to a terrorist group or committing a crime like providing one with material support would not be enough.

Now 24, Ms. Muthana escaped ISIS-held territory in January, and is in a refugee camp in Syria with her young son.

Ms. Muthana is one of at least 13 people identified as Americans — almost all of them women and children — who are being held in detention camps by Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. Many of them are facing similar issues as Ms. Muthana does, with their citizenship being challenged on technical grounds. A majority of American men caught on the battlefield were the subject of sealed indictments and have been repatriated to face charges.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump criticized allies in Europe for not doing enough to prosecute their citizens being held in Syria. “The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he posted on Twitter. “The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them.”




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