According to the U.S. administration, and as discussed at Friday’s State Department Press Briefing, approximately 100 Americans are presently in Syria, many of whom are there to join the jihadist force ISIS, the rest to fight with a different terrorist group, al Nusra.
Although the Administration speaks very fiercely about those terrorist groups, especially ISIS, which President Barack Obama recently called “a cancer,” an idea put forth by a Republican senator was the object of derision and laughter both by reporters and the assistant spokesperson for the State Department, Marie Harf.
On Friday, Sept. 5, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced that he intended to introduce legislation that would bar U.S. citizens who went abroad to fight with ISIS from returning to the country by stripping them of their U.S. citizenship.
Cruz announced that as soon as the Senate is called back into session on Monday, Sept. 8, he intended to file the Expatriate Terrorist Act of 2014.
“Americans who choose to go to Syria or Iraq to fight with vicious ISIS terrorists are party to a terrorist organization committing horrific acts of violence, including beheading innocent American journalists who they have captured,” said Sen. Cruz. “There can be no clearer renunciation of their citizenship in the United States, and we need to do everything we can to preempt any attempt on their part to re-enter our country and carry out further attacks on American civilians.”
The law would amend a current statute that deems certain action taken by a U.S. citizen to constitute a renunciation of their citizenship. The addition which Cruz intends to introduce would include “becoming a member of, fighting for, or providing material assistance to a designated foreign terrorist organization that is working to attack the United States or its citizens.”
The amendment would ensure that due process is ensured, but beyond that would find that
“If a U.S. citizen undertakes these acts with the intent of supplanting his U.S. Citizenship with loyalty to a terrorist organization, that person can be deemed to have forfeited their right to be a United States Citizen and return to the United States.”
The merry crew at the State Department briefing room, however, treated the idea as absurd, and suggested that Sen. Cruz’s proposal was to strip a U.S. citizen of his citizenship simply if he traveled to Syria, even if just to report on the war or to provide humanitarian assistance. The following is the exchange between the Associated Press’s Matt Lee and State Deparment Spokesperson Harf:
QUESTION: Marie, there’s some on the Hill who think that – who say, who make the argument that simply traveling – for an American citizen to travel to Syria right now should be enough to either, one, revoke their passport, or two, revoke —
MS. HARF: Just for someone traveling to Syria? That’s a —
QUESTION: Well —
MS. HARF: — interesting way of reading United States law and the Constitution in terms of passports and citizenship.
QUESTION: No, no, no. I think that they’re suggesting that maybe it should be written in – the Brits have announced their plans to do —
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — to step up their procedure for doing this kind of thing.
MS. HARF: Well, look, there are American citizens who travel to Syria, even though we tell them on to, as – for example, reporters or aid workers.
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: So you would – this is not my —
MS. HARF: Well, traveling to —
QUESTION: This is not my idea.
MS. HARF: I know.
QUESTION: It’s some – it’s other people’s idea, and I’m just —
MS. HARF: I know. It’s sources on the Hill.
QUESTION: Well, it’s —
MS. HARF: Some on the Hill.
QUESTION: Senator Cruz, your favorite senator, is tweeting this kind of thing.
MS. HARF: Oh, God. Here we go again. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So – no, look.
MS. HARF: Wait – this is a real question, though.
QUESTION: So – it is a real question.
MS. HARF: I know. I just said it was.
QUESTION: So you’re saying you would oppose – you would oppose some kind of a blanket —
MS. HARF: Well —
QUESTION: — law or legislation that would strip people of their passports and citizenship for going to a place —
MS. HARF: Well, let’s – first of all, I’m not going to take a position on hypothetical legislation. Certainly, that’s not my purview. But let’s start here. For one point, we – people who just travel to a country I think I would feel comfortably – comfortable legally saying is not grounds for revoking your citizenship or taking your passport.
QUESTION: I know it’s not now. I think the point is –
MS. HARF: I don’t think it – not traveling to a country, nor should it be. There’s travel restrictions in place. Now, the question of how you prevent Americans who have traveled to a place like Syria and joined a terrorist organization, that is, said they want to attack the U.S., that is a separate question. We have the authority now to revoke their passports under U.S. law if the Secretary makes a determination about their threat to U.S. national security. We already have that power. We also have the power if there’s a law enforcement request —
MS. HARF: — to revoke their passport if there’s an outstanding warrant or something like that.
In other words, the idea Cruz said he intends to introduce is neither idiotic nor would it constitute a violation of the U.S. constitution, but the repartee at the press briefing certainly suggests that the senator is an unstable nut job whose ideas are laughable. In reality, the idea not only has merit, a version of it already exists and Cruz’s intention is simply to streamline the process.