The very idea that President Trump could or should send Rep. Ilhan Omar and three other congresswomen of color back to the countries “from where they came” is almost as laughable as it is repugnant. And, it is patently unconstitutional.
The truth is, the federal government cannot just strip away U.S. citizenship – a process with the delightfully Orewellian name “denaturalization” – willy-nilly. It’s a devastatingly powerful tool that the Feds wield, but one that is used only under very strict circumstances.
Criticizing the president and Israel, no matter how harshly, are hardly those circumstances.
Of the four congresswomen, known as “The Squad,” attacked by Trump in his recent racist and xenophobic tweets, only Omar is foreign born. She arrived in this country in 1992 at the age of ten from war-ravaged Somalia. Ultimately, her family was granted asylum and, later, citizenship.
Can naturalized citizens, including refugees, be denaturalized? They can, but only if they lied or concealed evidence in their immigration and naturalization applications. And even then, the falsification or omission must be material to their chances of receiving citizenship, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2017 decision. It’s unlikely that ten-year-old Omar committed such a crime.
Although the Trump Administration is now aggressively pursuing denaturalization of fraudulent immigration cases, in 2016, the DOJ could find only about 2,500 immigrants who warranted further investigation – out of more than 7.4 million people who became citizens over the past decade.
And that’s about it. Naturalized Americans cannot be stripped of their citizenship, even if they commit heinous crimes, such as Chechnya-born Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the radicalized Islamicist and one of the Boston Marathon bombers.
As for native-born Americans, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, the government could conceivably revoke their citizenship, but only if they emigrated to a foreign country and renounced their U.S. citizenship, worked for a foreign government after becoming a citizen of that country, or served in the military of any nation engaged in hostilities against the United States.
So no, none of these lawmakers, thank goodness, are being sent anywhere but news stations around the country.
Still, I was not surprised to hear Trump – and his fans in Greenville, NC – cheerleading the denaturalization of U.S. members of Congress.
As I wrote in “When They Come For You,” Trump had floated a similar sinister idea before, in November, 2016, just after winning the election. Only this time he was referring to Americans who burn the U.S. flag — an apparently urgent issue that somehow threatens democracy more than rattling deportation sabers.
“It came, of course, in the form of a tweet,” I wrote. “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag-if they do, there must be consequences-perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Mr. Trump seems unaware that criminal penalties for flag burning – and stripping one’s citizenship for a non-crime, or a crime – are patently unconstitutional acts.
The president is unsurprisingly oblivious to Trop v. Dulles, a 1958 Supreme Court case in which the justices found that a federal law allowing the expatriation of criminals, in this case a convicted military deserter, violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
But innocent Americans still are, unbelievably, illegally booted out of the country, and we must remain vigilant, especially in this era.
As I write in the book: “Jacqueline Stevens, professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, concluded that such outrages are not that rare. She reviewed 820 deportation cases and found that one percent of them involved U.S. citizens. Most were detained for one to three months. “’That would translate to four thousand of the four hundred thousand people detained last year by ICE,’” CNN reported. Stevens also tracked thirty cases where ICE actually deported U.S. citizens, including a man wrongfully expelled to Jamaica. It took him a full decade of red tape to secure his return.”
The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments were carefully crafted to protect us against “deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process under the law.” Unwarranted deprivation of citizenship is not only desperately cruel and unusual, it is patently un-American and goes against one of the most critical foundations of our republic.
You’d think the president and his base would grasp this, but they seem to be too busy ranting and chanting.