Fox News is reporting that a second American citizen has been killed while fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Syria. That same report goes on to note that federal investigators estimate roughly one hundred American citizens have gone to Syria to fight for various jihadist organizations. Other sources have indicated that the number of US citizens joining up with ISIS is as high as three hundred.
Homeland security officials are rightly concerned about this development. American citizens fighting for ISIS and other groups can potentially return to the United States and apply their battlefield-acquired skills to carry out attacks against American targets – a list of which was just published in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) publication, Al Malahem.
One way to inhibit such operatives from coming back to the United States to carry out such plans is to revoke their US citizenship, a move that would invalidate their US passports and make it that much harder to set foot on American soil. Revocation of citizenship would have the added benefit of making such individuals eligible for trial by military commissions (assuming such individuals fall within the purview of an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, be it the one currently in effect or one passed in the months to come).
The United States government arguably already has the authority to revoke citizenship under these circumstances. Title 8, Section 1481 of the U.S. Code lays out the various scenarios through which a US citizen could lose his/her citizenship, and states in part:
(a) A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality—…
… (3) entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if
(A) such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States, or
(B) such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer; …
Could existing law perhaps be tweaked to include US citizens who join the ranks of non-state actors like ISIS or al Qaeda? Perhaps – then-Senators Joe Lieberman and Scott Brown introduced legislation a few years ago along these lines. Such an effort may need to be undertaken again.
It is true that especially these days, ISIS and company need only cross our southwest border to do us harm from within. But a vulnerable back door is no reason not to lock the front door.
Ben Lerner is the Vice President for Government Relations at the Center for Security Policy, where he manages the Center’s educational efforts and interactions with the federal government. His articles have appeared in The American Spectator, The Washington Times, Townhall, The Washington Examiner, and inFocus Quarterly. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University, and received his bachelor’s degree in political science, with highest distinction, from the University of Michigan.