WASHINGTON - A lawyer for an American-born woman who defected to the Islamic State says his client should be allowed to return the United States because she was born here, and he also argued that her child should be considered an American citizen.
The citizenship of Hoda Muthana has come into question after she requested to return to the United States from Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contended Thursday that Muthana is not a U.S. citizen because her father was a Yemeni diplomat.
“She may have been born here,” Pompeo told NBC’s “Today” show. “She is not a U.S. citizen, nor is she entitled to U.S. citizenship.”
President Donald Trump said he ordered Pompeo to not allow Muthana return to the United States.
Attorney: Banishment not constitutional
Muthana’s lawyer, Charles Swift, the director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, told VOA’s Urdu Service Friday that Muthana was born in New Jersey nearly two months after her father left his position as a diplomat in 1994, thus making her a U.S. citizen.
Swift says Muthana, now 24 and with a child, is willing to face U.S. prosecution that she willingly went to Syria and used social media to praise the killings of Westerners.
Swift argues that Muthana’s child, born in a relationship with one of her three jihadist husbands, should also be considered an American citizen.
“He would be a U.S. citizen by virtue of the fact under statute that he was born to an American U.S. citizen mother who had resided in the country for at least five years prior to his birth,” he said.
He says because the child was born in Syria, and because there was no U.S. Embassy in Syria, there would have been no way for Muthana to register the birth and receive a U.S. passport for her son.
Swift says he understands that is tempting to banish Muthana because she traveled to Syria to join Islamic State, but that would not be legal.
“Banishment is a very old punishment, except it’s not constitutional. The Supreme Court has only permitted the loss of citizenship in extraordinarily limited circumstances that aren’t really present here,” he told VOA.
He said the United States cannot “just unilaterally revoke someone’s citizenship” that they previously recognized. “The constitution exists to protect the unpopular,” he said.
Return, face punishment
Muthana has previously posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women appearing to burn their Western passports, including an American one.
Now, however, with territory held by IS dwindling fast, Muthana has renounced extremism and wants to return home to confront any criminal charges that could be lodged against her.
“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family, and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a handwritten note to her lawyers.
Standing in the way is Trump.
“I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!” he said Wednesday on Twitter.
Taking back IS prisoners
Trump has attacked European allies that have not taken back hundreds of IS prisoners caught in Syria, where Trump plans to withdraw U.S. troops. By comparison, relatively few Americans have embraced radical Islam.
The Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University has identified 64 Americans who joined IS in Syria or Iraq.
Europe is debating the nationality of some extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who like Muthana traveled to Syria and now wants to return to her country of birth.
London asserted that because of her heritage she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, but the Dhaka government Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leaving her effectively stateless.
VOA Urdu Service's Saba Shah Khan contributed to this report.