Even terrorists have a right to citizenship

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, doesn’t trust Barack Obama to protect Americans against Ebola, defeat the Islamic State, oversee the IRS or revamp the health insurance system. He decries the expansion of federal power Obama has brought about. But Cruz wants to give him another power: deciding that some Americans will no longer be Americans.

That’s the implication of the senator’s Expatriate Terrorist Act, which would let the government go to court to revoke the citizenship of anyone who joins or aids a foreign terrorist group that targets Americans. Cruz thinks this step is necessary to prevent citizens who leave to fight for the Islamic State from returning to carry out “unspeakable acts of terror here at home.”

It’s not necessary, in strict point of fact. Federal law already makes it a crime to murder Americans and to provide material assistance to terrorist organizations. So anyone who becomes a terrorist for the Islamic State can be arrested and prosecuted and incarcerated for a long time.

John Walker Lindh, who gained infamy as “the American Taliban,” is doing a 20-year sentence for fighting alongside our enemies in Afghanistan. As it happens, he remains a U.S. citizen. More recently, Americans have been arrested while trying to leave the U.S. to fight with al-Qaida.

But letting the federal government deprive Americans of their nationality is something that should give pause to anyone acquainted with the Constitution or history. In the bitter aftermath of World War II, a California native named Iva Toguri D’Aquino, accused of being the notorious “Tokyo Rose,” was convicted of treason for doing propaganda broadcasts for Japan, sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of her citizenship.

Her conviction, historian Edwin Reischauer wrote, was the product of a public “under the influence of traditional racial prejudices and far from free of the anti-Japanese hatreds of the recent war.”

In 1977, President Gerald Ford acknowledged the injustice by pardoning D’Aquino and restoring her citizenship.

Cruz, who clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and has argued cases before the Supreme Court, is well acquainted with the Constitution. So he is guilty of deception, not ignorance, when he approvingly quotes Hillary Clinton’s statement that working with foreign terrorist groups can be punished in this way because “United States citizenship is a privilege. It is not a right.”

Actually, it is a right, affirmed in the 14th Amendment, which says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” The amendment provides no conditions under which a citizen may be deprived of citizenship.

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