Reacting to the arrest of the Times Square bomber suspect Faisal Shahzad, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in Washington have introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act (TEA). This act, which would strip US citizenship from people suspected of terrorism, was introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Scott Brown (R-MA) and Representatives Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA). The irony of the acronym for the Act, TEA, should not be lost.
The proposed law would not be implemented by a court of justice or as the result of a trial, but would be result of an administrative decision of the State Department. Since the State Department is under the executive branch of government, another check and balance on the power of the president, preventing the possibility of him becoming a tyrant, gets eliminated. It opens the door for creating a class of enemies of the state that includes regular middle-class citizens, such as “Tea Party” Activists, who have already been called “terrorists” for simply demanding limited constitutional government and opposing administration policies through freedom of speech and normal democratic processes.
This creates the possibility for a new type of “TEA” Party, the rounding up, classifying, and labeling of any citizens considered enemies of the state. We should remember the Salem witch trials. I have read enough books on the Holocaust to know what can happen when such classifications begin for the supposed purification of society. Also, a similar tactic was used by Mao in China during his agricultural reforms in the 1950s; peasants who refused to “voluntarily” give up their land and join the communal farms were labeled as reactionaries and they and their descendants were placed on a list effectively stripping them of their rights of citizenship.
Rule of law and social order are important for the well-being of society. Government has a role in protection of citizens; and protection of citizens from foreign invasion should be the primary role of the United States government. However, the inability to take action against illegal immigration and control U.S. borders has already given illegitimacy to the Federal government as being capable of performing this task. The recent action by the State of Arizona to try to address immigration issues that the Federal Government has failed to address is a symptom of the Federal dysfunction that exists. The new law would provide more arbitrary power to the executive branch to deprive citizens of due process. A modern-day Thomas Jefferson or “Publius” might be relieved of his passport for writing contemporary Federalist Papers.
New York State already has laws that can punish citizens who commit crimes. Once a citizen is inside the country, there are more effective ways to prosecute and punish people under state laws than stripping them of citizenship, including incarceration and the death penalty. There is no constitutional reason for the Federal government to get involved in that process after they have given a person citizenship.
Further, stripping a person of citizenship, once they have it, is far different from from denying citizenship for purposes of immigration. Stripping a person of citizenship makes a person stateless. One of the most serious sources of terrorism worldwide is the problem of statelessness, real or perceived, and a growing number of stateless refugees fleeing failed states. Whether it be a former Guantanamo detainee expatriated to Yemen, a Croatian living in Serbia, a Palestinian living on the West Bank, or a member of the Taliban living in Waziristan, people who are minorities living under regimes that disrespect them or deprive them of economic opportunity for one reason or another are likely to turn to violence against those regimes out of frustration. We need to prosecute and take responsibility for our citizens who go astray, not cast them out on the rest of the world the way Castro covertly sent Cuban criminals to the United States as political refugees.
One of the most important aspects of the United States is that its constitution established protections of freedom for all citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. All citizens, regardless of ethnic, religious and ideological persuasions, should be treated equally, and innocent until proven guilty, and protected them from arbitrary actions by a state or a state functionary based on suspicion or raw use of power and government terror. If proven guilty, punishment should be handled clearly, fairly, and domestically.
In conclusion, while we can sympathize with the emotion behind creating a more secure society through this proposed legislation. A little reflection on it belies a form of paranoid reaction that undermines the legitimate rule of law as conceived by the American founders, and only further promotes the perception of Washington as an arbitrary system of power disconnected from the people it is supposed to represent. Rather than providing clear protection through a firm set of laws that reflect higher principles of justice for all, such arbitrary laws are likely to create more terrorists than they prevent, and hasten to collapse of a society they are intended to strengthen.