Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 14, 2014

No, you can't come back

Citizenship isn't forever is some places like the UK.

Britain Increasingly Invoking Power to Disown Its Citizens
The letter informing Mohamed Sakr that he had been stripped of his British citizenship arrived at his family’s house in London in September 2010. Mr. Sakr, born and raised here by British-Egyptian parents, was in Somalia at the time and was suspected by Western intelligence agencies of being a senior figure in the Shabab, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda…

A childhood friend of Mr. Sakr, Bilal al-Berjawi, a Lebanese-Briton also stripped of his citizenship by the British government…

The cases of Mr. Sakr and Mr. Berjawi are among the most significant relating to the British government’s growing use of its ability to strip citizenship and its associated rights from some Britons at the stroke of a pen, without any public hearing and only after-the-fact involvement by the courts.

Now, faced with concerns that the steady stream of British Muslims traveling to fight in Syria could pose a threat on their return, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is pushing legislation that would give it additional flexibility to use the power, which among other things keeps terrorism suspects from re-entering the country.

In many Western countries, including the United States, citizenship is considered a right that cannot be taken away except in very limited cases, such as serving in another nation’s military or having obtained citizenship fraudulently. Others strip citizenship from people who take another passport. Britain, along with Israel, is one of the few countries that can revoke the citizenship of dual nationals — even if they are native born — if they are suspected or convicted of terrorist offenses or acts of disloyalty.

Britain is seeking to expand the practice to naturalized citizens who have no other nationality and would be rendered stateless. Citizenship, in the words of Home Secretary Theresa May, is a “privilege, not a right.”

The issue is beginning to stir public debate. A government-sponsored amendment expanding the practice to naturalized citizens who have no other nationality sailed through the House of Commons this year. But on Monday, in a rare act of parliamentary rebellion, the House of Lords rejected the amendment and asked instead for a joint committee of both houses to examine whether the additional powers are necessary…

Britain typically strips people of citizenship when they are outside the country. The procedure requires only that the home secretary find that stripping someone of citizenship would be “conducive to the public good,” then sign a deprivation order and send a letter to the person’s last known address. Loss of citizenship is effective immediately. It can be challenged in court, but that is a difficult task in most cases, given the inability of a targeted person to return to Britain for any proceedings.

Forty-two people have been stripped of their British citizenship since 2006, 20 of them last year, according to a freedom of information request filed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a research organization at City University London…

During World War I, anti-German sentiment and concern over foreign spies first made citizenship deprivation a popular tool both here and in the United States.

The practice fell into disuse after World War II, when it became associated with totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany. A landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 1958 struck down a law that allowed citizenship deprivation as a punishment. Proposed legislation in Congress in 2010 to reinstate the practice did not win enough support…

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