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Muthana’s case bears some similarities to that of Shamima Begum, who traveled to ISIS-controlled Syria with two friends. She too is now in a camp. She too has a child. And she can't return to her family either. The British government stripped Begum of her citizenship, saying that she possessed Bangladeshi nationality as well, though the Bangladeshi government says that it will not admit her because she has never been a citizen. Begum’s and Muthanna’s cases might appear isolated, but they represent a political dilemma for Western nations that are grappling with what to do with their citizens who joined ISIS or moved to the group’s territory: Bring them back and try them for their actions while inflaming political debate at home, or strip them of their citizenship and be seen as weakening the rule of law.
In Muthana’s case, the consequences extend further still. The government’s position, that she was never eligible for citizenship, is a contentious one because, on the face of it, the facts surrounding her case aren’t controversial. Muthana was born on October 28, 1994, in Hackensack, New Jersey, to Ahmed Ali Muthana and his wife.
The Trump administration’s move centers on Muthana’s father. A former Yemeni diplomat, his position ended on September 1, 1994, more than a month before Hoda was born (the children of diplomats posted to the United States are ineligible for birthright citizenship).
According to the government, though, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations wasn’t officially notified that Ahmed Ali Muthana had left his diplomatic position until February 6, 1995, more than three months after his daughter was born. According to the lawsuit, the government maintained that this means he wasn’t “within the jurisdiction of the United States,” and so his daughter was not an American citizen. In other words, the case against Muthana appears to hinge on a filing delay.
The date of the government’s letter, January 15, 2016, suggests it was issued in the final days of Obama’s presidency. The Trump administration appears to be following the Obama administration’s legal justification for denying Muthana citizenship.
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The lawsuit filed on behalf of Muthana’s father against President Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General William Barr says that the government’s rationale “contradicts [the government’s] prior interpretations of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations that diplomatic immunity terminates at the time the diplomat’s position is terminated.”
The Trump administration has not publicly disclosed its legal logic for saying Muthana isn’t a citizen. The State Department did not respond to an email seeking comment about its position. Last week, Pompeo said in a statement that Muthana “does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.” Yet according to the lawsuit, she was issued passports twice: in 2005 and in 2014.