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Can the US really strip Ilhan Omar of her citizenship?
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Can the US really strip Ilhan Omar of her citizenship?

A confusing tangle of court rulings and executive-branch policies have made it tougher to denaturalize people who never should have been granted citizenship in the first place.

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) recently spoke at a Minneapolis event discussing the fledgling Republic of Somaliland’s efforts to break away from greater Somalia. In the course of that speech, she assured her mostly Somali audience that she is “Somali first, Muslim second.” She also told them that they could “sleep in comfort knowing I am here to protect the interests of Somalia from inside the U.S. system.”

Prominent Republicans immediately began calling for Omar’s expulsion from Congress, denaturalization, and deportation. And rightly so — the last thing our country needs is a Manchurian candidate serving the interests of an unstable terror haven like Somalia from within the U.S. Congress.

But are Omar’s statements actionable? The answer to that question is complex.

When you hand the Visigoths the keys to the gates of Rome, the empire will inevitably fall.

The Immigration and Nationality Act does allow foreign nationals to be stripped of their citizenship in certain very limited circumstances. Aliens who have committed certain acts (obtaining naturalization through fraud; declaring allegiance to a foreign state; bearing arms against the U.S.; committing treason, etc.) may be tried before a federal court and stripped of their citizenship. This process is known as “denaturalization.”

But a confusing tangle of complex judicial decisions and executive-branch policies have made it increasingly difficult to take citizenship away from those who should never have been naturalized in the first place.

A First Amendment shield

So where does that leave Omar, who has an established track record of anti-American utterances and who sometimes seems to be working harder on behalf of vicious terror groups like al-Shabab and Hamas than she does for the American people?

There certainly is a plausible argument that what Omar said violates the oath of allegiance she took when being naturalized. That pledge begins, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen …”

The oath concludes with a statement that the individual takes “this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” And Omar’s statements do seem to indicate that she held mental reservations with regard to the vows she was taking.

Nevertheless, American courts have generally required abstract states of mind to be proven by evidence of action consistent with the presumed thought process. Right now, we have no proof that Omar has engaged in acts like passing classified information to Somalia or to terror groups.

Thus, any reviewing court is likely construe very broadly any statements that Omar is “Somali first” or that she will “protect” the “interests of Somalia,” as political speech protected under the First Amendment that cannot serve as a basis for denaturalization. And, in any case, the Biden administration, with whom Omar is ideologically aligned, is unlikely to take any legal action against her.

A more promising avenue of stripping Omar of her citizenship might be the ongoing claims that she committed fraud to aid a relative in gaining access to the United States.

She has been accused of marrying Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, who is allegedly her brother — while still legally married to her first husband — in order to obtain a green card for him. Omar has publicly claimed Elmi is not her sibling, but she has never provided any documentation or other information that would put the matter to rest.

If the allegations are true, then Omar is guilty of incest, bigamy, and immigration fraud. A conviction for any of those three offenses would likely render her subject to expulsion from Congress, denaturalization, rescission of her green card, and deportation from the United States. But, while the FBI has purportedly looked into these issues, the bureau hasn’t revealed any of its findings.

And, once again, it appears unlikely that the Biden administration is willing either to pursue these kinds of charges or aid state authorities in levying them.

Disaster waiting to happen

By any reasonable measure, Ilhan Omar has shown repeatedly that she neither likes nor respects the nation that welcomed her family as refugees and presented her with a path to success. As such, it is reasonable to conclude that she ran for Congress either to further her own interests or to further the interests of her beloved Somalia — a nation riddled with terrorists from al-Shabab, one of the world’s most dangerous jihadist groups.

Accordingly, Ilhan Omar’s case should serve as a cautionary tale for American lawmakers and jurists. Rendering it virtually impossible to denaturalize foreigners who never deserved U.S. citizenship in the first place is disaster waiting to happen. When you hand the Visigoths the keys to the gates of Rome, the empire will inevitably fall.

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Matt O'Brien

Matt O'Brien

Matt O’Brien is the director of investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute and the co-host of IRLI’s podcast “No Border, No Country.” He is a former U.S. immigration judge.
Dale L. Wilcox

Dale L. Wilcox

Dale L. Wilcox is the executive director and general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.