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Friday, April 26, 2013

Citizenship and the Boston Bombing

Our chapter on citizenship discusses denaturalization, the process by which naturalized citizens may lose their status under certain limited circumstances.  At Slate, Patrick Weil writes:
If the Boston Marathon bombing had taken place 70 to 90 years ago, alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would have been stripped of his American citizenship in addition to being imprisoned or executed for his crimes. In the first decades of the 20th century, naturalized citizens like Tsarnaev were routinely deprived of their citizenship for committing radical, "un-American" activities that took place after their naturalization. Citizenship in those years was understood as a benefit offered by a country in exchange for its citizens’ obedience to the laws of the land, always with the threat that certain actions could lead to its loss. It’s an approach the Supreme Court later rejected in the name of equal rights.

The Supreme Court reinforced the rights of naturalized citizens in 1967. Writing for the majority in the case of Afroyim v. Rusk, Justice Hugo Black said the 14th Amendment guaranteed protection for “every citizen of this Nation against a congressional forcible destruction of his citizenship.” When the 14th Amendment states that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States,” it makes citizenship an absolute right. The same is not true of “life, liberty, or property”; citizens can be deprived of each if they are afforded “due process of law.”

Today, a naturalized American can be stripped of citizenship only if facts emerge that would have initially warranted denial of his application—never for actions committed after the naturalization. This frames the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He will probably be deprived of his liberty and, perhaps, his life. Even if condemned to death, however, Tsarnaev will face his sentence as an American citizen. Each citizen—even the most troubling—preserves his status. For the court, safeguarding the rights of each naturalized American ensures the dignity and rights of all.