Following the adoption of citizenship revocation policies by some countries, there is growing concern among immigration experts about how this method of dealing with criminal behavior actually ends up leaving the problem for weaker societies to deal with.
Legal experts believe that such rules, like those in Canada’s Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, are an abdication of society’s responsibility in dealing with criminal conduct. Instead of revoking citizenship, criminals should be prosecuted in criminal courts and taught the values of the rule of law, civil society, tolerance, democracy and human rights.
Proponents of citizenship revocation have become increasingly vocal following reports of a number of young people becoming radicalized and joining foreign terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, ISIL, and Boko Haram. Statistics show that 150 Americans have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join ISIL, and of these only 40 have come back.
Critics of citizenship revocation believe that while there is an urgent need to stop terrorism around the world, taking away citizenship is not the solution to the problem. Over the years, the US and Canada have denaturalized citizens accused of Nazi crimes
instead of prosecuting them. However, the citizenship laws of these countries were not used to prove criminality, but to highlight the falsified information used to obtain citizenship. To do the same to terrorists today – strip them of citizenship and remove them from the country – is not going to achieve much in terms of dealing with terrorism.
“We need to vigorously prosecute our home-grown extremists and fanatics in criminal courts – where they belong. While more difficult than simply revoking a passport, criminal prosecution avoids any due process objections that our ‘traveling warriors’ can raise,” says an immigration expert.
Canada’s new citizenship law empowers the government to revoke the citizenship of an individual who engages in armed combat against Canadian soldiers overseas. The law applies to only those who hold dual citizenship with another country so that such a revocation does not make the individual stateless. The new law therefore effectively aims to dis-entitle terrorists who are dual citizens of their Canadian rights.
Following Canada’s lead is Australia, where a new bill is being introduced to make similar changes in the citizenship law. “The legislation will update the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to ensure dual nationals who serve or fight for terrorist groups, or engage in terrorism-related conduct inspired by terrorists groups, automatically lose their Australian citizenship,” said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.
The UK too has a similar law. The US, however, tried to introduce a similar bill last year, but has not yet done so due to constitutional objections that were raised.
Legal experts argue that stripping citizenship is a kind of persecution, and such individual should instead be tried and punished under applicable law. They believe that using citizenship rules to deal with terrorists will fail to achieve what is intended and would severely undermine the rule of law because the problem should fall under criminal law and not citizenship and naturalization law.
“The alarming and growing Western reliance on denaturalization as a tool for dealing with criminal or odious behavior is an abdication of society’s responsibility in dealing with such conduct. Instead of capturing and prosecuting the accused, we will simply be dumping the problem in someone else’s backyard. But the problem remains. And what is more, security-wise, the menace is left for weaker societies to deal with,” says one immigration expert.
In addition to the need to prosecute the terrorists, experts have pointed to the urgent need for western countries to deal with the underlying problems that are affecting today’s youth – unemployment, racism, broken families, extreme income disparities, etc. in order to ensure that fewer and fewer young people feel the need to turn to violence and adopt extremist agendas.
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