Denaturalization

Denaturalizing for Post-Citizenship Crimes: Italy Edition

Italy's recent legal changes go beyond denaturalizing for pre-naturalization activity and set a dangerous precedent.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Italy has suffered a horrific crime, in which a school bus driver allegedly kidnapped a bus containing 51 children and subsequently lit it on fire during a police stand-off. Thankfully, the children were rescued through smashed windows even though some of them were tied up, and in the end nobody died (although 14 people were injured through smoke inhalation).

The bus driver was 47-year-old Ousseynou Sy, an Italian citizen born in Senegal who was protesting the Italian government's immigration policy and recent related deaths in the Mediterranean. Sy apparently explicitly stated, "Stop the deaths at sea, I'll carry out a massacre." Italy has for some time now refused docking to boats carrying up to hundreds of migrants, thus prolonging their journey and risks to their lives.

Many question why Sy was allowed to drive a school bus when he had previously been convicted of assault and driving while intoxicated. For his recent actions, prosecutors are charging him with kidnapping, attempted mass murder, causing a fire and resisting arrest, and they are still considering whether to add terrorism charges. As a parallel matter, officials from the interior ministry are apparently investigating whether to revoke Sy's Italian citizenship.

Through what mechanism would they accomplish this goal? Italy passed a legal measure last year that would allow the revocation of citizenship for individuals convicted of particular terrorist offenses that result in convictions of five to ten years. Note that this would apply to entirely post-naturalization criminal actions.

While Sy–who tried to kill dozens of children–does not elicit a great deal of personal sympathy, this sends the message to naturalized citizens that they are never truly equals before the law given that natural-born Italian citizens do not run the same risk. Convicting Sy for his actions and condemning them in strong terms does not require destabilizing the concept of citizenship.

While the U.S. does not have provisions to denaturalize individuals for crimes they commit as citizens, some government officials have taken actions suggesting they would like to see the law heading in that direction here as well. One such example is the case of New Jersey-born Hoda Muthana, about which I blogged previously, where the government did not question the timing of when her diplomat father renounced his status and did not declare her a non-citizen until she became involved with ISIS in her 20s. While this U.S. case involves a different mechanism, the background philosophy and the outcome could be much the same.

It is worth noting in closing that the hero in the bus saga was not an Italian citizen himself: It was 13-year-old Ramy Shehata–born in Italy to Egyptian parents–who hid his cell phone when the driver took those of other students and later managed to call his father while pretending to pray in Arabic. Thanks to his bravery and quick thinking, his family was able to alert the police of the kidnapping, which played a key role in saving everyone's life.

After the ordeal, Shehata's father said: "My son did his duty, it would be nice if he got Italian citizenship now. We would love to stay in this country. When I met him yesterday I hugged him hard."

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37 responses to “Denaturalizing for Post-Citizenship Crimes: Italy Edition

  1. Naturalized citizens who choose not to torch buses full of children also don’t face the risk of denaturalization. I mean, I get your point but this seems a bright line rather easy to avoid.

    1. So you think the only thing that will ever lead to a threat of denaturalization is torching a bus full of children and that this policy will never, ever get expanded to lesser offenses? That seems … optimistic.

      Especially since prosecutors have historically shown such restraint precisely never.

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  2. Perpetrators of terrorism should be hanged. If that happened, it wouldn’t particularly matter if they revoked citizenship first.

    1. This is the same continent that sentenced that guy who shot 70+ people to 25 years. He’s already bragging behind bars, pharaphrased, “I did the crime, I’m doing my time. I WILL BE OUT.”

      1. Anyone who engages in inappropriate “parody,” particularly in an academic context, should rapidly be denaturalized, especially here in America where university careers are insufficiently protected. See the documentation of our great nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

        https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  3. Being an open borders nut, this whole thing strikes me as just statists of one sort or another arguing about how much statism is too much. But I can’t help but notice the conflict between, on the one hand, thinking it immoral to rescind naturalization for crimes but wanting to reward heroism with naturalization.

    1. I am as opposed to statism as anyone, but I find your comment confusing. If you’re opposed to statism, presumably you believe that government should be limited to its essential functions. There’re any number of non-essential things governments do that you can object to as “statism,” but guarding the country’s borders isn’t one of them.

  4. “But I can’t help but notice the conflict between, on the one hand, thinking it immoral to rescind naturalization for crimes but wanting to reward heroism with naturalization.”

    How is that different than wanting good, hardworking people to come to the country and become citizens, but being against stripping lazy people of their citizenship and kicking them out.

    1. If they should not be connected in the first instance, why is it ok to connect them in the second?

  5. Fraudulently claiming citizenship doesn’t establish permanent citizenship of the USA, which is what Hoda Muthana is accused of doing.

    Neither the passage of time, nor lack of knowledge of the fraud is a defense against restoring the lawful state of non-citizenship.

    1. Fraudulently claiming citizenship is a pretty impressive feat for a newborn.

  6. I think that the lose of citizenship should not be limited to naturalized citizens. If a citizen engage in treasonous actions such as joining in combat that is in opposition to US interest should also be subject to the loss of citizenship. That would depend upon being charged and convicted of treason.

    1. Serious question: Where would you expel a US born and raised citizen if you “revoked” their citizenship?

      1. the middle of the Pacific 🙂

        1. Cute, but not a serious answer. You are essentially saying that revoking someone’s citizenship is the equivalent of a death sentence. If you’re going the kill the person for their crime, be honest about it and just do that. (At which point, revoking citizenship becomes pointless.)

          1. The original question referred to treason.

            Traitors should be hanged.

        2. We have this kind of law in Australia:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Prakash

          I’m not sympathising with Parakesh, he’s likely staying in Turkey for a while anyway… But a neat factor of his case for the purposes of this discussion is that he was born in Australia. (Most of the rest of the world does not have pure birthright citizenship like the USA.)

          Surely as libertarianishists we agree that the state will fuck this up to the detriment of **everybody** and that should form the basis of our objection.

          The measure of the benign or evil of the state is how it treats not only the least fortunate, but also the least deserving. That’s always been at the core of libertarianism: The well intentioned fucking around with the power of the law creates deleterious unanticipated second, third-order etc effects on the community.

  7. You can’t be convicted of treason if you’re not a citizen, William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) tried this defense in 1946. It didn’t work.

    1. IIRC he was an American who mistakenly thought he was British so he got a British passport, which he held at the time of his defection to National Socialist Germany in the early days of the war.

      The acts he committed while the mistakenly-issued passport were in effect were what constituted the treason.

      1. Also, I’m not sure if he was the same treasonous broadcaster whose mannerisms earned him the sobriquet of Lord Haw Haw. He was a traitor under the definition above, but it may have been some other guy who had the distinctive laugh.

  8. “While [Hoda Muthana’s] case involves a different mechanism, the background philosophy and the outcome could be much the same.”

    Apparently Hoda Muthana’s citizenship claim was subject to additional scrutiny after she joined ISIS, and the government determined that she was never a citizen. It’s hard to see how this is similar to the case described here.

    1. Really? Two naturalized citizens who did despicable things and their adopted countries are now considering revoking their citizenship? Didn’t seem that hard. Unless you have decided to accept the Trump administration’s determination on Muthana’s citizenship on faith. We’ll see what the Italian government can cook up, maybe Sy was never an Italian citizen either.

      1. “Unless you have decided to accept the Trump administration’s determination on Muthana’s citizenship on faith.”

        You mean the Obama administration’s determination on Muthana’s citizenship. And the issue is whether or not Muthana is a natural born citizen. There is no dispute that she did not go through the naturalization process with the rest of her family.

  9. Rule of law is the rule of law, if that is what Italian says then I don’t perceive any injustice. You might have a minor point that the law was changed after he became a citizen, but he was on notice his citizenship could be revoked when he committed the crime. It’s not like they are using his previous crimes to revoke his citizenship, not that they will work in his favor.

    As for naturalized U.S. Citizens, Congress is specifically granted authority in the constitution to regulate naturalization. I don’t see any prohibition against de-naturalization, so I don’t think there’s a constitutional problem there as long as it’s not ex post facto, and there is due process.

    1. Rule of law is the rule of law, if that is what Italian says then I don’t perceive any injustice.

      How postmodern of you.

    2. Rule of law is the rule of law, if that is what Italian says then I don’t perceive any injustice

      I mean, slavery was allowed by law in the U.S.; I guess it wasn’t an injustice.

      As for naturalized U.S. Citizens, Congress is specifically granted authority in the constitution to regulate naturalization. I don’t see any prohibition against de-naturalization, so I don’t think there’s a constitutional problem there as long as it’s not ex post facto, and there is due process.

      Well, the Supreme Court does.

      (Congress is specifically granted authority to provide rules for naturalization, not to denaturalize anyone.)

      1. Why wouldn’t rules for naturalization include conditional naturalization that can be revoked?

  10. It doesn’t matter whether Hoda Muthana once had US citizenship, even by birth, because anyone who goes to the Middle East and joins ISIS (or any other country or wannabe-country that is hostile to the US) thereby renounces any US citizenship s/he might have had.

    1. I would add that the same holds true for John Walker Lindh, who joined the Taliban. When it’s time to release him he should be deported to Afghanistan. It’s his problem that the Taliban no longer rule there.

  11. Don’t de-naturalize him. Execute him. There … fixed.

    1. Yeah, in the case of this lunatic. But how about the next naturalized citizen who gets caught selling some pot, or fails to pay child support?

  12. terrorist offenses that result in convictions of five to ten years

    So I think I see the real problem here: 51 counts of attempted terroristic murder is punished with 5-10 years in prison

  13. I am kinda interested in the Cesar Sayoc sentencing. He is the guy who attempted murder by mailing plastic pipe bombs to a number of prominent leftists, to include Pelosi and Soros. He is also a Seminole Indian with a long history of disturbing and threatening behavior. He was living in his van and it did have Trump stickers on it, which the media made sure we knew about.

    Experts in bomb technology have appeared on the media to assure us that these were serious devices that were mailed, although none exploded, or even fizzled, as far as has been reported. We don’t know if Sayoc had Semtex grade explosive or fireworks grade, or in what quantity.

    Sayoc recently pleaded guilty in Florida. Perhaps at sentencing we will at last find out how big a boo this story really was, maybe. . .

  14. “…when he had previously been convicted of assault and driving while intoxicated.

    In Italy, they call that “Saturday afternoon.”

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