US Government Blocks Re-Entry of Citizens

Ed Hasbrouk has pointers to an incredible story: :

The USA has forbidden any airline from transporting to the USA a Mr. Jaber Ismail, a natural-born USA citizen and California resident, not a dual citizen. They aren’t saying they will arrest him or detain him for questioning on arrival. They aren’t asking the government of the country he has been visiting to arrest him. But they won’t let him come home.

There’s been some discussion of this as a Constitutional question, but it’s actually much more fundamental as a question of international human rights law, including treaties which the USA has actually ratified…

News articles vary on this: some say that the government is just preventing airlines from flying them home — which is bad enough! — others say they are barred from entering the country at all:

Federal authorities told the [San Fransisco] Chronicle that although neither Muhammed nor Jaber Ismail has been charged with a crime, they are barred from reentering the United States unless they submit to further FBI questioning in Pakistan.”

I have doubts about the legality of the no-fly rule although presumably the government might defend it by saying that victims of the new blackballing could sail or fly to Canada or Mexico and then walk in to the USA. In any case, this abuse of it should certainly demonstrate why it’s a bad policy. And when, as in this case, it matures into a de facto no-entry ruling, that ought to be unconstitutional.

It seems that Ismail has a lawyer who understands the issues,“They want to come home and have an absolute right to come home,” said [Julia Harumi] Mass, who has filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and a petition with the Transportation Security Administration.

“They can’t be compelled to waive their constitutional rights under threat of banishment,” Mass said. “The government is conditioning the return to their home on cooperation with law enforcement.”

Aviation watch lists were created in 1990 to keep terrorists off planes and track drug smugglers and other fugitives. But since al Qaeda’s attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the government has expanded the lists significantly. Members of the public cannot find out if, or why, they are on a no-fly list.

Michael Barr, director of the aviation safety and security program at USC, said the Ismail case appears to be unusual in the realm of federal terrorism investigations.

“You become what is called a stateless person, and that would be very unprecedented,” Barr said.

Speaking of which … our friends at Homeland Security have a proposal to, as Ed puts it,

to formalize the power of the DHS to prohibit anyone (including citizens of the USA) from traveling to or from the USA (or, for that matter, through the air over the USA, such as on flights between Europe and Mexico, or Canada and Latin America) except by express prior permission of the DHS.

Ed’s got a lot of useful information on that proposal as well.

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2 Responses to US Government Blocks Re-Entry of Citizens

  1. If I remember my Con Law from first year reasonably well enough, I know state governments can’t prevent citizens from traveling between states, but this seems particularly absurd. It’s one thing for our fear-mongering government to refuse entry to a foriegn citizen, but when it is a US citizen it seems as though there would be a due process issue at the very least. This kind of all-or-nothing citizenship will result in little more than a passive errosion of constitutionally protected civil liberty and the steady expansion of a police state. I just hope the upcoming elections and the judicial process will rectify this profound restriction on civil liberties.

  2. If I remember my Con Law from first year reasonably well enough, I know state governments can’t prevent citizens from traveling between states, but this seems particularly absurd. It’s one thing for our fear-mongering government to refuse entry to a foriegn citizen, but when it is a US citizen it seems as though there would be a due process issue at the very least. This kind of all-or-nothing citizenship will result in little more than a passive errosion of constitutionally protected civil liberty and the steady expansion of a police state. I just hope the upcoming elections and the judicial process will rectify this profound restriction on civil liberties.

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