Precarious citizenship: cases of the UK and the US

We often think about citizenship as an inalienable status. Yet the cases of deprivation of citizenship in the US and the UK reveal that even birthright citizenship can be revoked in certain cases; even if it would lead to statelessness.

Writing about citizenship deprivation in the UK, Kamila Shamsie explores how the ‘war on terror’ affected the regulation of citizenship in the United Kingdom. Shamsie looked at the case of Mahdi Hashi, a naturalised British citizen (asylum seeker) born in Somalia. In 2012, he was stripped of his British citizenship while abroad, rendering him de facto stateless and without any kind of consular services or protection. His appeal was rejected because according to the 2012 citizenship regulation in the UK, in the case of naturalised citizens without another nationality, citizenship deprivation was possible “if the secretary of state has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.” In other words, the claim to citizenship and not the actual status was considered in decisions on deprivation.

In a similar vein, David Baluarte writes about the proposals of the US government to abolish jus soli and ‘accompanied by an intensified effort top strip people of US citizenship’. Baluarte refers to the ‘Operation Janus’ through which the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) ‘has stated its intention to refer approximately 1.600 cases to the Justice Department for denaturalization, a judicial process to strip citizenship acquired though naturalization’.

As a counterweight to these two cases, the judges at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) recently ruled that the government’s decision to revoke the British citizenship of two men from Bangladeshi backgrounds, wrongly listed as dual nationals, was wrong. The two men, deprived of British citizenship on security grounds and stranded in Turkey, are to have their nationality restored. The SIAC maintained that the two individuals had a claim to Bangladeshi nationality until the age of 21 (when they lost it) and had never taken any positive action to keep it. The ruling may have implications on other similar cases of deprivation.

Read Kamila Shamsie’s article in The Guardian and David Baluarte’s piece on Open Democracy.

More information on the SIAC judgment and the full text of the ruling in the Middle East Eye report.

Check out our country profiles for current and past citizenship legislation in the UK and the US.