Q: In recent days, there has been talk in the United Kingdom of revoking the citizenship of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. As I understand it, she was born in London, which makes her a British citizen. So, in England, can they simply strip natural-born citizens of their citizenship? How about us in the United States? Can someone wake up one day and decide we don’t deserve to be citizens any longer?
S.B., of Belleville
A: We may share many similarities, but when it comes to revoking citizenship there is an ocean of difference between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Yes, under certain circumstances, natural-born British citizens can have their citizenship stripped from them — and the rules became even harsher just three years ago. In the United States, naturalized citizens also can have their new U.S. citizenship revoked through a process known as “denaturalization,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. But if you were born a U.S. citizen, you have U.S. citizenship for life unless you personally choose to renounce it.
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So if you fall in the latter category, you can rest easy — for now, at least. Here’s the nitty-gritty:
Under a 2006 amendment to the British Nationality Act of 1981, the secretary of state for the Home Department can deprive a person of British citizenship if the government is satisfied that deprivation is “conducive to the public good,” according to European Union Democracy Observatory. Since 2010, such orders of deprivation have been issued at least 37 times, including against British citizens by birth
These deprivation orders are usually served while the person is outside the UK, and they take immediate effect so that the affected person cannot return to the UK to argue their case. As a result, two people who had their citizenship revoked later reportedly were killed in U.S. drone strikes while a third was rendered to the U.S.
But until recently, citizenship could not be revoked unless the person was a citizens of at least two countries and had another citizenship to fall back on. Under the 1981 law, the UK was prohibited from making a person, in effect, stateless.
That’s no longer the case in some instances. Under the Immigration Act of 2014, those who have earned British citizenship by a process of naturalization now can have that citizenship revoked even if it would render them stateless. This can be done in instances where the government is satisfied that it would be conducive to the public good because the person has acted in a manner which is “seriously prejudicial” to the vital interests of the UK.
Still, there is a safety net. Even under these stricter rules, citizenship cannot be revoked unless the government determines that the person has a reasonable chance of gaining citizenship in another country. Moreover, how this new power is used must be reviewed periodically and reports must be sent to the secretary of state and Parliament.
So, yes, Assad’s wife could be stripped of her British citizenship, because as the offspring of Syrian parents — a father who is a cardiologist in London and a mother who is a retired diplomat at the Syrian embassy — and the wife of the Syrian leader, she no doubt could gain Syrian citizenship in a heartbeat if she doesn’t have it already. (Experts assume she does, but apparently nobody seems to know for sure) Already, the European Union has frozen her assets and issued a travel ban.
Natural-born U.S. citizens do not have that worry under current law. Their citizenship is good for life. Only naturalized U.S. citizens can have their citizenship taken away for one of the following four reasons: providing false information or concealing relevant facts during the naturalization process; refusing to testify before Congress during investigation of subversive acts within 10 years of gaining citizenship; joining a subversive group within five years of earning citizenship; and being issued a dishonorable military discharge before five years of service.
▪ More e-cycling: Bob Walter tells me that folks in the Madison County area can e-cycle their unwanted electronics from 10 to noon Saturday at Glen Carbon Village Hall. They’ll even take old TVs and computer monitors for a fee.
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Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: It seemed she was on a musical mission from God. When Sister Janet Mead released her pop version of “The Lord’s Prayer” in 1974, it became the first Australian recording to sell a million copies in the United States, shooting up to No. 4 on the Billboard charts during Holy Week. She was later nominated for a Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance, but lost to “How Great Thou Art” — by Elvis Presley, who won three Grammys (out of 14 nominations) and all for sacred recordings. Later, however, Sister Janet said her success was a “horrible time” in her life. It caused her to question her faith, shelve a follow-up album and hide from public view. Now believed to be about 79 years old, she has since resumed performing and even released a new version of her signature song on her 1999 album, “A Time to Sing.” If you were thinking Olivia Newton-John was the first Australian artist to sell a million, she didn’t accomplish the feat until months later in 1974 with “I Honestly Love You,” which won her Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance.