14 Year Odyssey to get U.S. Citizenship Back After Forced Renunciation
Fourteen years, and five lawyers later, my client won a stunning victory when the U.S. Department of State was finally convinced to restore his U.S. citizenship after stripping him of it in 2004.
A native of Jordan, my client’s case began with a California criminal conviction for financial elder abuse; he was a naturalized U.S. citizen but his inartful plea deal included renunciation of his citizenship. Renunciation of citizenship is rare. Official records, which State and Treasury Departments view as inaccurate, show approximately 5,000 annually, but the government doesn’t really know how many Americans expatriate themselves. As a result, there are inaccurate records.
In 2013, a Ninth Circuit Court Judge referred this case to me. I really hadn’t a clue how to handle it and the work of the prior lawyers in the file did not help as their very similar efforts failed. But when I read my client’s consistent accounts of what he endured, I was fascinated and committed to using all my analytical skills and every bit of creativity I had to build a case. I felt like a forensic investigator.
Renunciation must be voluntary and with intent to renounce, and my client insisted he had never voluntarily and with intent renounced his citizenship. On the contrary, he kept telling everyone he did not want to renounce. I amassed a team of seven and together we discovered evidence showing that my client was right — he did not renounce his citizenship voluntarily and with intent. The file of evidence we put together was so thick and every time I look through it I see more than the time before. Our most interesting expert was a former Guantanamo Bay interrogator who trains government officers in eliciting truth from witnesses and targets of investigations. She believed my client’s story after analyzing all his writings and interviewing him. This and hundreds of pieces of evidence were unearthed; the proof piled up and the government’s story was unsubstantiated.
After hiring his last criminal defense attorney, the idea of renouncing citizenship came up but my client was given no time to think or choose whether to accept renunciation in the plea offer. He and his brother were convicted within a few weeks of hiring counsel. On May 5, they were convicted and sentenced the same day when they signed a plea agreement to include renunciation. On May 12, 2004 the brothers were swiftly escorted to the Tijuana Consulate in a black, unmarked van. Plain clothed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers escorted them, one visibly armed with a gun. The brothers were frightened, and they repeatedly said they did not want to renounce. They were held at the consulate all day long.
While at the consulate they were also threatened by an unidentified U.S. State Department official, who said he would and could turn them over to Mexican authorities without ID. When he could not get them to renounce, he arranged for the Assistant District Attorney and an ICE Supervisor in Los Angeles to call and speak with the brothers. The agents and officials treated the brothers like prisoners, though they were on probation. Over and over, the brothers kept saying they did not want to renounce their citizenship but were told they had no choice. Towards the end of the day of increased threats if they did not renounce, my client’s brother, who did not appeal his case, began crying, shaking, hyperventilating and begging his brother to renounce, even though neither wanted to. My client feared for his brother’s health, and they finally renounced together. While writing and signing they maintained it was under duress. This is classic, violative coercion. Even according to a witnessing State Department official, they had indeed been coerced and had involuntarily renounced citizenship.
Following this, the brothers were forced out of Mexico. On May 24, they arrived in their native Jordan. It wasn’t until nearly three months later that their citizenship was officially revoked by the Department of State in Washington, DC. One stamp on the Certificate of Loss of Nationality indicated the date; the brothers were in fact forced from the U.S. while they were still U.S. citizens and they had no idea until I discovered it and told them years later. My client refused to give up and started fighting his case three days after he returned to Jordan. Despite repeated requests via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process and administrative review of the renunciation, the State Department either ignored those requests, lied about the file contents as though there was nothing damning against them in it, or denied his claims until now.
Today, my client finally has the justice he deserves. He is free, U.S. passport in hand, and now able to avail himself of the rights and privileges he missed for so long. We conducted a scientific dissection of the facts, creative analysis of the evidence, and received sufficient cooperation from internal government witnesses who saw what happened that day. We could not be denied. In fact, the case was decided in less than normal processing time.
The happy ending to this long battle restores my faith in our nation and rule of law. I sincerely hope that State Department officials will think twice before they circumvent due process again.