Judge: NJ-Born Woman Who Joined ISIS Is Not an American Citizen

Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey to a diplomat from Yemen and grew up in Alabama

Islamic State Bride Alabama
Hoda Muthana/Attorney Hassan Shibly via AP

What to Know

  • A federal judge has ruled the U.S. government was correct when it said a U.S.-born woman who joined ISIS was not an American citizen
  • Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey to a diplomat from Yemen and grew up in Alabama; she fled in 2014 and resurfaced in Syria
  • Lawyers for Muthana's family said Friday that they plan to appeal the ruling

A federal judge has ruled the U.S. government was correct when it determined a New Jersey-born woman who joined the Islamic State group was not an American citizen despite where she was born. 

Lawyers for the family of the woman said Friday that they plan to appeal the ruling. 

“While we are disappointed with and disagree with the Court’s ruling today, this is not the end of our client’s legal options,” said Christina Jump, a lawyer with the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America. 

Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey in October 1994 to a diplomat from Yemen and grew up in Alabama. In 2014, she left the U.S. to join IS apparently after becoming radicalized online. While she was overseas the government determined she was not a U.S. citizen because her father was a diplomat at the time of her birth and revoked her passport. 

She surrendered in January to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as the Islamic State began losing the last of its self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria and has been in refugee camps ever since. Muthana said she regretted her decision to join the group and wanted to return to the U.S. with her toddler child, the son of a man she met while living with the group and later died. 

Her family filed suit to enable her return to the United States. Children of diplomats are not entitled to birthright citizenship but the family’s lawyers argued that her father's status as a diplomat assigned to the U.N. ended before her birth and she was automatically a citizen. 

The U.S. says it wasn't notified that his status had changed until February 1995, apparently because of a delay in reporting it by the U.N., and therefore he was still a diplomat. 

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton upheld that determination Thursday. Jump said the judge ruled from the bench that he believes he is bound by the Department of State’s representation as to when the government received notice that the father’s diplomatic position had ended, and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss on that basis. 

Her case has drawn widespread attention because President Donald Trump tweeted about it in February, saying he had directed the secretary of state not to allow her back into the U.S. The decision to revoke her passport was made under President Barack Obama.

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