WASHINGTON – A federal judge ruled Thursday that Hoda Muthana, an American-born woman who joined ISIS in 2014 and says she now wants to return home to her family in Alabama, is not a U.S. citizen.
In a surprise ruling from the bench, Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia abruptly dismissed a lawsuit brought by her family seeking to force the Trump administration to bring her home from a refugee camp in Syria, along with her 2-year-old son — the child of a slain ISIS fighter.
The ruling leaves the fate of Muthana and her child in doubt amid the deteriorating security environment in northern Syria since Turkey invaded territory held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S. ally. The refugee camp in which Muthana and her son are held is overseen by the SDF.
Muthana's case has been politically charged since President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post in February that he had directed the secretary of state "not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!"
But it has turned on novel issues about when diplomatic immunity ends and an exception to the general rule that anyone born on U.S. soil is automatically a citizen. Muthana's father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, was a United Nations diplomat from Yemen. Children of people with diplomatic immunity are not automatically granted citizenship despite being born in the United States. But Ahmed Muthana was discharged from his diplomatic post shortly before Hoda was born in 1994.
The U.S. government, however, said it was notified about that change in early 1995, after she was born, and stopped considering him covered by diplomatic immunity only then. The gap raised the question of whether his diplomatic status expired as a matter of law before or after her birth.
One of the lawyers representing the Muthanas and who was in the courtroom, Christina Jump, said they would probably appeal after the judge issues a written ruling.