Taxes, not Terrorism, can get your Passport Revoked

It is an interesting commentary on our priorities that the IRS now has the authority to revoke the passports of Americans who are in arrears by more than $50,000, but Americans travelling overseas to fight with ISIS can return safely home with passports in hand. As USA Today notes, the new provision was included in the FAST Act highway transportation bill signed by President Obama on Dec.4:

A new enforcement provision passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this month allows the government to revoke the passports of seriously delinquent tax scofflaws -- people who owe more than $50,000 to Uncle Sam.

“You could be on your honeymoon and they could revoke your passport," said Tom Wheelwright, a certified public accountant and chief executive officer at ProVision Wealth Strategists in Tempe, Ariz.

Putting pressure on scofflaws to pay up is nice, but these days we are more concerned about terrorists than tax evaders -- using the passport revocation in the war on terror has met with resistance from Democrats and the Obama administration.

In July, the House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) to deny or revoke the passports of Americans deemed to have rendered material aid and/or assistance to designated terrorist organizations. As the bill, which has gone nowhere, states:

…the Secretary of State may refuse to issue a passport [or revoke a previously issued one] to any individual whom the Secretary has determined has aided, assisted, abetted, or otherwise helped an organization the Secretary has designated as a foreign terrorist organization

We have entered a new era in the war on terror -- one of home grown and legal terrorists who with a wave of that document can cross borders freely, receive training and support, then return home to further recruit or actually commit terrorist acts.

Poe’s bill would add consequences to travel abroad to visit terrorist facilities and the congressman believes it would be as effective as it is necessary:

Recent deadly terrorist attacks in France, Australia and Canada have reminded us that radical Islamic terrorists are ready and eager to take their murderous rampage worldwide. The threat to America from these groups has never been greater. Unfortunately, some of our citizens have travelled to the terrorist hotbeds in Syria and beyond to help extremist groups accomplish that goal. The Benedict Arnold traitors who have turned against America and joined the ranks of foreign radical terrorist armies should lose all rights afforded to our citizens. This bill will help law enforcement locate these individuals by preventing them from travelling internationally so that they can be captured and brought to justice. Most importantly, this legislation will prevent turned Americans from entering the United States undetected. These people are not returning to America to open coffee shops; they are coming back to kill. We must stop them from coming back at all.

Fellow Texan and presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz attempted in September 2014 to fast track his bill to revoke the passports of those Americans, to coin a phrase, found to be fraternizing with our terrorist enemy. He attempted to rush the bill to the floor, bypassing committee consideration, but his unanimous consent request was blocked by a Democratic colleague. As the Daily Mail reported,

A showdown over the passports of so called 'foreign fighters' -- Americans and other westerners who have joined the ISIS terror army in Iraq and Syria -- came to a head on Thursday when a U.S. senator killed legislation aiming to strip them of their citizenship.

Democrat Mazie Hirono, a freshman senator from Hawaii, objected on the Senate floor when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tried to fast-track his 'Expatriate Terrorists Act.’

The revocation of citizenship for terrorist association overseas has been said by some to be both unworkable and unconstitutional. Yet seemingly we can revoke the passports of those trying to steal from our government without objection but not from those in effect making war on us and our government.

In October 2014, FBI Director James Comey told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that a “dozen or so” Americans had traveled to Syria to fight with ISIS and that they were entitled to come back unless their passports were revoked, and that we would otherwise “track them” when they returned, presumably as well as we observed the warning signs regarding the Tsarnaev brothers and the San Bernardino terrorists, one an American citizen with a passport. As CNSNews reported:

Comey said he expects some of these Americans to return to the United States: "Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport's revoked, is entitled to come back. So, someone who's fought with ISIL, with an American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully."…

"These homegrown violent extremists are troubled souls, who are seeking meaning in some misguided way. And so they come across the propaganda and they become radicalized on their own, independent study, and they're also able to equip themselves with training again on the Internet, and then engage in jihad after emerging from their basement."

That is precisely the sort of ISIS-inspired “lone wolf” terrorist we need to stop. If we know who they are, don’t just track them. Revoke their passports the same as we do tax scofflaws, and then incarcerate them. As Jay Sekulow, Chief Consul of the American Center for Law and Justice, wrote recently in Fox News Opinion, Paris showed us the need and the threat is real:

By now, the stories are familiar. France has a problem with homegrown radicals. At least 900 French citizens are among the 2,000 to 3,000 westerners who’ve left home for jihadist training or to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In many ways, the western jihadist represents the worst threat. Able to speak the language fluently, completely familiar with their home countries, and possessing a key weapon -- an American, British, French, or German passport -- they can easily cross international boundaries….

This is not an imaginary threat. Not only have Americans joined ISIS, some have even lost their lives fighting for jihadists. In fact, as many as 40 men from Minneapolis alone have joined Islamic groups abroad. And just last week in Chicago, A U.S. citizen was indicted by a federal grand jury -- charged with attempting to travel overseas to fight alongside the ISIS operating in Iraq and Syria.

These men aren’t just threats to the United States; they’re also threats to our closest allies. For our allies, the American passport is a ticket of entry, no visa required. And, similarly, for British, French, and other allies, their passport is a ticket of entry into the United States. The door is wide open for terrorists to take advantage of centuries of friendship and trust. It is time we slam that door shut.

Indeed it is. It is time to revoke the passports of wannabe American terrorists and not just tax scofflaws.

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.               

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