On August 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Palestinian terrorist Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, who procured both her admission to the United States, and her U.S. citizenship, by fraud had been denaturalized and will be deported. This announcement marked the end of a lengthy legal battle to rid the United States of a vicious murderer who should never have been given access to our shores.
In 1969, Odeh, was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an anti-Israel terrorist group. Acting on behalf of the PFLP, Odeh detonated a bomb in a Jerusalem grocery store, killing two Israeli college students and wounding nine other innocent shoppers. Several days later, she also triggered an explosion at the British Consulate in Jerusalem. Miraculously, no one was killed but the building was heavily damaged.
Subsequently, Ms. Odeh was convicted of murder, and other charges, by an Israeli court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Thereafter, she attempted to escape from prison but was apprehended. Despite her escape attempt, she was released by the Israeli government as part of a 1979 prisoner exchange. She then took up residence in Jordan. In 1994, Odeh lied about her convictions in order to obtain a green card. In 2004, she again lied about her convictions in order to obtain U.S. citizenship. Had she disclosed her criminal record, she would never have been allowed into the United States, much less granted citizenship.
When immigration authorities became aware of Odeh’s terrorist past, they charged her with immigration fraud and sought her denaturalization. After a series of technical court rulings and appeals, she finally pleaded guilty to procuring naturalization unlawfully. Although, her plea deal appears to have been calculated to avoid prison time.
Odeh’s case demonstrates the importance of accurate, thorough vetting. She was able to circumvent our immigration security procedures at least three times: when applying for an immigrant visa, when entering the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident, and when applying for citizenship. The ease with which Ms. Odeh was able to mislead immigration authorities is shocking. She simply lied to get what she wanted and only appears to have been caught by accident. The system set up to protect both the American public and the value of American citizenship should be much more effective – and much more difficult to short-circuit.
Denaturalization is an important tool. It ensures that foreign criminals, terrorists, and human rights abusers can’t use U.S. citizenship as a shield against the consequences of vile acts in their past. But it makes much more sense to simply deny admission to bad actors than it does to spend millions of taxpayer dollars trying to strip them of American citizenship they never should have had in the first place. The Trump administration understands just how important vetting is to our national security and public safety. Let’s hope Congress rapidly follows suit. The hard working men and women of the Departments of State and Homeland Security need the tools necessary to keep out odious foreign terrorists, like Rasmieh Odieh.