WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge refused Monday to speed up a court fight over the fate of a former University of Alabama student who joined the Islamic State terrorist group and now wants to return to the United States.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton voiced sympathy for the woman’s plight but said the facts on the record are too speculative for him to toss aside regular court rules for how quickly cases proceed.
“It seems to be that I’m being asked to operate on a lot of assumptions,” Walton said during a hearing Monday morning in Washington.
Hoda Muthana’s father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, last month filed suit so that she return to the United States despite the Trump administration’s determination that she is not a U.S. citizen.
The 24-year-old withdrew from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in November 2014 and went to Syria, where she joined the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. She married multiple members of the terrorist group and eventually had a child with one of them.
Muthana fled the group in December and is now living with her son at a refugee camp in Syria.
She now wants to return to the United States, but the Trump administration determined in February she is not a citizen. The Obama administration had revoked her passport in January 2016 on the grounds that she was not a U.S. citizen because she was born before the U.S. knew that her father had been terminated from his position as a U.N. diplomat.
Arguing for her in court Monday, Charles Swift, an attorney at the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, said Muthana is “in a precarious position” in the refugee camp in northeast Syria.
He said the impending withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country might cause conditions in the area to deteriorate even further and could jeopardize U.S. access to the camp and in turn her ability to return home.
Swift said the federal government determined she is not a citizen without following the appropriate judicial process and that if it is worried about any security risks she might pose, the government could arrest her as soon as she steps onto U.S. soil.
“At this point, she has to be considered a U.S. citizen by operation of law,” Swift said in court Monday.
But Scott Stewart, a deputy assistant attorney general who argued for the federal government on Monday, called Swift’s arguments a “chain of speculation.” He said there is no evidence Muthana faces irreversible harm and noted the timeline for U.S. withdrawal from the country is still unknown.
Stewart further said that Muthana’s father has other methods to challenge both the revocation of his daughter’s passport and the administration’s citizenship determination.
While Judge Walton tossed aside Swift’s request to speed up the case, the judge appeared open to siding with him on the question of Muthana’s citizenship.
He particularly seemed interested in Swift’s argument that ruling Muthana is not a citizen because of her father’s diplomatic status could allow foreign governments to effectively avoid criminal liability for spies by designating them diplomats, firing them, and then slow-walking news of their termination to the U.S. government.