The Obama Administration’s State Department has been dragging its heels, refusing to acknowledge that the children of the woman on death row in Sudan for her Christian faith are U.S. citizens.
Those two young American children – including a newborn infant – are imprisoned with their mother, Meriam Ibrahim. Their human rights are being violated on a daily basis, and the State Department’s response has been abysmal.
It is a basic principle of American law that the child of a U.S. citizen is a U.S. citizen. As long as at least one parent is a citizen (and meets basic residency requirements which don’t appear to be at issue here) when that child is born, under U.S. law, the child is also a citizen.
That is a basic and indisputable fact. It’s not complicated.
It is also now undisputed that Wani, Meriam’s husband, is a U.S. citizen. Finally, the State Department confirmed this fact on Monday, stating unequivocally, “We do have Privacy Act waiver for Mr. Wani at this time, who I can confirm is a U.S. citizen, as has been reported.”
Yet the State Department still refuses to acknowledge that Meriam and Wani’s children are U.S. citizens.
The only possible complication in establishing the U.S. citizenship of their children – 20-month-old Martin and newborn baby girl Maya – is in proving to the U.S. government that Martin and Maya are, in fact, Wani’s children.
The U.S. State Department is making onerous and legally unnecessary demands for proof, outside of what is required by U.S. law.
Again the legal analysis isn’t that complicated.
Under U.S. law, there is a presumption that children born during a marriage are in fact the children of both the mother and father. That means that since Meriam and Wani are married, the children, Martin and Maya both born during their marriage, are the father’s children, and therefore his U.S. citizenship passes to them.
The only conceivable way that the State Department could require further proof in this case would be if it accepted Sudan’s interpretation of Shariah law essentially annulling their previously recognized marriage.
Under U.S. law, if a child is born out of wedlock, then other forms of proof, such as DNA evidence, are required to establish with clear and convincing evidence that the child is biologically related to the father.
That’s right, for the State Department to demand DNA evidence to prove paternity means, in this case, that the U.S. government would have to follow Shariah law – the very law that has sentenced Meriam to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery (i.e. marrying a Christian man).
That’s exactly what the State Department seems to be doing. On Monday, the spokesperson for the State Department, Jen Psaki, explained:
Well, there are certain requirements that I just referenced to you that have long been the case, and they’re available on – are on the INA website. To transmit U.S. citizenship to a child born abroad there must be, among other requirements, a biological relationship between the child and a U.S. citizen, a parent or parents. U.S. regulation authorizes the Department to request whatever additional evidence it may need to establish the U.S. citizenship. Genetic testing is a useful tool for verifying a biological relationship. Again, this is all available on our website and is standard operating procedure.
Again, that’s a description of the second way to prove citizenship, only necessary where the children are born out of wedlock.
According to numerous reports, Meriam and Wani were legally married in 2011, in a Christian marriage in Sudan. It was not until this year that a Sudanese court applied Shariah law, imposing the Islamic religion of her father who abandoned her on her, convicted her of apostasy, and ignored her previously legal marriage. The court essentially used Shariah law to annul what had previously been a legal marriage, claiming that she was a Muslim through her father and not a Christian and thus retroactively could not have legally married a Christian man.
For the U.S. State Department to accept this ruling (the same ruling that sentenced her to torture and then death), it would have to accept Sudan’s interpretation of Shariah law. That appears to be exactly what is happening, and it’s outrageous.
According to Wani, the U.S. Embassy has refused to help, demanding DNA evidence even though he provided proof that he was married to Meriam. He said that according to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum:
“I will have to take a DNA sample in Khartoum, then send it to the USA for testing,” Wani said. “I have provided wedding documents and the baby’s birth certificate, and doors were closed on his face.”
Wani told Morning Star News that when he called the U.S. Embassy on April 9, a representative in Khartoum told him they did not care about the case.
“I have tried to apply for papers to travel to the USA with my wife and child, but the American Embassy in Sudan did not help me,” Wani said.
Now, not only is the U.S. Embassy closing the door in his face, the U.S. State Department appears to be jumping through hoops to follow Shariah law. Though the marriage to Meriam was legally recognized in Sudan before she was charged, the U.S. seems to be relying on the same charge that convicted her of apostasy – becoming a Christian – in order to deny or at least make it more difficult for her children to have their U.S. citizenship recognized.
Incidentally, Sudan may be acknowledging that Wani is the father of these children because the children themselves may in fact be evidence that was used to convict Meriam of adultery – having sexual relations with a non-Muslim.
Moreover, despite the State Department’s demands for DNA evidence, it has in fact publicly recognized that Meriam and Wani are married on multiple occasions. Last week, Ms. Psaki referred to Wani as “her husband” in her State Department briefing discussing Meriam, and Monday’s transcript on the State Department’s website has a section entitled “Imprisonment of Meriam Ibrahim / U.S. Engagement with her Husband.”
Meriam and Wani are clearly married. Their children, Martin and Maya, are U.S. citizens. Yet their own government refuses to acknowledge this fact as they languish in a brutal prison.
The State Department’s treatment of this case is an outrage. It’s time the Obama Administration’s State Department follow U.S. law, not Shariah law, and fight for these helpless U.S. citizens.
Take action by signing the ACLJ’s petition at BeHeardProject.com to demand freedom for Meriam and her two American children.
Matthew Clark is Associate Counsel for Government Affairs and Media Advocacy with the ACLJ. A lifelong citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he lives with his wife and three boys in Northern Virginia. Follow Matthew Clark: @_MatthewClark.