Federal authorities have prevented two relatives of a father and son convicted recently in a terrorism-related case from returning home to California from Pakistan unless they agree to be interviewed by the F.B.I.
It is unclear whether the men, Muhammad Ismail, 45, and his son Jaber, 18, have a direct connection to the terrorism case or if they have been caught up in circumstance....
The United States attorney's office in Sacramento declined Monday to answer questions about the Ismails beyond confirming that the men had not been permitted to fly into the United States and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to question them.,,,
The Ismails live in Lodi, Calif., a small farming town south of Sacramento, where their relatives Umer Hayat and his son, Hamid, were arrested last summer as part of what federal prosecutors said was an investigation into terrorist links.
The Hayats are the only people to have been charged. Hamid Hayat, the nephew of Muhammad Ismail and the cousin of Jaber, was convicted in April of supporting terrorists by attending a training camp in Pakistan. Umer Hayat, in a deal reached with prosecutors after jurors deadlocked on terrorism charges, pleaded guilty in May to lying to the authorities about carrying $28,000 to Pakistan from California....
If the government has probable cause to believe that the Ismails are guilty of a crime, then it can certainly arrest them. But to my knowledge, the government can't bar citizens — both Ismails are citizens — from returning to the country. The government generally may not strip citizens of their citizenship (subject to narrow exceptions not relevant here); and it seems to me that the right to return to the country of your citizenship is one of the most basic aspects of citizenship.
It's possible that the government is simply barring them from flying into the U.S.; this might be permissible on the theory that the government may bar from flights people who might endanger those flights, and they would then just have to fly into Mexico or Canada (if those countries allow them to do so, which presumably they would, unless they share the U.S. government's misgivings) and then drive across the border. But the article suggests that they are being barred from entering the U.S. through any means.
If you know more about the facts of the case, or about the applicable legal rules, please do post a comment. Many thanks to lawprof Eric Freedman for the pointer.
UPDATE: See also Trop v. Dulles, which I neglected to link to originally. Thanks to commenter Mark Field for reminding me.
FURTHER UPDATE: Some commenters think the article clearly points to the prohibition being only on flying in to the U.S., and not to flying into Mexico or Canada and then driving into the U.S. Here's why I think it's ambiguous: The article does say "the men had not been permitted to fly into the United States" (and variants of that), but it also says the men were on the "government's no-fly list of people not allowed to enter the United States," which suggests a prohibition on entry (imprecisely referred to as "no-fly") rather than just a prohibition on flying (which would presumably apply to purely domestic flights, or to flights leaving the United States, as well as flights entering the United States). The lawyer, Julia Harumi Mass, is also paraphrased as having said "the men were told these conditions had to be met before the authorities would consider letting them back into the United States"; and of course the opening paragraph says "Federal authorities have prevented two relatives of a father and son convicted recently in a terrorism-related case from returning home."
That's why I think wrote that "[i]t's possible that the government is simply barring them from flying into the U.S.[,... b]ut the article suggests that they are being barred from entering the U.S. through any means." I wish the article had been more precise, but it wasn't.