Now that ISIS no longer controls territory, the question arises of what should become of children born in the former caliphate of relationships between American (and French, British, other European) women and ISIS soldiers. Some Americans blanch at the idea that women who supported ISIS as it made war against the United States and their possibly radicalized children – both of whom will require extensive rehabilitation – should be welcomed into the country. Others suggest the U.S. has a responsibility to its underage citizens to repatriate and reintegrate them.
The situation raises ethical questions that both hinge on and transcend citizenship. Does an underage American citizen have a right to both repatriation and to family unification? Does this mean, then, that the U.S. ought to repatriate not only ISIS children but their culpable mothers? (One notes that, in the context of the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S.-citizen children of asylum seekers may not be held in detention. If the parents are detained, then the U.S. citizenship of the child can result in family separation and even placement in Child Protection Services). Relatedly, does citizenship transcend family ties? If American ISIS orphans have relatives in the refugee camps that remained committed to the ideology and, thus, cannot or will not be repatriated, is the children’s most profound right that of being repatriated to America or remaining with their extended families? Or, from an alternative perspective, who has a greater claim on the children – their nation or their relatives?
Finally, what should become of the children of mothers who, in the act of treason, lost or renounced their American citizenship before the children’s births? Should these children be considered stateless? Do they have the right to be treated as Americans? Or, even if there is no legal obligation, does the U.S. have a moral responsibility to care for these children rather than forcing countries in the Middle East to bear this burden?