As first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Kanter will become a U.S. citizen on Monday and in the process also legally change his name to Enes Kanter Freedom.
The developments cap a multiyear immigration saga for Kanter and further his advocacy of democracy-promoting reforms.
Turkey canceled Kanter’s passport in 2017, while he was in Bucharest, Romania, en route to the U.S. Kanter was a citizen of Turkey and, as of 2016, a permanent U.S. resident (green card holder). The cancellation meant that Kanter had to remain in a Bucharest airport until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ensured his safe return.
The cancellation also interfered with Kanter’s capacity to travel internationally. Without a valid passport, Kanter needed to apply for, and obtain, travel documents issued by Homeland Security for green card holders who lack valid passports to leave and re-enter the U.S. Fortunately for Kanter, who has had to visit Toronto to play games against the Raptors, travel between the U.S. and Canada is more streamlined. Canada permits entry to green card holders.
Born in Switzerland in 1992 and raised in Turkey, Kanter was accused by Turkish authorities of facilitating a suspected coup attempt of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Kanter has long used social media platforms to depict Erdoğan as violating human rights, going so far as to describe him as a “maniac” and “the Hitler of our century.” Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant but couldn’t serve it since Kanter was outside the country’s jurisdiction.
Kanter’s immigration problems grew in 2019 when Turkey sought to extradite him on accusations of membership in an armed terrorist organization. As portrayed by Turkey, Kanter had unlawfully used ByLock, an encrypted messaging app, to coordinate efforts to replace Erdoğan with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen. Kanter’s father, Dr. Mehmet Kanter, was imprisoned in 2018 for alleged subversive activities tied to Gülen. (Dr. Kanter was released from a Turkish prison in 2020.)
The extradition attempt failed. The extradition treaty between the U.S. and Turkey lists 33 extraditable offenses, none of which clearly contemplated the types of accusations leveled against Kanter. The treaty also rejects extradition when accusations are guided by political purposes. Even where extradition is possible, the process contains multiple checkpoints, with reviews by the U.S. State Department and federal judges. To that point, it was unclear whether there was evidence of criminal activity, let alone sufficient evidence for a finding of probable cause—a requirement under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for Kanter to be charged in the U.S. with a crime.
Turkey still threatened Kanter by filing a “red notice” with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). A red notice notifies member Interpol nations of a wanted fugitive and asks they arrest or detain the fugitive if he or she enters their borders. While a red notice didn’t obligate a nation to arrest Kanter, he would have nonetheless risked arrest by travelling. The fact that Kanter is 6’11” and a public figure would also have made it hard for him to blend in.
Kanter has also openly worried about assassination attempts. While a member of the New York Knicks in 2019, Kanter missed a game against the Washington Wizards in London. He expressed fear that he would be “killed.”
Kanter’s journey to naturalized U.S. citizenship required several steps. He had to remain a law-abiding green card holder for five years (three if he had married a U.S. citizen) and pass an English test, civics test, background check and interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As a U.S. citizen, Kanter can now obtain a U.S. passport, vote and run for public office. While abroad, Kanter can also seek assistance—and, if need be, protection—from American embassies and other diplomatic channels made available to U.S. citizens. Citizenship will also facilitate Kanter’s travel back into the U.S., compared to his status as a permanent resident. He can also more easily petition for family members to lawfully enter, and stay in, the U.S.
Kanter, 29, is not the first active NBA player to legally change his name to advocate for policies. Lloyd Free changed his name to World B. Free and Ron Artest became Metta World Peace (last year Peace changed his name a second time, to Metta Sandiford-Artest). Freedom is also not a new name for Kanter. During the 2020 NBA bubble, players were allowed to use approved social messages on the backs of their jerseys. One such message was “Freedom,” which Kanter selected.
Although he has played infrequently this season—as of Monday, Kanter had appeared in only 11 of the Celtics’ 21 games, averaging just 12 minutes per game under rookie head coach Ime Udoka—Kanter has made waves off the court. He has called out China over human rights abuses; criticized the NBA for conducting business with state-controlled Chinese companies; dared Nike president Phil Knight, Michael Jordan and LeBron James to visit what he termed “slave labor camps” in China; urged for a boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games; blasted the International Olympic Committee for allowing what he calls a “brutal dictatorship” to host the Games; suggested the 2022 Olympics be relocated on account of the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai; and reminded his followers that “Taiwan is not part of China.” In response, Chinese video streaming company Tencent stopped broadcasting Celtics games.