Q: Does dual citizenship erode
American national identity?
Yes: Liberal elites refuse to see the danger of the divided-loyalties time
No: A confident nation need not
worry about its citizens’ ties to other countries.
Yes: Liberal elites refuse to see the danger of the divided-loyalties time
July 10, 2000
Okay, okay, I know it sounds too good to be true. But the question of dual
citizenship really was hotly discussed in a crowd of my fellow Americans-to-be
as we all waited patiently for the judge to arrive and administer the Oath of
Allegiance one summer day back in 1994. The woman behind me reflected the
consensus. "Of course!" she forcefully declared to general approval,
in the event of another military draft she would send her children back to the
Caribbean —which she could do precisely because they all were retaining their
original citizenship. While waiting to "swear allegiance"! With court
officers all around!
Then the judge arrived. He swore us in and told us we were now as good Americans
as anyone whose family had been here 10 generations (translation: you don’t
have to assimilate), and that the United States still had a major problem:
racism (i.e., vote Democratic). Obviously my Caribbean friend knew something I
Intimate contact with the immigration process is one reason we immigrants
usually are so much less romantic about immigration than are American
intellectuals and policy wonks. (A Cuban immigrant, Harvard University’s
George Borjas, largely is responsible for the devastating finding, accepted
among labor economists but utterly unknown among intellectuals and policy wonks,
that the current immigration flow in fact brings negligible aggregate economic
benefits to native-born Americans.)
Americans fondly imagine their national community is protected by a rigorous
naturalization examination. And indeed it used to be, a consequence of the
1890-1920 great wave of immigration and the now-forgotten Kulturkampf against
German-immigrant influence during World War I. But that’s all been quietly
abandoned. I was asked only one question in my naturalization interview: What
country did the United States break away from? "I guess you know
that," said the Immigration and Naturalization service agent, who had
already suffered my stubbornly-unassimilating English accent.
I said I did —Mexico! (just kidding). Similarly, Americans imagine that the
ringing words of the Oath of Allegiance, pronounced by so many smiling
multicultural mouths in so many TV news films of mass naturalization ceremonies,
actually mean something: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and
entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince,
potentate, state or sovereignty. I take this obligation freely without any
mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
It sure sounds strong, doesn’t it? Indeed; quite frankly, how the hell could
it be more explicit? But, in fact, these words mean literally nothing — zero,
zippo or, as we increasingly say nowadays, nada.
No effort whatsoever is made to
enforce them. At one time, the United States regarded a whole range of
activities as "expatriating acts," notably service in a foreign army
or in a foreign government. In a near-total reversal, however, since 1990 the
State Department officially has presumed that even these acts do not imply an
intention to give up U.S. citizenship and intention (the dual citizen’s
intention, natch) is all that matters.
As so often with immigration policy, this profound change has occurred without
Americans being aware of it, much less being consulted. The U.S. Supreme Court
began the process by rewriting the law in Afroyim vs. Rusk, the 1967 case which
held that a naturalized American who had moved to Israel and voted in an
election there had not thereby forfeited his U.S. citizenship.
I must say I have a bad feeling about this. It seems to me that it raises a
question of what economists call "moral hazard." These immigrants are
swearing an oath that some, if not all, of them don’t intend to keep.
United States is requiring an oath that it doesn’t intend to enforce.
does this say about public probity? We constantly are told that immigrants are
self-selected for enterprise (never that they are simultaneously self-selected
for misfitness, which is why they historically have been disproportionately
represented in jails). But what are the prospects for these immigrants who enter
the United States through a portal of lies?
Still, let’s put aside my own naturalization experience as mere anecdotal
evidence (as opposed to the pure wishful thinking of the immigration
enthusiasts). Let’s read what the president of Mexico had to say, as reported
in the New York Times, Dec. 10, 1995: "You’re Mexicans —
Mexicans who live north of the border," Mr. [Ernesto] Zedillo told
Mexican-American politicians in Dallas this year. He said he hoped the amendment
[to the Mexican constitution allowing Mexicans to retain their nationality when
they are granted U.S. citizenship] would not only permit Mexican Americans to
better defend their rights at a time of rising anti-immigrant fervor, but also
help create an ethnic lobby with political influence similar to that of
American Jews." [Original emphasis.]
Vicente Fox, currently running neck-and-neck with the ruling party’s candidate
in this year’s Mexican presidential election, has made his nation’s agenda
clear in several speeches. On a recent campaign tour that took in Mexican
enclaves from Chicago to California’s Central Valley, Fox pledged to seek an
open border between Mexico and the United States in 10 or even five years.
promised that Mexicans in the United States, now newly allowed to keep their
Mexican "nationality," would in future also be allowed to vote in
Mexican elections. And in prepared remarks to the California Assembly —released
but never actually delivered because local Latino politicians became alarmed at
the uproar he was causing— Fox asserted that Mexicans look at U.S.
immigration policy "with utmost indignation." [Emphasis added]
To put this in perspective, remember that since the 1965 Immigration Act
accidentally restarted mass immigration, Mexico has been the largest supplier of
both legal and illegal immigrants. There are 7 million in the United States
right now, increasing by an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 a year. What more do
they want? More perspective: Fox is the candidate of the supposedly more
conservative, free-market, pro-American party in Mexico. What would an
anti-American Mexican say?
I think there are several distinct reasons Americans aren’t (yet) crashing
their politicians’ endless fund-raisers and demanding that Something Be Done.
First, they simply don’t realize what is going on. In a new study for the
Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, Stanley A. Renshon, editor of
Political Psychology: Cultural and Cross-Cultural Foundations, suggests that as
much as 90 percent of the current immigrant flow comes from countries that allow
dual citizenship. The numbers of such countries is increasing rapidly —at
least arguably because their leaders, like Mexico’s, are eyeing their U.S.
diaspora. The foreign-born population of the United States now is at a record 26
million, which is why Renshon describes the dual citizenship question as
"an issue of vast proportions and broad significance."
The United States is the only country in the world, he notes, to make no effort
to regulate its dual citizens’ responsibilities as well as rights. Secondly,
many Americans have been sold the idea that the United States is somehow
different from other countries —a "nation of immigrants," to use the
People can become Americans just by walking in and signing on the bottom line
—of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc. But in fact this idea is
totally new, being essentially invented by liberal intellectuals after World War
II. It would have astonished Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote histories tracing the
organic development of the United States back to England, and before that to the
forests of Germany. It would have astonished John Jay, who wrote in the
Federalist Papers that Americans could make their federal union work precisely
because they were "one united people —a people descended from the same
ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to
the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs a
band of brethren."
This is not to say that immigrants can’t be assimilated; obviously they have
been. But it requires care —care that Americans took in the past with their
legislated immigration pauses and rigorous Americanization programs.
Thirdly, something distinctly odd is going on within the American leadership
class. They just aren’t leading —not only on immigration, but on all related
questions, such as bilingualism and dual citizenship.
I was made shockingly aware of this some years ago when I was trying to persuade
Bob Bartley, the editor of the Wall Street Journal and one the country’s most
established conservative trendsetters, to break his embargo on articles critical
of immigration policy. Bartley repeated his view that illegal immigration cannot
be stopped. "The destiny of Europe," he said, "has already been
settled in North Africa [because of the population explosion there]."
Surprised, I said, "That’s a poor lookout for the nation-state."
"Oh yes," he said calmly. "I think the nation-state is finished.
I think [Kenichi] Ohmae [author of The Borderless World, a prophet of
economic regionalism popular among businessmen] is right." I was
thunderstruck. I knew the devoted fans of the Wall Street Journal
editorial page, who overwhelmingly are conservative patriots, had no inkling of
this. It would have made a great Wall Street Journal front-page story:
"Wall Street Journal Editor Revealed as Secret One-Worlder; Consternation
Among Faithful —Is Pope Catholic?"
Those of us who persist in raising questions about immigration policy are
invariably beaten down with accusations of racism. But the countercharge, it
seems to me as a humble immigrant, is that those who so ardently refuse to
think about what current policy is doing to the United States are guilty —in
the same warm, cuddly sense that they accuse us of racism— of a kind of
treason. [Emphasis added]
Brimelow is the author of
Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s
Immigration Disaster, and an editor of VDARE.com,
a Webzine dealing
with immigration issues.
No: A confident nation need not
worry about its citizens’ ties to other countries.
A Mexican law that took effect in March allowing Mexican-Americans to claim
"dual nationality" is an opportunity to ask profound questions about
what it will mean to be an American citizen in the 21st century.
Mexico’s motive is simple: There are millions of Mexican-Americans who are
U.S. citizens, most of whom are middle class. The Mexican government would like
these Americans to make investments in Mexico, create jobs and spend pesos. But
Mexican governments long have shunned "foreign" involvement in their
politics and economy.
So Mexico’s new law allows those born in Mexico and naturalized in the United
States to claim Mexican nationality but remain U.S. citizens. Like legal
permanent residents of the United States (who are taxed on their worldwide
income) they get economic rights and duties that only Mexicans have, but not
political ones. They can vote for the mayor in Los Angeles but not in Juarez.
Some Americans worry about divided loyalties. But why should they? There is an
almost feudal fear of modern freedom to travel and communicate —like the
Afghani Islamic Taliban regime’s death penalty for married women who talk to
other men. It makes more sense to recognize that, just as a spouse can be
faithful to his wife yet love his mom and sister (and even have female friends
and coworkers), so too a U.S. citizen can have all sorts of loyalties — to
America, Israel, the Baltimore Orioles, etc.
U.S. law and policy on dual citizenship is like the Mississippi River: powerful
and muddy, but the direction is clear. It runs right down the heart of what it
means to be an American. Unlike other countries, the United States was invented.
When the Founders worked it out, there were no citizens anywhere on the planet;
only subjects and sovereigns, rulers and ruled.
Core identity in most countries is founded on ethnicity, such as in Germany; or
culture, as in France; or geography, as in Great Britain, historically an island
possessed by the English, Welsh and Scots.
Our American identity, on the other hand, is not based on ethnicity, nor
economics; not language or culture. America is based on a civic faith. Thomas
Jefferson nailed the idea: "That all men are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable rights and that to secure these rights, governments are
Dual citizenship hardly threatens U.S. citizenship. That is because, as Ben
Wattenberg put it, we are the "first universal nation." This partly
explains why 65 million people from all over the world have come here.
Complaints heard today about Mexican immigrants were heard in the 19th century
about Germans, Irish and Italians. What worked then, works now: Americanization.
They become us, and who we are expands to include them.
The Bill of Rights exists within our borders, where our government keeps it
secure. It does not dilute the universality of the American principles of
freedom and self-government that other nations have followed our example. And it
renews the sources of our liberties when immigrants come here to become
Dual citizenship is only possible when a U.S. citizen acquires another country’s
citizenship or when, as in the Mexican case, another nation’s laws maintain a
link with a person beyond their U.S. naturalization. Some object to that, citing
the naturalization oath’s phrase "I hereby renounce and abjure any and
all foreign princes, potentates, states, or sovereignties." Those who swear
the oath become U.S. citizens.
And yet, who cares what another country’s laws say? That’s not the mark of a
confident nation. To understand American confidence over dual citizenship,
consider when the federal government could take citizenship away: It cannot. We’re
a free country. Some of the Founders took the traditional European concept of
the citizen as a subject — ergo, the state ruled. Jefferson took the opposite
view — the individual is sovereign, not the state. The polity (all the
citizens) make the state’s decisions, but only to the point where unalienable
rights reside in individuals: majority rule, minority rights.
Look at the "Big Muddy": The world has at last adopted the American
concept of citizenship, based on unalienable rights and individual sovereignty.
They’ve followed our example of upholding individual liberties, and we should
not subvert our tradition by attempting to punish those who choose dual
Congress stirred the waters a bit by legislating "expatriating acts"
by which a U.S. citizen lawfully abandons citizenship by actions such as voting
in another country’s elections, serving in another country’s armed forces or
holding office in a foreign government. It is all to the good that these efforts
to deny citizenship have been overturned by U.S. courts upholding the
Constitution’s founding promises.
The definitive statement was made in the Afroyim vs. Rusk decision in 1968. The
State Department tried to enforce the statute that deemed voting in foreign
elections was an expatriating act. The Supreme Court settled the matter:
Congress has "no power" to deprive an American of his U.S.
This was established by the case of the late Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish
Defense League in the United States and the Kach Party in Israel. Kach sent
Kahane to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The State Department informed him
that serving in another nation’s government would deprive him of his U.S.
citizenship. Citing Afroyim, Kahane asserted that the State Department had no
power to take his passport away. The court agreed. Kach’s Israeli opponents
outlawed those with dual citizenship from serving in the Knesset (Kahane voted
in opposition). So to run for reelection, Kahane formally renounced his U.S.
citizenship (he lost). When he re-entered the United States with his U.S.
passport, the State Department again tried to take it away. The case went back
to court, where the State Department lost again.
With some exasperation, the State Department pointed out that, after all, Kahane
had renounced his citizenship. But Kahane’s priceless response was, in effect:
"Oh, I only did that because I had to, under Israeli law, to run for the
Knesset. The U.S. government cannot deprive me of my U.S. citizenship — only I
have that power and I do not choose to use it. I changed my mind." He won,
and the State Department appealed. Kahane, however, was murdered while the
appeal was pending and there the matter rests, as a matter of law. But as a
matter of policy, some of us are waist-deep in the "Big Muddy."
E Pluribus Unum has a purpose. In 1999, Ghanian President Jerry Rawlings made a
state visit to President Clinton. At the press conference, a reporter asked:
"I’ve heard that Ghana is offering some sort of dual citizenship to
African-Americans. What’s the reasoning behind it?" Rawlings replied:
"You are our kith and kin." But the former dictator candidly stated
the exclusive implications of citizenship: U.S citizenship "demand(s)
loyalty to the American Constitution, and yet I cannot demand the same kind of
loyalty to my country. But nonetheless, there’s no reason why I will deny my
fellow black African the right to enjoy the citizenship I enjoy as an
Clinton apparently thought Ghana’s dual citizenship offer would be good for
tourism, remarking that he thought it was "quite a clever idea." To
his credit, Rawlings (who took power in a coup) then corrected Clinton about
what being a Ghanaian means: Power. "[I]f you run afoul of the laws and
regulations of my country, the — what do you call it? — the judiciary, the
police and the laws of my country will take their cause without the American
government attempting to intervene, to say, this is a citizen of my
country." Inexcusably, Clinton agreed.
Consider the case of Harry Wu. A Chinese dissident, Wu spent years in the gulag
and, upon becoming a U.S. citizen, returned to China to document atrocities such
as organ farming. The Chinese arrested him, and the only reason he is still
alive is that the U.S. government quietly told China: He’s one of ours now.
China does not recognize dual citizenship. Perhaps Ghana will persuade them to
Then there is Samuel Sheinbein. Showing no noticeable interest in being an
Israeli before being accused of a particularly brutal murder in Montgomery
County, Md., he then fled to Israel, which refused to extradite a dual
U.S.-Israeli citizen. So Sheinbein was tried in Israel, convicted and received a
lighter sentence than would have been likely in the community where the crime
Surely, the president did not mean that crooks who claim dual citizenship with
Ghana or any other country could simply switch passports, fly "home"
and beat the rap. The Wu case shows that a U.S. passport remains a powerful
shield, protecting the rights we founded our government to secure. Yet some
governments, such as China’s, hold that individuals are subjects still. What
if, like Ghana, the Chinese authority that arrested Wu had "taken its
So how about a simple principle: Dual citizenship is only good if the rights and
responsibilities of U.S. citizenship are extended with it. If not, it’s no
good. Ghana is wrong: Citizenship isn’t based on race. China is wrong:
individual rights rule. Mexico is wrong: being Mexican (or Chinese or American
or Ghanaian) isn’t just about economic rights to invest, own and be taxed.
It may be argued that journalist Peter Brimelow, who was born in the United
Kingdom, is living proof we need more civics in our naturalization test, since
he managed to become a citizen without learning what it means to be an American.
He’s wrong to worry that immigrants who speak Spanish, or think fondly of the
country they left behind, erode what makes us America. They renew it, instead.
The American model is the right one. That’s why U.S. citizenship means so
much, that so many will literally die for it. (Many with accents, and some with
more than one passport.) We are always forming "the more perfect
union." Let’s keep it that way.
Donnelly is a writer and media consultant, with a 10-year record of promoting
legal immigration and is the organizer of the Web-based Immigration Reform
Originally published in "InsightMag.com."
Symposium, July 10, 2000
See at < http://188.8.131.52/archive/200007118.shtml >.
Used by permission of the author.