On Dual Citizenship

Last month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report titled “U.S. Naturalization Policy”, by CRS Immigration Policy Analyst William Kandel.

In the report, Mr. Kandel makes passing reference to birthright citizenship, a matter of some controversy these days given a booming business in “birth tourism” among Chinese nationals and others, but, as he notes, delving into it at any depth was beyond the scope of a report on naturalization. I agree, but hope that a future CRS report does focus on the subject. (CIS has explored birthright citizenship at some length. See hereherehere, and here, for example.)

Of equal interest is the portion of the report relating to dual citizenship. Every alien who naturalizes is required by the oath of citizenship to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” (Emphasis added.)

But as Mr. Kandel notes, a number of countries, including Mexico, have passed laws that permit its nationals to retain their citizenship even after having naturalized elsewhere:

Because some individuals continue to exercise rights in other countries, some [parties] have expressed concerns that those countries may not know that these individuals have renounced such citizenship upon naturalizing in the United States. Such concerns about divided national loyalties have motivated legislative proposals to alert foreign countries about the naturalization of their former citizens.

I can think of nothing more ineffectual than such a legislative proposal. It is foolish and naïve to assume that Mexico does not know precisely what our naturalization oath requires, or to assume that the Mexican legislature wasn’t deliberately flashing a neon sign to those who now live “al Norte” that they will still be welcomed back as native sons or daughters whenever they return.

At heart, the problem isn’t one of the attitude taken by other governments, it’s the one taken by our own.

An anecdote: When I was a young and not very experienced officer with the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), I was assigned to investigate a recently naturalized man. During my investigation I discovered that the man was in possession of a newly issued passport from his original country of nationality; one that post-dated his naturalization. The man admitted that it had been issued at his application. I considered it prima facie evidence that he took the naturalization oath with false intent, and seized it. In the short time it took me to return to my office, he had contacted the foreign embassy, which filed a complaint with the State Department, which registered a complaint with my Central Office, which of course reached out to my District Director. I walked into a firestorm on my arrival at the office, and was directed to turn immediately back around and return the foreign passport to the newly naturalized “American” with an apology.

The lesson I learned that day — one that was never contradicted in any way in the nearly 30 years of my subsequent career with INS — was that our own government looks at the words contained in the oath of citizenship with a wink and a nod.

In my view, sending “notices” to countries that know full well what they are about is no substitute for holding the oath-takers to account.

If Congress is serious about ensuring that our citizens, and our citizenship, are to be respected, then it must also ensure that the organs of government in the executive branch hold naturalized citizens to the plain and specific language of the oath of allegiance, instead of permitting it to be treated as a dalliance good only so long, and in such circumstances, as may be deemed convenient.

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