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Immigration reform meets dual citizenship

- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

When President Bush discusses immigration policy with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Texas tomorrow, he should challenge the purpose and legitimacy of Mexico's promotion of dual citizenship. To understand the significance of this issue, let us examine the case of Manual de la Cruz.

Mr. de la Cruz emigrated from Mexico in the early 1970s. Eventually, he became an American citizen and took the Oath of Allegiance in which he "absolutely and entirely renounced all allegiance and fidelity" to any "foreign state." Yet in 2004 Mr. de la Cruz was elected to the Zacatecas state legislature and declared loyalty to the Mexican Republic, violating the Oath of Allegiance that he took to the United States. The point is not to pick on Mr. de la Cruz, who seems to be a very gifted individual, but to examine the relationship between dual citizenship and American democracy.

Unlike many other nations, American citizenship is not based on racial, religious or ethnic identity. It is based, instead, on political loyalty to American constitutional democracy. People from anywhere in the world can become Americans. But if our great historical success in assimilating millions of immigrants is going to continue, ultimately newcomers must be loyal to the U.S. Constitution and not to any other constitution.

Mexican legislative bodies have reserved seats for deputies representing Mexicans living in the United States. The general idea makes sense, but the problem is the Mexican government has designated as "Mexicans" naturalized American citizens and even their children born in the United States. Several years ago, Fox Cabinet member Juan Hernandez declared "we are betting" Mexican-Americans will "think Mexico first" to the "seventh generation." Thus, Mexican government policies directly challenge American national interests in patriotically assimilating these newcomers.

Clearly, people of Mexican ancestry who are citizens of the United States are Americans, not "Mexicans living abroad," anymore than American citizens of Italian ancestry are "Italians living abroad." If the United States accepts the principle that it is legitimate for foreign-born citizens (or, worse, for their American-born children) to maintain political allegiance to the foreign state from which they emigrated, we have accepted a racial-ethnic definition of citizenship that makes a mockery of our 200-year old immigration ideal.

In effect, Americans would have accepted the old Germanic concept of das Volk (or Latinized, its Spanish equivalent of La Raza) in which the "race" trumps citizenship. Unfortunately, like the British in the War of 1812 (who insisted "once an Englishmen always an Englishmen"), today, the Mexican government favors a racial-ethnic standard of national identity.

Dual citizenship is wrong in principle. It violates the American ideal of equality of citizenship. It means dual citizens are, in effect, privileged "supra-citizens" because unlike other Americans they have voting power in more than one state and are loyal to more than one constitution.

Some people argue that even if the principle of retaining political loyalty to the "old country" is inconsistent with the moral basis of American democracy, it is good in practice because immigrant dual citizens promote "pro-American" and "democratic" values in their birth countries. While this sounds reasonable, it is often not the case.

For example, Mr. de la Cruz was elected as a member of the traditionally populist anti-American, Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), whose Web site in 2003 had pictures not only of the currently fashionable Che Guevara, but of V.I. Lenin.

The coming debate over immigration should not simply focus on labor-market economics, while ignoring the integrity of U.S. citizenship. When Congress and the Bush administration address changes in immigration laws, they must address the threat that increasing dual (and thus racial-ethnic) citizenship poses to the traditional American concept that a naturalized citizen transfers political allegiance to the United States.

In 1967, by a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 200 years of constitutional practice by prohibiting Congress from stripping U.S. citizenship from naturalized citizens who vote in foreign elections. Nevertheless, Congress has authority to enact legislation establishing legal sanctions (such as heavy fines) against naturalized citizens who clearly violate the Oath of Allegiance they freely took by voting in foreign elections and being elected to foreign legislatures. These sanctions would serve two purposes: (1) to discourage the practice, and (2) to remind everyone (Americans and the rest of the world alike) we are serious about the Oath of Allegiance and about our traditional ideal of political rather than racial or ethnic citizenship. It is time to add the idea of challenging and curbing dual citizenship to our immigration reform discussion.

John Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.