Undivided loyalty strengthens. Dual citizenship weakens. The U.S. Supreme Court circumscribed the nation’s ability to defend itself against dual citizenship featuring loyalties to foreign masters in Afroyim v. Rusk (1967) by holding U.S. citizenship could be lost only by “voluntary renunciation.” Rep. Sam Graves, Missouri Republican, plans to propose an amendment to an immigration bill next Thursday to blunt the folly of Afroyim by criminally punishing acts that signal disloyalty to the United States, for example, serving in a foreign army or as an official in a foreign state. It should command universal support.
The United States is defined by common habits, customs, ideas and values — for example, self-initiative, the rule of law, religious freedom and self-government. The Founding Fathers recognized divided political or cultural loyalties would endanger the nation’s unity and viability.
In 1794, President George Washington lettered Vice President John Adams: “[T]he policy of [immigration] taking place in a body (I mean settling them in a body) may be much questioned; for, by so doing, they retain the language, habits and principles (good or bad) which they bring with them. Whereas by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendents, get assimilated to our customs, measures and laws: in a word soon become one people.”
James Madison urged a welcome mat for immigrants eager to assimilate, but the exclusion of persons unlikely to “incorporate [themselves] into our society.” Alexander Hamilton advised America’s success would pivot on “preservation of a national spirit and national character” embraced equally by the native-born and immigrant; that a Republic’s safety rested upon a “love of country” and “the exemption of citizens from foreign bias and prejudice;” and that gradual assimilation would “enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachment: to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government.”
These views found expression in the Naturalization Acts of 1795. The statutes required would-be citizens to “satisfy a court of admission as to their good moral character and of their attachment to the principles of the Constitution.”
Equally important, they required an Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance to protect against citizens whose hearts or minds remained in foreign lands:
“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 of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.”
Single allegiance and devotion to the United States is calculated to encourage a sweeping array of voluntary civic actions essential to national cohesion, community welfare and a flourishing democracy: reporting crime or antisocial activity to proper authorities; testifying at criminal trials and serving as conscientious jurors; voting; joining a political party; writing letters to the editor; peacefully challenging government policies; denouncing hate speech or bigotry; contributing time to the PTA, Little League, public school events or the local fire department; making charitable contributions for municipal, state or national causes; or joining the volunteer armed forces. Unitary allegiance also inclines citizens to believe and act on the idea what is good for the United States is good for them.
A competing citizenship is likely to divert a citizen’s energies and ambitions away from the United States and into foreign politics, governments, armies and culture.
The problem is not academic. About 90 percent of contemporary immigrants hail from countries that permit or encourage dual citizenship, including Mexico. It accounts for 30 percent of the immigrant population in the United States.
Mexican officials have candidly acknowledged that offering Americans of Mexican ancestry Mexican citizenship aims to weaken their attachments to the United States. In 1997, a committee chairman of the Mexican Senate elaborated: “[T]he reports [on dual nationality] that we present today… recognize that Mexicans abroad are equal to those of us who inhabit Mexican national territory. Belonging to Mexico is fixed in bonds of a cultural and spiritual order, in customs, aspirations and convictions that today are the essence of a universally recognized civilization.”
Juan Hernandez, 2000-2002 head of the Office for Mexicans Abroad, told ABC’s “Nightline,” “we are betting” U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry “will think Mexico first, even to the seventh generation,” and to the Denver Post that Mexican immigrants “are going to keep one foot in Mexico” and “are not going to assimilate in the sense of dissolving into not being Mexican.”
Mexico’s success in wooing Americans of Mexican ancestry into its orbit is epitomized by Manuel de la Cruz, a naturalized citizen from Los Angeles who emigrated 34 years ago. On July 4, 2004, Mr. de la Cruz was elected to the legislature of the Mexican state of Zacatecas, where he took an oath of allegiance to the Mexican Republic despite his previous Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Graves’ amendment would seek to deter such blatant evasions by making criminal voting in a foreign election, seeking electoral office in a foreign state or serving in a foreign government. Its enactment should be but the first step to halt an insidious attenuation of citizen love for the United States.
Learn from the Roman Empire: Its collapse began with the refusal of its citizens to guard the borders.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.