The United States should end its folly of tolerating dual citizenship for persons who vote, serve in office, or otherwise demonstrate allegiance to a foreign government.
As the New Testament sermonizes, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other.” The United States Constitution thus prohibits any federal officeholder, without the consent of Congress, from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.
Most would be stunned to learn, however, that under U.S. law (8 U.S. Code, section 1481), a person may retain citizenship despite enrolling in the armed forces of a foreign nation at war with the United States, serving as president of a foreign state, or even committing treason. Raffi Hovannisian on becoming Armenia’s foreign minister, declared, “I certainly do not renounce my American citizenship.” Muhamed Sacirbey, foreign minister of Bosnia in 1995-1996, did not lose his U.S. citizenship. The chief of the Estonian army from 1991-1995, Aleksander Einseln, likewise enjoyed dual citizenship. As Thomas M. Franck has chronicled, several Americans have represented their other country of citizenship as ambassadors to the United Nations.
Last month, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies passed legislation endowing 10 million Mexican and Mexican-Americans with the opportunity to cast absentee ballots from the United States in the 2006 Mexican presidential elections. The Central Mexican state of Zacatecas embraces Mexican migrants as candidates for electoral office. Andres Bermudez, a wealthy California grower christened the “Tomato King,” captured a mayoralty. Two other immigrants garnered seats in the state legislature. Mexican candidates routinely motorcade in the U.S. seeking political support from Mexican-Americans.
The magnitude of the dual citizenship-divided loyalty problem is elusive. Approximately 60 countries permit expatriates or migrants to vote via absentee ballots, including Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil and Honduras. The number permitting dual citizenship has been variously estimated at from 37 to 89. The U.S. government neither records nor estimates the number of its dual citizens. But baseline figures and trends are troublesome. The foreign-born population in the United States probably approaches 30 million to 35 million, or approximately 10 percent. That percentage is climbing because of disproportionate youth and high fertility.
And immigrants to the United States characteristically arrive from nations that accept dual citizenship. In sum, the problem of split allegiances cannot be swept under the rug as an inconsequential crumb.
Patriotism is the alpha and omega of national strength, even if occasionally misappropriated as the last refuge of a scoundrel. Undivided devotion to the United States and embrace of its hallowed ideals and heroes are what make the nation flourish. Single citizenship finds expression in eagerness to enlist in the armed forces or to support its soldiers; to participate in the nation’s political affairs; to join voluntary private organizations, like the Rotary Club, the League of Women Voters or the PTA; to cooperate with law enforcement; to make donations to domestic charities; and, to promote America’s signature culture by living and breathing social equality, nondiscrimination, individual rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech.
Dual citizens who demonstrate political attachments to a foreign government, in contrast, will be less resolute in celebrating and advancing the interests of the United States. They will be less inclined to sacrifice to make the nation like a sparkling “city that is set on an hill,” in the manner that Augustus Caesar “found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” Furthermore, if dual citizenship is indulged with official nonchalance, the lofty ideals associated with American citizenship will be dimmed.
Accordingly, Americans who vote in a foreign election, occupy any office in a foreign state, enlist in a foreign army, attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, or otherwise affirm allegiance to a foreign nation should forfeit their citizenship. Accomplishing that is clouded by the United States Supreme Court decision in Afroyim v. Rusk (1967). There, a narrow 5-4 majority held unconstitutional a statute that made voting in a political election in a foreign state a justification for revoking citizenship acquired by naturalization.
Writing for the court, Justice Hugo Black broadly sermonized that the 14th Amendment permits loss of citizenship only by voluntary relinquishment. Obeying that edict, current federal law makes a specific intent to relinquish United States nationality the touchstone for its loss.
Congress should either propose a constitutional amendment to overcome Afroyim; or, enact legislation that deletes the specific intent requirement in the expectation that the high court will reconsider the precedent. Dual allegiances do not imminently threaten the fabric of the United States. But they fuel a yawning indifference to American customs and civic spirit indispensable to national vitality.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.