Here are two citizenship stories that I've been following separately that I think are worth placing side by side and comparing. Both concern U.S. citizenship but one is about people who do not want to be claimed as U.S. citizens while the other is a fight for recognition as U.S. citizens.
The Old Expatriates: Once upon a time the U.S. did not allow its citizens to naturalize in other countries and retain their U.S. citizenship. Even today you can go to this U.S. State Department website which lists those acts which can potentially cause a U.S. citizen to lose his or her citizenship. Two of them are:
- obtaining naturalization in a foreign state (Sec. 349 (a) (1) INA);
- taking an oath, affirmation or other formal declaration to a foreign state or its political subdivisions (Sec. 349 (a) (2) INA);
Prior to 1986 performing one of the above actions (among others) meant automatic loss of one's U.S. citizenship. Two Supreme Court cases, a law passed by the U.S. Congress and a revision of State Department policy concerning dual citizenship in 1990 changed all that. Today these acts will only cause someone to lose U.S. citizenship if they are performed "voluntarily and with the intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship." This is basically recognition by the U.S. of the right to dual citizenship for birthright citizens. (Please note that this also means there are two methods of severing one's ties to the U.S.: relinquishment versus renunciation.)
So any U.S. citizen who naturalized in another country prior to 1986 (or 1990 if you prefer) was no longer a U.S. citizen the moment he or she swore an oath to the Queen or any other foreign power. A fair number of people did just that. In particular all those Americans who headed north in the 1960's and 70's. At that time none of these expatriates were required to inform the U.S. of their actions though I have seen reports on Isaac Brock that some did do so at the time. It was not until 1995 that the U.S. started requiring people relinquishing their U.S citizenship to inform the State department of that fact.
For years these people have been living quietly and happily in Canada: getting married, raising families, and working. Today many are retired. In their minds, they are 100% Canadian though many still have family and friends to the south.
Then in 2010 the U.S. Congress passed a law called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) which requires foreign financial institutions to report on financial accounts held by U.S persons (U.S. citizens and Green Card Holders). Under FATCA the burden is on the foreign bank or other entity to identify their account holders who are U.S. persons in order to turn that information over to the U.S. IRS. The easiest way to do this, of course, is through place of birth. This in turn places a burden on those Canadian citizens born in the U.S. to prove that they are no longer U.S. citizens. They are not only having to do this to satisfy their banks but also to satisfy U.S. border guards who are stopping these ex-Americans at the border and telling them to get U.S. passports and start filing taxes. One guard is even reported to have said in response to a Canadian arguing that she had given up her U.S. citizenship years ago, "You're an American until we say otherwise."
To say that these Canadians are pretty upset by this nonsense would be a grave understatement. The solution to this nightmare is to have something called a Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN). Some folks already have one buried in their archives while others are having to apply for one. Reports are that this can take up to a year.
Suspect Citizens: Moving down to the U.S. southern border a completely different situation has been evolving as the Obama administration has implemented harsh deportation policies for undocumented migrants in the U.S. and has stepped up border checks to keep potential migrants out.
Again, citizenship policy is fundamental here. The U.S. grants citizenship by both jus sanguinis (by blood) and by jus soli (by place of birth). In fact the U.S. has one of the most generous jus soli laws around. Anyone born in the U.S. is a U.S. citizen. Period.
In the zeal to cleanse the U.S. of the undocumented it appears that a number of U.S. citizens are seeing the sharp side of the boot. The U.S. does not have anything resembling a national identity card and most Americans don't carry documentation that clearly shows their citizenship status. In fact the only documents I know of that are definitive proof of U.S. citizenship are a Certificate of Nationality or Certificate of Citizenship. Birth certificates and U.S. passports also work in most cases but few people carry birth certificates in their pockets and many Americans don't have passports.
So when someone is picked up in the U.S. and is suspected of being undocumented and cannot prove on the spot that he or she is a U.S. citizen, what happens? That person can be detained or even deported. From the stories in the U.S. media it appears that very few people with last names like "Smith" or "Johnson" or "O'Reilly" ever find themselves in this situation. It's more a problem for folks like Antonio Montejano (place of birth Los Angeles, California, USA) who was arrested twice and even deported to Mexico once before the ALCU intervened and got the situation straightened out.
Jacqueline Stevens, author of States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals estimates that about 4,000 U.S. citizens were wrongfully deported in 2010 alone. In support of this assertion, and for specific cases that she has been tracking, see this thread on her website States Without Nations. There are even reports that U.S. border officials have intimidated some returning U.S. citizens at the border into renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Interestingly enough these "on the spot" renunciations do not seem to require proof of U.S. tax compliance nor a determination from the U.S. IRS that the renunciant is not giving up U.S. citizenship for the purpose of evading taxes. :-)
Not a very pretty picture is it? To the north, people being forced into proving that they are no longer U.S. citizens and to the south, people being bullied into proving that they are and sometimes being stripped of that citizenship (and the rights that go along with it) on the whim of a border guard or an immigration official.
If I were a very cynical woman I might attribute all of this to such things as racism (a desire to remove "undesirable" citizens) or greed (a blatant attempt to appropriate the assets of retired ex-Americans abroad). But I would not want to make the error of inferring intent from design. Follow the links, do your own research and make up your own mind.
As for myself I plan on thinking on it a bit more as it is very early on Saturday morning here in Versailles and I have not yet had my morning coffee.
Bon weekend, everyone!