INSIGHT Debate: Does Dual Citizenship Erode American National Identity? Yes!
Print Friendly and PDF



Q: Does dual citizenship erode American national identity?

Yes: Liberal elites refuse to see the danger of the divided-loyalties time bomb.

By Peter Brimelow

Okay, okay, I know it sounds too good to be true. But the question of dual citizenship really was hotly discussed in a crowd of my fellow Americans-to-be as we all waited patiently for the judge to arrive and administer the Oath of Allegiance one summer day back in 1994. The woman behind me reflected the consensus. "Of course!" she forcefully declared to general approval, in the event of another military draft she would send her children back to the Caribbean — which she could do precisely because they all were retaining their original citizenship. While waiting to "swear allegiance"! With court officers all around!

Then the judge arrived. He swore us in and told us we were now as good Americans as anyone whose family had been here 10 generations (translation: you don't have to assimilate), and that the United States still had a major problem: racism (i.e., vote Democratic). Obviously my Caribbean friend knew something I didn't.

Intimate contact with the immigration process is one reason we immigrants usually are so much less romantic about immigration than are American intellectuals and policy wonks. (A Cuban immigrant, Harvard University's George Borjas, largely is responsible for the devastating finding, accepted among labor economists but utterly unknown among intellectuals and policy wonks, that the current immigration flow in fact brings negligible aggregate economic benefits to native-born Americans.)

Americans fondly imagine their national community is protected by a rigorous naturalization examination. And indeed it used to be, a consequence of the 1890-1920 great wave of immigration and the now-forgotten Kulturkampf against German-immigrant influence during World War I. But that's all been quietly abandoned. I was asked only one question in my naturalization interview: What country did the United States break away from? "I guess you know that," said the Immigration and Naturalization service agent, who had already suffered my stubbornly-unassimilating English accent.

I said I did — Mexico! (just kidding). Similarly, Americans imagine that the ringing words of the Oath of Allegiance, pronounced by so many smiling multicultural mouths in so many TV news films of mass naturalization ceremonies, actually mean something: "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. I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

It sure sounds strong, doesn't it? Indeed; quite frankly, how the hell could it be more explicit? But, in fact, these words mean literally nothing — zero, zippo or, as we increasingly say nowadays, nada. No effort whatsoever is made to enforce them. At one time, the United States regarded a whole range of activities as "expatriating acts," notably service in a foreign army or in a foreign government. In a near-total reversal, however, since 1990 the State Department officially has presumed that even these acts do not imply an intention to give up U.S. citizenship and intention (the dual citizen's intention, natch) is all that matters.

As so often with immigration policy, this profound change has occurred without Americans being aware of it, much less being consulted. The U.S. Supreme Court began the process by rewriting the law in Afroyim vs. Rusk, the 1967 case which held that a naturalized American who had moved to Israel and voted in an election there had not thereby forfeited his U.S. citizenship.

I must say I have a bad feeling about this. It seems to me that it raises a question of what economists call "moral hazard." These immigrants are swearing an oath that some, if not all, of them don't intend to keep. The United States is requiring an oath that it doesn't intend to enforce. What does this say about public probity? We constantly are told that immigrants are self-selected for enterprise (never that they are simultaneously self-selected for misfitness, which is why they historically have been disproportionately represented in jails). But what are the prospects for these immigrants who enter the United States through a portal of lies?

Still, let's put aside my own naturalization experience as mere anecdotal evidence (as opposed to the pure wishful thinking of the immigration enthusiasts). Let's read what the president of Mexico had to say, as reported in the New York Times, Dec. 10, 1995: "You're Mexicans — Mexicans who live north of the border," Mr. [Ernesto] Zedillo told Mexican-American politicians in Dallas this year. He said he hoped the amendment [to the Mexican constitution allowing Mexicans to retain their nationality when they are granted U.S. citizenship] would not only permit Mexican Americans to better defend their rights at a time of rising anti-immigrant fervor, but also help create an ethnic lobby with political influence similar to that of American Jews." [Emphasis added.]

Vicente Fox, currently running neck-and-neck with the ruling party's candidate in this year's Mexican presidential election, has made his nation's agenda clear in several speeches. On a recent campaign tour that took in Mexican enclaves from Chicago to California's Central Valley, Fox pledged to seek an open border between Mexico and the United States in 10 or even five years. He promised that Mexicans in the United States, now newly allowed to keep their Mexican "nationality," would in future also be allowed to vote in Mexican elections. And in prepared remarks to the California Assembly — released but never actually delivered because local Latino politicians became alarmed at the uproar he was causing — Fox asserted that Mexicans look at U.S. immigration policy "with utmost indignation."

To put this in perspective, remember that since the 1965 Immigration Act accidentally restarted mass immigration, Mexico has been the largest supplier of both legal and illegal immigrants. There are 7 million in the United States right now, increasing by an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 a year. What more do they want? More perspective: Fox is the candidate of the supposedly more conservative, free-market, pro-American party in Mexico. What would an anti-American Mexican say?

I think there are several distinct reasons Americans aren't (yet) crashing their politicians' endless fund-raisers and demanding that Something Be Done. First, they simply don't realize what is going on. In a new study for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, Stanley A. Renshon, editor of Political Psychology: Cultural and Cross-Cultural Foundations, suggests that as much as 90 percent of the current immigrant flow comes from countries that allow dual citizenship. The numbers of such countries is increasing rapidly — at least arguably because their leaders, like Mexico's, are eyeing their U.S. diaspora. The foreign-born population of the United States now is at a record 26 million, which is why Renshon describes the dual citizenship question as "an issue of vast proportions and broad significance." The United States is the only country in the world, he notes, to make no effort to regulate its dual citizens' responsibilities as well as rights.

Secondly, many Americans have been sold the idea that the United States is somehow different from other countries — a "nation of immigrants," to use the inevitable cliché. People can become Americans just by walking in and signing on the bottom line — of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc. But in fact this idea is totally new, being essentially invented by liberal intellectuals after World War II. It would have astonished Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote histories tracing the organic development of the United States back to England, and before that to the forests of Germany. It would have astonished John Jay, who wrote in the Federalist Papers that Americans could make their federal union work precisely because they were "one united people —a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs a band of brethren."

This is not to say that immigrants can't be assimilated; obviously they have been. But it requires care — care that Americans took in the past with their legislated immigration pauses and rigorous Americanization programs.

Thirdly, something distinctly odd is going on within the American leadership class. They just aren't leading — not only on immigration, but on all related questions, such as bilingualism and dual citizenship.

I was made shockingly aware of this some years ago when I was trying to persuade Bob Bartley, the editor of the Wall Street Journal and one the country's most established conservative trendsetters, to break his embargo on articles critical of immigration policy. Bartley repeated his view that illegal immigration cannot be stopped. "The destiny of Europe," he said, "has already been settled in North Africa [because of the population explosion there]." Surprised, I said, "That's a poor lookout for the nation-state."

"Oh yes," he said calmly. "I think the nation-state is finished. I think [Kenichi] Ohmae [author of The Borderless World, a prophet of economic regionalism popular among businessmen] is right." I was thunderstruck. I knew the devoted fans of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, who overwhelmingly are conservative patriots, had no inkling of this. It would have made a great Wall Street Journal front-page story: "Wall Street Journal Editor Revealed as Secret One-Worlder; Consternation Among Faithful — Is Pope Catholic?"

Those of us who persist in raising questions about immigration policy are invariably beaten down with accusations of racism. But the countercharge, it seems to me as a humble immigrant, is that those who so ardently refuse to think about what current policy is doing to the United States are guilty — in the same warm, cuddly sense that they accuse us of racism — of a kind of treason.

Brimelow is the author of Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, and an editor of, a Webzine dealing with immigration issues.

No: A confident nation need not worry about its citizens' ties to other countries.

By Paul Donnelly

A Mexican law that took effect in March allowing Mexican-Americans to claim "dual nationality" is an opportunity to ask profound questions about what it will mean to be an American citizen in the 21st century.

Mexico's motive is simple: There are millions of Mexican-Americans who are U.S. citizens, most of whom are middle class. The Mexican government would like these Americans to make investments in Mexico, create jobs and spend pesos. But Mexican governments long have shunned "foreign" involvement in their politics and economy.

So Mexico's new law allows those born in Mexico and naturalized in the United States to claim Mexican nationality but remain U.S. citizens. Like legal permanent residents of the United States (who are taxed on their worldwide income) they get economic rights and duties that only Mexicans have, but not political ones. They can vote for the mayor in Los Angeles but not in Juarez.

Some Americans worry about divided loyalties. But why should they? There is an almost feudal fear of modern freedom to travel and communicate — like the Afghani Islamic Taliban regime's death penalty for married women who talk to other men. It makes more sense to recognize that, just as a spouse can be faithful to his wife yet love his mom and sister (and even have female friends and coworkers), so too a U.S. citizen can have all sorts of loyalties — to America, Israel, the Baltimore Orioles, etc.

U.S. law and policy on dual citizenship is like the Mississippi River: powerful and muddy, but the direction is clear. It runs right down the heart of what it means to be an American. Unlike other countries, the United States was invented. When the Founders worked it out, there were no citizens anywhere on the planet; only subjects and sovereigns, rulers and ruled.

Core identity in most countries is founded on ethnicity, such as in Germany; or culture, as in France; or geography, as in Great Britain, historically an island possessed by the English, Welsh and Scots.

Our American identity, on the other hand, is not based on ethnicity, nor economics; not language or culture. America is based on a civic faith. Thomas Jefferson nailed the idea: "That all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that to secure these rights, governments are instituted."

Dual citizenship hardly threatens U.S. citizenship. That is because, as Ben Wattenberg put it, we are the "first universal nation." This partly explains why 65 million people from all over the world have come here. Complaints heard today about Mexican immigrants were heard in the 19th century about Germans, Irish and Italians. What worked then, works now: Americanization. They become us, and who we are expands to include them.

The Bill of Rights exists within our borders, where our government keeps it secure. It does not dilute the universality of the American principles of freedom and self-government that other nations have followed our example. And it renews the sources of our liberties when immigrants come here to become Americans.

Dual citizenship is only possible when a U.S. citizen acquires another country's citizenship or when, as in the Mexican case, another nation's laws maintain a link with a person beyond their U.S. naturalization. Some object to that, citing the naturalization oath's phrase "I hereby renounce and abjure any and all foreign princes, potentates, states, or sovereignties." Those who swear the oath become U.S. citizens.

And yet, who cares what another country's laws say? That's not the mark of a confident nation. To understand American confidence over dual citizenship, consider when the federal government could take citizenship away: It cannot. We're a free country. Some of the Founders took the traditional European concept of the citizen as a subject — ergo, the state ruled. Jefferson took the opposite view — the individual is sovereign, not the state. The polity (all the citizens) make the state's decisions, but only to the point where unalienable rights reside in individuals: majority rule, minority rights.

Look at the "Big Muddy": The world has at last adopted the American concept of citizenship, based on unalienable rights and individual sovereignty. They've followed our example of upholding individual liberties, and we should not subvert our tradition by attempting to punish those who choose dual citizenship.

Congress stirred the waters a bit by legislating "expatriating acts" by which a U.S. citizen lawfully abandons citizenship by actions such as voting in another country's elections, serving in another country's armed forces or holding office in a foreign government. It is all to the good that these efforts to deny citizenship have been overturned by U.S. courts upholding the Constitution's founding promises.

The definitive statement was made in the Afroyim vs. Rusk decision in 1968. The State Department tried to enforce the statute that deemed voting in foreign elections was an expatriating act. The Supreme Court settled the matter: Congress has "no power" to deprive an American of his U.S. citizenship.

This was established by the case of the late Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League in the United States and the Kach Party in Israel. Kach sent Kahane to the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The State Department informed him that serving in another nation's government would deprive him of his U.S. citizenship. Citing Afroyim, Kahane asserted that the State Department had no power to take his passport away. The court agreed. Kach's Israeli opponents outlawed those with dual citizenship from serving in the Knesset (Kahane voted in opposition). So to run for reelection, Kahane formally renounced his U.S. citizenship (he lost). When he re-entered the United States with his U.S. passport, the State Department again tried to take it away. The case went back to court, where the State Department lost again.

With some exasperation, the State Department pointed out that, after all, Kahane had renounced his citizenship. But Kahane's priceless response was, in effect: "Oh, I only did that because I had to, under Israeli law, to run for the Knesset. The U.S. government cannot deprive me of my U.S. citizenship — only I have that power and I do not choose to use it. I changed my mind." He won, and the State Department appealed. Kahane, however, was murdered while the appeal was pending and there the matter rests, as a matter of law. But as a matter of policy, some of us are waist-deep in the "Big Muddy."

E Pluribus Unum has a purpose. In 1999, Ghanian President Jerry Rawlings made a state visit to President Clinton. At the press conference, a reporter asked: "I've heard that Ghana is offering some sort of dual citizenship to African-Americans. What's the reasoning behind it?" Rawlings replied: "You are our kith and kin." But the former dictator candidly stated the exclusive implications of citizenship: U.S citizenship "demand(s) loyalty to the American Constitution, and yet I cannot demand the same kind of loyalty to my country. But nonetheless, there's no reason why I will deny my fellow black African the right to enjoy the citizenship I enjoy as an African."

Clinton apparently thought Ghana's dual citizenship offer would be good for tourism, remarking that he thought it was "quite a clever idea." To his credit, Rawlings (who took power in a coup) then corrected Clinton about what being a Ghanaian means: Power. "[I]f you run afoul of the laws and regulations of my country, the — what do you call it? — the judiciary, the police and the laws of my country will take their cause without the American government attempting to intervene, to say, this is a citizen of my country." Inexcusably, Clinton agreed.

Consider the case of Harry Wu. A Chinese dissident, Wu spent years in the gulag and, upon becoming a U.S. citizen, returned to China to document atrocities such as organ farming. The Chinese arrested him, and the only reason he is still alive is that the U.S. government quietly told China: He's one of ours now. China does not recognize dual citizenship. Perhaps Ghana will persuade them to change.

Then there is Samuel Sheinbein. Showing no noticeable interest in being an Israeli before being accused of a particularly brutal murder in Montgomery County, Md., he then fled to Israel, which refused to extradite a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. So Sheinbein was tried in Israel, convicted and received a lighter sentence than would have been likely in the community where the crime took place.

Surely, the president did not mean that crooks who claim dual citizenship with Ghana or any other country could simply switch passports, fly "home" and beat the rap. The Wu case shows that a U.S. passport remains a powerful shield, protecting the rights we founded our government to secure. Yet some governments, such as China's, hold that individuals are subjects still. What if, like Ghana, the Chinese authority that arrested Wu had "taken its course"?

So how about a simple principle: Dual citizenship is only good if the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship are extended with it. If not, it's no good. Ghana is wrong: Citizenship isn't based on race. China is wrong: individual rights rule. Mexico is wrong: being Mexican (or Chinese or American or Ghanaian) isn't just about economic rights to invest, own and be taxed.

It may be argued that journalist Peter Brimelow, who was born in the United Kingdom, is living proof we need more civics in our naturalization test, since he managed to become a citizen without learning what it means to be an American. He's wrong to worry that immigrants who speak Spanish, or think fondly of the country they left behind, erode what makes us America. They renew it, instead.

The American model is the right one. That's why U.S. citizenship means so much, that so many will literally die for it. (Many with accents, and some with more than one passport.) We are always forming "the more perfect union." Let's keep it that way.

Donnelly is a writer and media consultant, with a 10-year record of promoting legal immigration and is the organizer of the Web-based Immigration Reform Coalition.

This document was printed out from

You can find the original at


Print Friendly and PDF