»  National Review Online

April 23rd, 2002

  Dual Citizen


The story so far:   Fleeing from the poverty, oppression, Political Correctness and poor oral hygiene of his native Blairistan, after many adventures Derb has finally been washed ashore on the east coast of the United States with a waterproof bag containing his only possessions: a Margaret Thatcher commemorative mug, a copy of John Betjeman's "Collected Poems" and a few days' supply of Marmite. Desperate for paid employment even at starvation wages, he signs on as a "commentator" with National Review Online, a "web magazine" serving as cover for a clerico-fascist conspiracy dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Papacy and the repeal of Vatican II. Planning to use him as a "mule" for smuggling Baltimore Catechisms into Europe, encoded as microdots concealed in his numerous dental cavities, Derb's superiors insist he take out U.S. citizenship. The superhuman powers of endurance acquired during years of incarceration in English boys' schools enable Derb to survive the subsequent encounter with the I.N.S., and the authorities finally have no choice but to accept him for naturalization. Now read on.

I have a little check-list of things to be done now that I am finally a U.S. citizen: apply for a passport; register to vote; buy a flag and flagpole, and so on. Near, if not at, the top of that list is a resolution to thank the many, many readers who have e-mailed in with congratulations. I am going to do my utmost to answer all of you, but this may take a few days, and in the meantime I hope you'll accept these general and public words of appreciation for your good wishes. I start off my citizenship with a very high standard of American generosity and open-heartedness on display right here on the screen in front of me. I hope I can live up to that standard.

It hasn't just been words of congratulation, either. I have been getting stuff. You Americans (excuse me: it's going to take a while to get used to saying "we Americans") are not merely open-hearted in your welcomes; you are open-handed, too. I have privately and separately thanked everyone who sent in gifts; here I thank you all again, publicly and collectively. Those of us raised in the cynical, pinched, crabbed cultures of the Old World never cease to be astonished by the warmth and sincerity of American patriotism, and the pride you take in receiving new recruits to this great experiment of yours. As one of the latest batch of recruits — an American for just 24 hours as I write this — I thank every one of you from the bottom of my heart. The return I offer you for all you've given me — all the warmth and all the stuff — is this: I am going to do my darnedest to be a good American, and to raise my kids to be good Americans, true to the flag, the Republic and the Constitution.

But now, here's a funny thing. As well as being a new-minted American, I am also, still, a citizen of the United Kingdom, a subject of Her Majesty the Queen. I am, you see, a dual citizen. This is not entirely a matter of choice, though it is so in part. Here is the part: I have relatives, including elderly and infirm relatives, in England. I am also a journalist, albeit of a very sedentary sort, and there is a tiny but nonzero possibility that some editor might call me tomorrow and say: "Derb, we need you in Ouagadougou, ASAP. Bring in your passport, we've got the visa and plane ticket ready." For these reasons, I don't want to be without a passport. I have therefore decided that in the few weeks it will take for my U.S. passport to come through, I shall hold on to my current one, issued by the U.K. (Though it says "European Union" on the cover. I got out just in time.)

After that I shall, I promise, take a strong pair of scissors to my U.K.-Euro passport. Since I have already, at my Oath Ceremony yesterday, renounced and abjured all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I was theretofore a subject or citizen, I shall then have only one country: the United States of America. Right? Er, wrong, actually. I shall still be a citizen of the U.K. — a dual citizen. Taking out U.S. citizenship does not cause the authorities in London to strike you from the roll of their citizens. There is, in fact, no such roll. Anyone born in the U.K. to U.K. parents remains a citizen for life, unless he takes some positive legal action to renounce his citizenship. This is the attitude taken by most countries — including, as it happens, the U.S.A. It takes considerable effort to shake off a nationality. Merely acquiring a second one doesn't normally do the trick.

And it's getting harder. Keeping people as citizens even when they are no longer very keen to be, has all sorts of advantages for governments. They can, for example, go on taxing your income; or, if you attempt to move your estate out of the country you have abandoned and into the one you have chosen, they can prevent you from doing so until their revenuers have taken a large bite out of it.

In the democratic part of the world, there are also quite large constituencies favoring dual nationality. The one always mentioned in this context is American Zionists, who want to be able to move freely between Israel and the U.S., and to be able to vote, and even stand for office, in both countries. Indeed, the great change in U.S. government attitudes towards dual citizenship occurred in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Afroyim v. Rusk. Mr. Afroyim, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had moved to Israel in 1950. When, in 1960, he tried to renew his U.S. passport, the State Department refused, on the grounds that Mr. Afroyim had voted in an Israeli election. Afroyim sued, and eventually won.

In Afroyim v. Rusk the Supreme Court asserted, in effect, that citizenship is a constitutional right, coming under the scope of the 14th Amendment. From then on, the government effectively lost the power to strip you of your citizenship without your consent. To stop being a U.S. citizen you have to take deliberate steps, prove your intent, and formally renounce your citizenship. (Several hundred people do so each year, mainly for tax purposes.) The Center for ImmigrationStudies has an excellent database of facts and arguments on the subject. Canadian-American dual citizen Rich Wales has also put together a very lucid short summary on theWeb. To state the present situation very briefly: while the U.S. government does not formally recognize dual citizenship, it does nothing to discourage it; and while Congress might at any time choose to pass laws restricting dual citizenship, there is a strong likelihood that such laws would be struck down on appeal as being unconstitutional.

It is by no means just Zionists who find dual citizenship handy, either. I personally know a citizen of mainland China who lived in the U.S. just long enough to acquire citizenship and a passport, then went "home." This is the phenomenon of the "insurance passport." Anyone who, for whatever reason, prefers to live in his own country, but fears for the stability of that country and wants to have a bolt-hole ready if things go wrong, is looking for an "insurance passport," with the U.S. as first choice.

And then there is the simple matter of convenience. Even for me, an occasional traveler to very ordinary destinations, it would be handy to keep my U.K. passport. It would save me waiting on lines for entry not only at British airports, but at all those in the E.U. I personally am quite ready to endure this level of minor inconvenience in return for the privilege of being an American, but I can understand that a lot of much busier people might not be.

We are now in the third decade of "globalization." (Depending on how you count it: I start from Margaret Thatcher's abolition of exchange controls in 1979. Before that, a U.K. citizen who wanted to travel abroad had to tell the government how much money he planned to take with him and write the sum in his passport.) Whatever you may think of the free flow of capital, multinational corporations and massive Third World immigration, they are part of the environment in which we grow up nowadays, and you can't blame people for being more insouciant about nationality than their grandparents were. We have come a long way from 1960, when Mr. Afroyim was deemed to have abandoned his citizenship by merely voting in a foreign election. Nowadays U.S. citizens run for office in foreign countries where they hold dual citizenship. In 1997 a U.S. citizen was elected President of Lithuania!

The softening and melting of the idea of nationality may be returning us to an earlier state of affairs. In his book Ethnonationalism, Walker Connor notes that the great waves of south- and east-European peasants who came to the U.S.A. between 1880 and 1910 more often identified themselves as Neapolitan or Calabrian rather than Italian, as Gorali, Kashubi, or Silesian rather than Polish, and so on. Connor also quotes Eugen Weber's remarkable study proving that most small-town and rural people living in France did not consider themselves members of the French nation until 1870, and that many still did not do so even in 1914. It may be that the 20th century (which, of course, lasted from 1914 to 1989) was a time of uniquely, abnormally strong nationalist feeling, and that in the globalized world of today, we are slipping back to some earlier, more casual norm. "A good thing, too," many people would say, surveying the consequences of 20th-century nationalism.

Well, you can slip back if you like. A child of the 20th century, I want to be a citizen of some one single nation — of the U.S.A. for immense preference. I don't think the human race is yet wise enough to manage anything larger or more various without delegating the task to corrupt and freedom-destroying bureaucracies. Indeed, as a spectator of the Washington D.C. charivari, there are moments when I wonder if we Americans (ha!) may not have overreached ourselves in assembling this huge nation from so many diverse bits and pieces.

Those are only fleeting moments, I hasten to add. All in all, this nation hangs together remarkably well; and it is probably still true, as one of the Founders remarked, that if we do not continue to hang together, we shall probably hang separately. At any rate, I am an American now, a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam's, and this nation's fate is my fate, and my children's. I wouldn't have it any other way.