Dual citizenship

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I participated today in a panel at the Hudson Institute on dual citizenship. The subject was Hudson's John Fonte's paper lamenting dual citizenship and urging penalties for U.S. citizens who have foreign citizenship and exercise that citizenship by voting or running for office in foreign elections. Here's Fonte's paper.

Here is Fonte's testimony before the House immigration subcommittee earlier this year. Fonte argues that allowing dual citizenship is a threat to the American tradition of patriotic assimilation.

He argues that the leaders of Mexico and perhaps other countries are engaged in "a sophisticated and long-term strategy similar to the approach promoted by leaders of the European Union and other global and transnational elites, of slowly and steadily building a series of institutions and structures that would lead to a greater and greater political integration in North America—and thus, by definition, a weakening of American constitutional sovereignty."

He notes that the Supreme Court prohibited automatic deprivation of U.S. citizenship for dual citizens who exercise foreign citizenship in Afroyim v. Rusk, a 5-to-4 decision that came down in 1967, around the time when we had the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents in the 20th century. But he argues that the decision leaves room for laws that penalize those who exercise foreign citizenship and urges that the House include such a provision, sponsored by Arizona Republican J. D. Hayworth, in the immigration and border security legislation it's expected to consider and pass in December.

I was introduced by panel moderator John O'Sullivan as a supporter of more or less open immigration but also a strong supporter of assimilation. I think that's a fair summary of my views, as put forward in my 2001 book, The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again.

I share Fonte's aversion to dual citizenship. But I don't think, as a practical matter, it poses as great a danger to our country as he does. I am not much troubled that American citizens have served in the military in Israel or have accepted high political posts, up to and including heads of government, in nations like Lithuania. We are in effect re-exporting some of our human capital to places where it is needed and where it can be put to good use. Of course, people who do that should renounce their U.S. citizenship.

As for the attempts of the Mexican government to promote a continuing loyalty to Mexico among those who have come to the United States—to the "seventh generation," as Mexican official Juan Hernandez put it (even though Mexico has only existed for a little more than seven generations)—I'm not very worried. I note that despite the drive for dual citizenship, the government of Mexico did not provide for absentee voting in the 2000 presidential election, with the exception of 10 voting stations in border towns that had strictly limited numbers of ballots. The reason was that the PRI government evidently feared that most Mexicans in the United States would vote for PAN. Mexicans who wanted to vote had to return to Mexico, and when I was there for the 2000 presidential election I actually encountered some, who flew from Austin and Atlanta to Mexico City to cast their ballots for Vicente Fox. Another panelist, Mark Kirkorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, who favors more restrictions on immigration than at present, noted that Mexico is allowing absentee voting for its July 2006 presidential election, but that very few Mexicans in this country have signed up to vote. Juan Hernandez's goal does not seem to be reached for the first generation, much less than seven.

Also, I note that many immigrants, not yet citizens, have volunteered to serve in the United States military forces. Some have been killed and others wounded. Perhaps this can be seen as a cynical attempt to qualify more easily for U.S. citizenship. But I think that service in the U.S. military has to be taken as a pretty serious commitment to the United States.

As for greater and greater political integration in North America, I question how many Mexicans, of whatever citizenship, want that. I remember one day when I was interviewing people in Huntington Park, Calif., and I asked a Mexican man whether he wanted to see the Mexican system of politics and government in the United States. I have seldom seen someone laugh so long and so heartily. The idea was so ridiculous it was funny.

Fonte recalls the attempts of the Italian government to maintain the Italian loyalties of immigrants to America in the 1920s and 1930s. But, as he notes, those attempts failed. Instead, Italian-Americans distinguished themselves by fighting against the Mussolini regime in World War II and in helping to liberate Italy from that regime. I think that Mexican-Americans are not so very different. Yes, Mexico has a border with us. But the Zacatecans Fonte cites have to travel some 2,000 miles to get to Los Angeles. And Italian-Americans regularly traveled back and forth to Italy.

So I doubt that Mexican immigrants, even with dual citizenship, are going to dilute by themselves American national sovereignty. Nevertheless, I think I do support Fonte's proposed legislation to penalize acts in furtherance of citizenship of other countries. And I do so because I share his sense that American elites are not sufficiently committed, as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were, to assimilation. Too many of our university, media, corporate, and governmental elites have what Harvard Prof. Samuel Huntington has called transnational attitudes. They think allegiance to any country, but particularly this one, is a sort of noxious prejudice, an outmoded attachment to an unenlightened polity, a primitive and unsophisticated assertion of chauvinism.

The problem is not that immigrants are not prepared to be loyal to the United States. The vast majority of them are. The problem is that too many of our elites think it's tacky to have a special loyalty to the United States. As Fonte pointed out, the immigration laws were revised under Franklin Roosevelt's direction to make it clear that we discouraged dual citizenship. It's interesting that, on this issue, a think tank generally considered conservative should have a panel calling on Americans to return to the example of FDR.