Selling Citizenship? Some Countries Do, Putting Others at Risk

By Dan Cadman on October 16, 2014

A few days ago the Center for Immigration Studies published a blog of mine pointing out that the government's removal statistics showed a curious, but disturbing, trend of aliens born in "special interest" countries (primarily Afghans, but others as well) who had obtained citizenship in Mexico or elsewhere and then crossed the U.S. border illegally. The question of whether or not these individuals procured their citizenship through corruption looms large.

As I also noted in my blog, this population of illegal border crossers who have swapped nationalities is separate and apart from another troubling demographic of aliens: those who have also obtained citizenship elsewhere (but in this case primarily Europe), and then availed themselves of the opportunity to come to the United States legally; sometimes by means of visas issued by U.S. consular officers abroad, but more often than not through the visa waiver program.

In my view, this second group also constitutes a security risk for the United States and merits careful scrutiny. Counting the most recent addition (Chile), there are now 38 countries around the globe whose citizens can enter the United States without need to submit themselves to applying and being interviewed for a visa prior to hopping on a plane and presenting themselves for admission.

As has been expressed by pundits of late, usually with regard to ISIS fighters returning from the battle-front in Syria and Iraq, one has to worry that they will attempt to enter our country on instructions from their bosses in the "caliphate" in order to commit terrorist acts on our soil.

Certainly there appears to be no dearth of earnest, deluded young men and women willing to martyr themselves in a suicide bombing. And the hardened leaders of ISIS (and other terror groups as well) are more than content to use them as cannon fodder to further their organizations' purposes. What better way than using individuals with a relatively unrestricted right of travel because of the passports they carry?

But there is a third group of nationality-swappers that one hopes are also being given some thought and attention by our border security and immigration officials: aliens who have purchased their citizenship. I don't mean by fraud or corruption; I mean legitimately, if one can use the word in such a strained context.

My colleague David North has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the squishy state of the U.S. investor visa program which is riddled with fraud and troubling "centers" whose sole purpose seems to be to act as conduits in this money-for-green cards program.

Well, some nations have upped the ante. They aren't just selling residence permits; they are selling citizenship. Granted, these are countries that don't float to the top of the list in any quick mental calculation of existing nation-states. But they are nations, their passports are real, and the people who carry them can apply to enter the United States, no matter where they happen to have been born.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) — "the main think tank of the immigration-expansionist movement that nonetheless does useful work", as Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian described it — has recently published a study on this phenomenon of selling citizenship. The authors of the report, "Selling Visas and Citizenship: Policy Questions from the Global Boom in Investor Immigration", accurately describe it as "cash for citizenship" and note that such programs presently exist in "a handful of Caribbean islands" and Malta.

It is not surprising that there is an overlap between the nations that sell their citizenship with those that have become offshore banking centers where the tax-averse shelter their funds or, worse, narco-traffickers and organized criminals launder their money. Both are seamy ways to boost national incomes (and sometimes line the leadership's pockets) while requiring almost nothing in the way of infrastructure investment to get kick-started.

And therein is the problem from an American homeland security perspective: countries that aren't particular about who they sell their citizenship to put the people of other countries at risk. It would be naive to think that terrorist groups — which often finance their operations through ransom of hostages, and a multitude of criminal enterprises — would not have the money or give thought to using such a pathway to target countries if they gauge the success factor to be high enough.

Malta, an island nation in the Mediterranean off the boot of Italy, and a European Union member, is particularly worrisome.

We must hope that in the case of all three groups of nationality-swappers, our law enforcement, intelligence, and border security agencies are paying close attention.