Can Dual Citizens Be Good Americans?

By Mark Krikorian on May 15, 2012
The New York Times

, May 14, 2012

The citizenship oath for immigrants is unequivocal: "I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen."

Just as membership in a marriage entails an exclusive relationship, so does membership in a national community. Despite the multiple connections and loyalties we all have, a person can have only one ultimate political allegiance, be the member of one "We the people." Anything else is, in Theodore Roosevelt's words, a "self-evident absurdity."

But there are two kinds of dual citizenship: passive and active. The passive variety is where an American is also considered a citizen by another country without the American having done anything to acquire that status. This can happen through birth to immigrant parents or refusal of a native country to recognize U.S. naturalization — and there are 73 million people in the U.S, who are either immigrants or children of immigrants. But if the American in question hasn't done anything to affirm that dual status, it is not a matter of concern for the law.

Active dual citizenship, on the other hand, means acknowledging or applying such a status by, for instance, voting in a foreign election or registering with the foreign government as a citizen. Such actions used to be called "expatriating acts" — engaging in them meant you renounced your U.S. citizenship. The Supreme Court in the 1960s ruled that such acts can no longer automatically lead to the loss of citizenship. But they can still be prohibited by law, as Chief Justice Earl Warren himself wrote.

That's why Congress needs to prohibit the active manifestations of dual citizenship. The objective is not to punish anyone but to send a message that a citizen's duty is to love America, comfort her in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, keep only unto her.