New Study: Dual Citizenship and American National Identity

Examining the Effect on Our Cultural and Political Fabric

By CIS on December 1, 2001

Read the transcript of the January 31st panel discussion.

Read the report.

WASHINGTON (December 2001) - Is dual citizenship good for the United States?

Long ignored, this question has become urgent for a number of reasons: More than one million people immigrate to the United States each year - nearly 90 percent of them from countries that allow dual citizenship; the largest immigrant-sending country, Mexico, now promotes a form of dual citizenship not only for the more than 8 million Mexican immigrants in the United States, but also for their American-born children; and American citizens, both immigrant and native-born, have participated in the militant Islamic terrorist war against the United States.

The little research that has been done on this question has been wholly uncritical, lacking any serious assessment of the impact of dual citizenship on the United States. To begin to remedy this, the Center for Immigration Studies has published Dual Citizenship and American National Identity, by Stanley Renshon. Dr. Renshon, a certified psychoanalyst, is professor of political science at the City University of New York and coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Program in the Psychology of Social and Political Behavior in the university's Graduate Center.

The report asks: "Is it possible to be fully engaged and knowledgeable citizens of several countries? Is it possible to follow two or more very different cultural traditions? Is it possible to have two, possibly conflicting, core identifications and attachments? And, assuming such things are possible, are they desirable?" Among Dr. Renson's conclusions:

  • No country can afford to have large numbers of citizens with shallow national or civic attachments. Further, no country facing divisive domestic issues arising out of increasing diversity, as the United States does today, benefits from large-scale immigration of those with multiple loyalties and attachments.

  • From a psychological standpoint, loyalty is associated with a sense of identification with, and feelings toward, a person, place, or thing. The process of being attached to one's country of origin begins early and immigrants, understandably, often are conflicted in this regard. Today, governments of immigrant-sending countries around the world actively take steps to ensure that these old loyalties and attachments are maintained and even stimulated.

  • The United States traditionally has accepted immigrants with the assumption that they, and their children, would eventually become anchored to an American identity. This assumption has increasingly come under attack from those who reject America's inclusionary pluralism in favor of a "multicultural manifesto" that equates assimilation with domination.

In this report, which builds on an earlier Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, "Dual Citizens in America: An Issue of Vast Proportions and Broad Significance," Dr. Renshon argues that the question is not whether a society must have a dominant culture, but whether in a democratically pluralist country like the United States it is still important to have a primary one. Is democratic inclusionary pluralism compatible with the cultural primacy of certain core American traditions like individualism, opportunity, merit, and responsibility? The wager that this country has made for 200-plus years is not only that it is important - but necessary.

From the report:

  • America reached its present state of political, economic, and social development by providing enormous personal freedom and abundant economic opportunity. ... In return, it asked of immigrants that they learn the country's language, culture, and political practices. Thus oriented toward their new home, immigrants could become part of the fabric of American cultural and political life. Leaving a life behind, even one that immigrants wanted to leave, was of course difficult. Yet generations of earlier immigrants thought the sacrifice worthwhile.

  • Dual citizenship and its associated bifurcation of attention and commitment changes that traditional and successful recipe. ... These developments set the stage for a direct conflict of interest among new immigrants and citizens, many of whom retain deep attachments to their home country. ... I mean no implication that such immigrants will be "fifth column." However, it is prudent to consider that in such circumstances they are likely to be conflicted.

  • This poses a dilemma for the United States. It has traditionally taken in immigrants with the assumption that they would eventually become anchored to an American identity and nationality over time. In the past this was a reasonable assumption. It no longer is.

Stanley Renshon received his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, attended the University of Michigan's summer Institute in Quantitative Methods and was an NIMH postdoctoral fellow in Psychology and Politics at Yale University in 1973. He did his graduate work in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University, and his psychoanalytic training at the Training and Research Institute for Self Psychology, where he received his certification in 1991. He is the author of over 60 articles in the fields of presidential politics, leadership, and political psychology and has also published nine books, including High Hopes: The Clinton Presidency and the Politics of Ambition (New York University Press, 1996), which won the American Political Science Association's Richard E. Neustadt Award for best book on the presidency and the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis' Gradiva Award for the best published work in the category of biography. Dr. Renshon is also editor of the new book One America: Political Leadership, National Identity, and the Dilemmas of Diversity (Georgetown University Press).