Experts Debate Dual Citizenship

By Eric Badertscher


February 15, 2002

WASHINGTON (UPI) Immigration and the naturalization of foreigners who choose to move to the United States has always benefited the nation. But dual citizenship is problematic, may be divisive, and needs to be dealt with through clear-cut policies, according a recent study from a Washington think tank.

Policy-makers should move beyond considering only specific immigration issues, such as border control or economic impacts, says the study's author, political scientist Dr. Stanley Renshon of the City University of New York.

"What really needs to be frankly discussed is the relationship of immigration policy to our policies concerning maintaining and improving the quality of civic mindedness, and cultural and political integration," says Renshon. These issues, he says, may be even more important in the context of the upsurge of patriotism following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"Those events underscore the critical necessity of having a public that takes the idea of 'One America' seriously, and in doing so is able to persist in putting national interests before ethnic, racial, and religious interests," he says.

Of the more than 22 million legal immigrants to the United States between 1961 and 1997, Renshon says, almost 75 percent came from countries which allow dual or multiple citizenship. At least 93 countries currently recognize dual citizenship. The United States does not formally recognize this status, but doesn't take any stand against it, either politically or legally.

Renshon's study, "Dual Citizenship and American National Identity," published by the Center for Immigration Studies, examines how U.S. civic life is affected when these immigrants choose not only to become U.S. citizens, but also maintain citizenship in their countries of origin.

The CUNY professor says that he seeks to take a middle ground on the issue, between what he terms a nave acceptance of dual-citizenship, and "premature" fears that the U.S. will lose its coherent national identity.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies -- a non-partisan, non-profit research institute that examines the various effects of immigration on the United States, including economic, social, demographic, and fiscal impacts -- told UPI that dual citizenship is problematic because Americans lack consensus about their own history and national identity.

"There's a culture war going on over these issues," he said.

Even though the Sept. 11 attacks have united the nation, Krikorian said it was almost inevitable that people would continue in their ideological divisions.

"All the talk doesn't change the cultural context," he said. "September 11 highlights the need for a unified national identity."

Yet Krikorian argued that this crisis is not the vehicle to create that unity. Krikorian says that the issue of dual citizenship has so far attracted relatively little attention.

"The issue hasn't grown legs yet, because dual citizenship has been a fact for a long time, but hasn't been operationalized for the last generation or so."

In fact, he hasn't found any evidence that Congress over the last 30 years had even considered the issue of dual citizenship.

"I assume that someone talked about this during World War I," when German-Americans and other ethnic groups were targeted as unpatriotic. But the issue hasn't come up the current immigration cycle," he said.

Krikorian noted that Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who heads the Congressional immigration reform caucus, seems to be the only Congressman interested in the matter.

Not until development of high-speed transportation and telecommunications, Krikorian said, could mass numbers of immigrants easily maintain close links to homelands.

"You have people who own bodegas (neighborhood groceries) in New York and Santo Domingo," he said. "This is a mass phenomenon now."

There are even cases where people run for political office in each country, at the same time, he noted. And Mexico plans to permit Mexican-American immigrants to vote in its next presidential election.

Brian Doherty, associate editor of "Reason" magazine, produced by the libertarian Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, says that the issue of national identity is not as problematic as CIS suggests.

"This is a remarkably old debate in America, ever since the country began shifting from a purely British, English descent," Doherty said. "The definition of what it is to be an American has always been shifting There's never been such a solid core."

He argued that immigration has always benefited the United States more than it has detracted, adding to what he termed the "dynamic tumult." As for the question of how dual citizenship might affect American civic life, "I'm not sure how much more of a problem this adds to the mix," he said. "I'm not sure how I see the fact that a person living here can cast a vote in Mexico really adds to the issue."

Daniel T. Griswold, associate editor for the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, took a stance similar to Doherty's, saying that the United States has managed to maintain national identity in the past despite immense waves of immigration.

As for concerns about dual loyalties, he argued that some of the most patriotic Americans are naturalized citizens. Griswold added that other nations have permitted dual citizenship with apparently no ill effects -- Britain, for example, has pursued this stance in its relations with the Commonwealth states.

Griswold noted, however, that the question probably does raise some legitimate issues, which should give us pause.

"Dual citizenship doesn't have to mean a kind of second-class U.S. citizenship," the Cato scholar argued. "We can and should insist on the full range of obligations that that requires."

Will Marshall, president and co-founder of the Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute, believes there is a need for stricter immigration standards in light of September 11. He saw nothing wrong, however, with dual citizenship.

"The pressure to assimilate is still pretty strong," he said, "The processes of Americanization seem to me to be alive and well."