Politics & Policy

Let’s Talk about Dual Allegiance

Naturalization ceremony in Phoenix, Ariz., in June, 2012.
Any comprehensive immigration bill should ensure that new citizens have to abjure their other loyalties.

This week, Senator Ted Cruz announced that he would be renouncing his Canadian citizenship, which he gained by dint of being born in Calgary. He did the right thing, but the entire issue of dual allegiance has yet to be seriously addressed during the debate over comprehensive immigration reform. So let us be comprehensive, if you will.

The Schumer-Rubio Senate bill, by making millions more immigrants eligible for citizenship in the coming years, will provide for a vast expansion of people eligible for dual citizenship. Is this positive or negative? I would argue that the status of dual citizenship per se is not necessarily a problem, but that dual allegiance, in the sense of the active exercise of loyalty and allegiance to a foreign state, is inimical to American democracy.

#ad#The concept of dual allegiance — the idea that some Americans (with the special privilege of voting in two nations) have political allegiance to a foreign state as well as to the United States — is inconsistent with the moral foundation of American democracy. Our form of government is based on equality of citizenship, and dual-allegiance citizens are by definition civic bigamists.

Dual-allegiance citizens exist in a political space beyond the American constitutional community. Besides being part of “We the People of the United States,” they are apparently members of another “people” — a foreign political community — with different and competing responsibilities and commitments. These foreign interests and commitments dilute their commitment, attachment, and allegiance to the United States. (For those who want the long version of this argument, see my 2005 report on the topic for the Center for Immigration Studies.)

The poster boy for dual allegiance is Univision’s Jorge Ramos, who wrote on his blog in January that, yes, he values his American citizenship . . .

But I’ve never ceased to be Mexican, I have two passports, and I vote in elections in both countries. I’m deeply proud of this privileged duality. The best thing about American is its embrace of diversity. The worse thing about America, of course is the racist and xenophobic attitudes that tend to emerge now and then Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws for example. [emphasis added]

Franklin Roosevelt’s administration declared that “taking an active part in the political affairs of a foreign state by voting in a political election involves a political attachment and practical allegiance thereto which is inconsistent with continued allegiance to the United States.” Quite so. FDR was right.

Yet current high-immigration Republicans, who loudly proclaim their adherence to patriotic assimilation and the American dream,  do nothing to prevent the spread of dual loyalty. The Supreme Court has made it clear that Congress could make it against the law to vote and hold office in foreign countries. While an American citizen could not be stripped of U.S. citizenship as one might have been before the Supreme Court’s 1967 Afroyim v. Rusk decision, citizens could be subject to civil penalties, such as fines.

At a town hall on immigration sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers in Wisconsin earlier this year, Representative Paul Ryan declared:

And then there’s the melting pot — the American idea — the idea in this country that the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life, that if you come here and put your hand over your heart, and you pledge allegiance to the American flag, we want you. We want people who are dedicated to this country. We want people who are dedicated to the idea that built this country. That idea is still here, and so we have to have an immigration system that makes sense.

Fine, if that’s the case, Mr. Ryan, then let us insist that the Oath of Allegiance be taken seriously. The Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance (yes, that’s the official name) declares: “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.”

If House Republicans are serious about the Oath of Allegiance, this would mean incorporating anti-dual-allegiance language into the Cantor-Goodlatte KIDS Act and any other legalization legislation.

How about it, Mr. Ryan?

If you come here and put your hand over your heart, and you pledge allegiance to the American flag, we want you. We want people who are dedicated to this country.

Would you agree that any comprehensive immigration legislation should include language that ensures our new citizens are dedicated to this country, by prohibiting active dual allegiance to a foreign state?

— John Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?, winner of 2012 Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) book award. 

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