Curiosity Corner: Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship possible, but complicated

by Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,

Emeritus Professor of Physics, Lander University

Question: Is it possible for a U.S. citizen to have dual citizenship with another country?  (Asked by a curious column reader.)

Reply: Good question. Had I answered this off the top of my head, I would have said no, because I had always heard that U.S. citizens could only have our citizenship. And it was sort of that way, but no more. Here’s what I found out.

The first sentence of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, often called the “citizenship clause,” states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” (Naturalization through immigration.) The original intent of this provision passed in 1868 after the Civil War was to guarantee citizenship to former slaves and their descendents. Children of foreign diplomats are excluded, but foreign-born children of U.S. citizens are not. It is true that persons who become U.S. citizens through naturalization are required to state under oath that they renounce their old citizenship. However, the rub comes in with the laws of other countries. They may not recognize this and still consider the person to be a citizen of that country, so you have dual citizenship whether you want it or not. The U.S. was pretty strict about dual citizenship for quite a while. You can imagine the messes about voting, serving in the military and so on. However, most of the laws forbidding dual citizenship were struck down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1967 and 1980. Basically, the court held that the “citizenship clause” prevented Congress from revoking a person’s U.S. citizenship without evidence of his or her intent to give up this citizenship. This allowed for dual citizenship, and the State Department, which has jurisdiction over these matters, was effectively under court order to ignore the old laws that were still on the books. The 1967 case involved a U.S. immigrant to Israel. Israeli laws confer Israeli citizenship for any Jewish immigrant without having to apply for it. The person in this case was alleged to have lost his U.S. citizenship, not because he had become an Israeli citizen, but because he had voted in an Israeli election. Citizenship in other countries may also be obtained through naturalization, for example in Canada. (In Canada, giving up the original citizenship requires signing special forms in the presence of Canadian officials … otherwise, you’ve still got it.)

So, there are our laws, and there are their laws (or sometimes “policies”). As you might imagine, there are all sorts of situations and ramifications. Here are a few concerning dual citizenship:

  • You can serve in a foreign army (which is sometimes required by that country) without loss of U.S. citizenship, unless you are engaged in hostilities toward the U.S., commit treason against the U.S., or act with the intent of giving up your U.S. citizenship.
  • Even if you were born in the U.S., with naturalized parents or grandparents, be careful on visiting the “old country.” You may still be considered a citizen there and subject to mandatory military service.
  • Marriage to a U.S. citizen does not automatically confer U.S. citizenship on the foreign spouse, but he/she becomes an “immediate relative.” Obtaining a green card through an immediate relative is perhaps the fastest route to U.S. permanent residency. Under U.S. immigration law, an immediate relative is defined as the spouse, child (under the age of 21 years) or parent of a U.S. citizen. The biggest advantage of the immediate relative category is that it does not fall under the preference categories and there is no priority date backlog. An immigrant visa is always available under the immediate relative category.
  • To serve as president, you must be a “natural-born citizen.” This might seem to imply that a person must be born in the U.S., but the first Congress extended this to children of citizens born overseas or out of the limits of the U.S. Examples:
  • – Barry Goldwater, 1964 presidential candidate, was born in the Arizona Territory in 1909. (Arizona became a state in 1912.)
  • – George Romney, 1968 Republican hopeful, was born in Mexico in 1907 to American parents who had moved there to escape anti-Mormon prosecution.
  • – John McCain, 2008 Republican presidential hopeful, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 to American parents.

Speaking of presidents, here’s a trivia question. How many former presidents are not buried in the U.S.?

Answer:  Three. Carter, Bush, and Clinton. (They are all alive – tricky, tricky.)

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript):  Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice weaving.  ~Mignon McLaughlin

See HERE for last week’s Curiosity Corner.

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, Science Division, Lander University, Greenwood, SC, 29649, or for e-mail, Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. © JDW

About robertstevenson

Dr. Robert Stevenson is a Professor of Journalism and Director of Student Publications for the Department of Mass Communications and Theater at Lander University in Greenwood, SC. He received the Distinguished Faculty of the Year award for 2007-'08, and the Lander University Young Faculty Scholar Award in 2005-06. Stevenson also serves as chair of the Lander University American Democracy Project. First and Formost I am a dad of two wonderful boys.
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2 Responses to Curiosity Corner: Dual Citizenship

  1. I have dual citizenship – so I could have answered this question – just not with all the specificity that was included. Very Interesting.

  2. Fortitude says:

    So this pretty much puts an end to all the nay-sayers, and dare I say racist, who are trying to find ways to overturn the election by saying that Obama was born in Kenya or has a dual citizenship with Britain. Even if he was (which he wasn’t), his mother was still a U.S. citizen at the time. And his dual citizenship with Britain (which he probably never wanted) doesn’t effect his “naturalization” in the U.S. Plus, John Mcain never brought up the issue because that would raise issue with him being born in the Panama Canal zone. I think it is about time that we let this issue die, and inform other people before they start a revolution over so-called “conspiracy” theories.

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