Dual Nationality

A person is considered a dual national when he or she owes allegiance to more than one country at the same time. A claim to allegiance may be based on facts of birth, marriage, parentage, or naturalization. A dual national may, while in the jurisdiction of either country that considers that person its national, be subject to all of its laws, including being conscripted for military service. There is no internationally agreed upon principle governing dual citizenship. Each country is free to determine how it will treat an individual who is a national of both that country and of another.

According to the State Department, dual citizenship remains more tolerated than explicitly accepted by the U.S. government, and by many other countries. An official State Department publication on dual nationality acknowledges that dual nationality is "a status long recognized in the law" and that a person "may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both. The mere fact that he asserts the rights of one citizenship does not without more [specific acts of repudiation] mean that he renounces the other." [Interpreter Releases, April 22, 1996.]

The State Department then notes that: "[w]hile recognizing the existence of dual nationality and permitting Americans to have other nationalities, the U.S. government does not endorse dual nationality as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries upon dual-national U.S. citizens often place them in situations where obligations to one country are in conflict with the laws of the other. In addition, their dual nationality may hamper efforts to provide diplomatic and consular protection to them when they are abroad."

The Oath of Citizenship

While these two statements admit that the United States tolerates and recognizes the existence of dual nationality, the oath of allegiance taken by all naturalization applicants states otherwise. It says:

"I hereby declare, on oath, that 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; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

Why is all of this important?

A proposal by the Mexican government would allow as many as 5 million Mexicans living legally in the United States to maintain Mexican nationality even after taking the oath of allegiance required to become a U.S. citizens. The 1990 Census listed 4.3 million Mexican-born residents, less than one million of whom had already become naturalized as U.S. citizens. Over two million Mexicans have been legally admitted since 1990. Benefactors of the proposed change would include Mexicans who have naturalized, amnestied illegal aliens who are now eligible to naturalize, and so-called "border babies," children born in the United States of Mexican parents. Under U.S. law, those children are automatically U.S. citizens by virtue of their birth on American soil. But under current Mexican law, the children are dual nationals until age 18, when they must renounce their U.S. citizenship if they want to retain their Mexican nationality. The proposal for dual nationality would allow "border babies" to maintain their U.S. citizenship and their Mexican nationality indefinitely.

Objections to Dual Nationality

  • One of the essential duties of a country's consular and diplomatic corps is to provide protection and assistance to the country's citizens abroad. In the case of a dual citizen, there may be competing interests between the two countries.
  • Another objection concerns tax liability. Many governments are wary of dual citizenship, arguing that it encourages people to "shop around" for a country with lower taxes.
  • Other arguments go to the core of the symbolic meaning of citizenship. Some point out that dual citizenship makes possible the use of citizenship as a badge of convenience rather than of undivided loyalty, and impairs the "singleness of commitment" that is the hallmark of allegiance.
  • By allowing Mexicans in the United States to remain Mexicans if they become Americans, the Mexican government would be attempting to maintain the allegiance of a huge voting bloc in U.S. elections especially at the state and local level where immigrant populations are concentrated. It would also encourage even more migration north by those who might otherwise be reluctant to sever ties south of the border and build constituencies in the U.S. for other political issues in which Mexico takes interest.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has generally echoed traditional arguments for limiting dual citizenship, noting that dual citizenship presents serious problems both for the individuals and the governments involved.

Thoughts on the Mexican Proposal

Eugene Goldstein, a New York immigration lawyer, writes in Interpreter Releases, "Although the U.S. government does not de jure recognize dual citizenship, the U.S. must de facto recognize the laws of foreign states within their own territory. Put another way, if another country decided to continue to treat one of its citizens as still a citizen, despite his or her acquisition of U.S. citizenship, the U.S. must respect that decision." According to Prof. Rodolfo de la Garza, vice president of the Tomas Rivera Center, a Hispanic think-tank, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo is really concerned about getting Mexican legal immigrants to naturalize so they can better fend for themselves and maintain permanent residence in the United States. Mexico depends heavily on $3.2 billion in annual remittances from Mexicans in the U.S.

Dan Stein, Executive Director of FAIR, comments: "The theory [behind the Mexican proposal] is that Mexican nationals who become U.S. citizens will become aggressive defenders of Mexican national interests. Mexico is trying to retain high levels of [money sent] home and to assert a political claim on Mexicans here." [ Chicago Sun-Times, May 29, 1995.]

Sources of Citizenship

In regard to citizenship, some countries follow the legal principle of jus soli, which determines a person's citizenship according to where he was born. Other countries adhere to jus sanguinis, which generally defines an individual's citizenship according to that of his parents. Under U.S. law, persons born here are automatically U.S. citizens. In most situations, moreover, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen is also considered to be a U.S. citizen. The U.S. is thus one of a number of countries that incorporates both the jus soli and jus sanguinis doctrines in its citizenship law.

Update 5/02