March 25, 2002


I'm not sure where this whole dustup started but Patrick Ruffini has an interesting take on the issue of dual citizenship : WHO DO I CALL to undo my Italian citizenship? If Josh Marshall gets his way, I might need to. (Patrick Ruffini, 3/24/02)
The opponents of dual citizenship who argue that it's impossible to be completely loyal to two different countries at once are basically right. This I don't dispute. However, what puzzles me about their arguments is the utter lack of faith in America that they imply. Historically, the United States has always benefitted from such divided loyalties. I am vividly reminded of this by numerous examples furnished in Thomas Sowell's Ethnic America, a history of immigrant groups in the United States that I'm currently reading. Take the fact that Italian immigration throughout history has been highly transitory. When Italians immigrated to other countries, the vast majority of them returned to Italy within a few years. But this wasn't true about America - they stayed and became loyal Americans. Looking at the list of those fallen on September 11, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of Italian surnames among the victims, although I'm sure that their families, along with the families of the Irish, West Indian, Latino, or Asian victims would reject their being characterized as anything but Americans. During World War II, not a single act of sabotage against the United States by Japanese-Americans, and three-hundred thousand Japanese-Americans fought against the Axis in the European theater, with many more in the Pacific theater intercepting Imperial Japanese communications. My point here is that immigrants, and especially immigrants who go through the trouble of becoming U.S. citizens, will tend to embrace America over their country of origin.

I don't recall which of Sowell's books I read it in, they're all good by the way, but he actually makes a somewhat different point. Amongst at least the modern waves of immigrants, the first generation do in fact tend to be somewhat ambivalent about being American. Their children (the 2nd generation), however, are fiercely American. But then the third generation tends to try to reconnect to their heritage. So an immigrant might always consider himself Italian; his son consider himself an American; the grandson an Italo-American.

This is hardly a threat to the Republic, but I have to admit I find it troublesome. It would be one thing if succeeding generations drifted away from that kind of ethnic identification, but the whole trend of modern racial politics seems to be geared toward this kind of self-Balkanization. For this reason alone I'd require people to give up other citizenship when they become Americans. More than anything, more than ethnicity, more than geography, more than any of the things that typically define other nations, America is defined by a set of ideas : that Men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that the legitimacy of government depends on the consent of the governed; that the form of that government should be dictated and limited by a written document whose provisions are binding on all men; etc. Becoming a citizen really should, at a minimum, bind you to these propositions, which, let's face it, are unique in the history of the world. I am simply uncomfortable with the notion that someone can reconcile this distinctive Americanism with an allegiance to another state.

I would say this though, I'd remove the constitutional provision that bars immigrants from becoming President. I have no doubt that the next illegal immigrant to swim ashore can, and likely will, become just as American as me and mine and I have no doubt that after a number of years here they will be willing and able to uphold and defend the Constitution.

UPDATE : see Ben Domenech for more on this

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 25, 2002 11:39 AM
Comments for this post are closed.