Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, March 15, 2013

The American Diaspora: Lobbying versus Protest

Three years now since Congress passed the HIRE Act and with it the now infamous Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) which would require foreign FFI's (banks mostly) to report the accounts held abroad by U.S. citizens.  James Jatras calls it "the worst law most Americans have never heard of."  I've referred to it as "a road to hell paved in the service of one good intention."

Its original purpose was to expose American citizens living in the U.S. who might be hiding taxable assets abroad. Somehow in the making of this law it escaped the notice of Congress that there are around 6 million "regular folks" (Americans who live and work abroad as wives, husbands, teachers, managers, nurses, and so on) who are directly and adversely impacted by it.  The consequences of this law for Americans abroad are very real and hit us right where we live.  In some countries Americans are being shut out of local banks since the easiest way for financial institutions (foreign to the U.S. but local to the American expat) to avoid having to comply with U.S. reporting requirements is to "fire the customer."  Not easy to live anywhere without access to a basic checking account and can you imagine the surprise (and horror) of these people when this happens just because they are American citizens?

Another impact has been on Americans who are married to non-Americans (mostly women).  These foreign spouses are tainted by association.  Not only is their financial privacy at risk since their "American connection" means that their information may soon be shooting off to the American IRS along with their spouse's but they too can be shut out of some banking services where the local bank doesn't want to take the risk associated with a "U.S. Person."  This has led to some foreign spouses telling their American wives and husbands, "You can stay married to me or you can renounce your U.S. citizenship.  Pick one."  In other cases we've heard about the foreign spouse has simply taken the American spouse's name off their bank accounts thus rendering her completely dependent on her husband for cash in order to go about her daily business.  Where the American spouse may be an older woman (often a stay at home mother) with children who she cannot bring with her if she is forced to return to the U.S., there isn't much choice here.

There are other impacts that I won't go into here but just go over to Isaac Brock Society or check out the ACA website for more information.  Needless to say these things have not received much media attention back in the U.S.  There are many reasons for this.  Americans who lived abroad are not exactly viewed positively by people in the American homeland.  We are assumed to be either rich tax cheats or a bunch of hippy-dippy lifestyle migrants who need to stop messing around and get their asses back home.  Neither of the two main political parties in the U.S. (nor American lawmakers) want to touch us with a ten-foot pole given how we are framed in the media and in the imaginations of the homeland voters.  Too much political risk for an uncertain return on their investment.

Another reason that was brought to my attention recently by a friend in the U.S. is that things basically suck right now in the U.S. and homelanders are having a very hard time.  There are some hopeful signs that the economy is recovering but there are still many people un- or under-employed and the fights over the budget, immigration, and many many other contentious topics are leaving an already tired and fearful American public reeling.  Given that FATCA does not directly impact them right now (though I think that is going to change very soon), it's understandable that they don't want to divert any mental energy into considering the problems of people who are not actually living in the U.S.  - people they tend to not like much anyway.

That said, those of who who do live outside the U.S. and are impacted by FATCA (and citizenship-based taxation) are fighting this.  Aside from writing lots of letters and articles and responding to the latter on the Net, we basically have two possible courses of action:  lobbying and protest.

Lobbying:  There are American diaspora groups that are working on this.  One is ACA (American Citizens Abroad).  There is also the AARO (Association of American Residents Abroad).  These are the two that are most widely known and both work within the U.S. system to try to effect change.  They prepare position papers and proposals - ACA has a very fine one that argues for a system of residence-based taxation to replace the actual citizenship-based taxation system we have now.  They also offer services like AARO's Tax Seminars which I've been told are excellent.  Both try to mobilize Americans abroad to support initiatives like Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney's H.R. 597
Commission on Americans Living Abroad Act.  Both were present in Washington recently to directly lobby U.S. lawmakers during Overseas American Week.

All good stuff and I'm one who supports their efforts.  However, it is not clear how effective they are at mobilizing the 6 million Americans living abroad.  Yes, they have access and frankly, they are the only representation we have in the belly of the beast that is the U.S. government.  Some of it is a communication problem (which they are addressing with forays into social media and updated websites) but it's also a sense that they are something of a private club, the inner workings of which are completely opaque to those of us looking at them from the outside.*  That is a perception that may have no basis in reality but it still matters because when one has to make a decision to join or not, that may be all one has to go on.  If I may also address the elephant in the room, there are two of these organizations, so there is the question of which one to join.  Anytime someone has to make a choice like that it slows down the decision-making process (or cuts it off completely).  What's the difference between them?  Should one join one or the other or both?  It's confusing and I think an impediment to Americans abroad joining either of these organizations.

Another issue is that of direct action other than lobbying and letter-writing.  Neither of these organizations call for things like demonstrations.  Why is that?  Well, some of it surely has to do with not annoying the American government too much.  Organized protests in front of a few American embassies around the world would certainly get a lot of attention but it would most likely get the American government and public really angry, especially if the international press or foreign governments used it in ways that would not be helpful to American interests.  There is also the problem that many American abroad really would rather not go public - they may have unresolved compliance issues or they may simply think that it is not wise to make themselves targets for retaliation.  Okay, it's not like Obama will send a drone or the Marines to take them out but what about audits or problems getting a passport to come home and see the family, and stuff like that?  And for those who have decided to quietly relinquish or renounce, what would be the point?

Protest:  Those are a few of the problems with direct action like demonstrations.  But are there other options?  Yes.

Pressure on local government:  FATCA can't work if foreign governments don't agree to it.  So some people are writing letters and lobbying not only U.S. lawmakers but also local representatives.  This is most effective, of course, where the American citizen in question is a dual citizen.  In Europe some people are not only talking to their local lawmakers in their country of residence but also to the European Union.  The Canadians are also very active in fighting this - they are writing letters to people like Jim Flaherty, the Canadian Finance Minister, and attending forums where they can directly ask questions about what the Canadian government will do to protect its citizens.  Is this working?  Well, please note that Canada has not signed a FATCA intergovernmental agreement with the U.S. and that is a big problem for the U.S. government.

Litigation:  It's probably not realistic for Americans to fight FATCA in U.S. courts, nor is there much hope for legal action on the international level.  However, where FATCA conflicts with local law (privacy or anti-discrimination rules) there is the possibility of taking the local government to court if they allow FATCA to go forward in that country.  In this letter Canadian constitutional scholar, Peter Hogg, talks about the ways that FATCA violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I'd say that given the level of anger about FATCA in Canada and the growing public awareness of what this legislation means for Canadians, someone will sue the Canadian government if they try to implement it. I believe that European dual citizens will do the same.

Renunciation/relinquishment:  This is still on the table for a lot of people and you have to wonder if the wave of U.S. Citizens trying to get compliant is not a sign that people are willing to submit to U.S. tax and reporting requirements, but rather prudent preparation for the day when FATCA becomes a reality in their lives and they can get to the U.S. Embassy to shed their U.S. citizenship without too much hassle (the rules are that an American must be tax compliant before he or she can renounce.)  The Isaac Brock Society continues to be the place to go for information on how to go about this and more importantly they provide moral support to U.S. citizens who are living in fear, feel deep anguish over the choices they must make, and who feel a deep frustration with the American government, the American public and even those diaspora organizations I mentioned above.

The Secret Americans:  Try to imagine for a moment the position of an American citizen or a U.S. person evaluating this situation and trying to formulate a personal strategy to meet it .  Can't figure out which diaspora organization he or she should join (and not sure that would be a good use of money in any case).  Doesn't see any hope that the U.S. government or public will wake up anytime soon.  Gets upset every time he or she sees an article that implies that he is a criminal, a rich tax cheat, a Benedict Arnold, and a selfish, ungrateful, immoral human being.  Sees his or her local government joining the FATCA bandwagon with great enthusiasm (the UK is a good example here).  Too afraid of the U.S. government (and maybe the local one too) to go public and work for change.  Doesn't see how he or she could even get compliant if he wanted to without taking terrible risks (going to jail, paying exorbitant fines, draining the retirement accounts to pay an expensive international tax lawyer and so on).

Faced with all this I think (and Peter Spiro already raised the possibility on Opinio Juris) that a lot of  American citizens abroad impacted by FATCA and citizenship-based taxation are......

Doing nothing.

They are continuing to live their lives abroad with one eye on the media reports and the other on a Plan B.  They won't come forward but they won't renounce either. Instead they are trying to figure out ways to get off the radar like switching over to a local credit union if their banks kick them out or allowing their spouses to take their names off the joint accounts and closing the personal ones.  Stuff like that.  I wouldn't underestimate their creativity -  after all, adversity is the mother of invention.

Then they just put the U.S. passport in a drawer and fuhgeddaboudit.  Forget about going to the States on vacation, don't register the kids with the U.S. Embassy and never EVER tell anyone in the country of residence their citizenship status unless it's absolutely necessary.  Move full speed ahead with integration into the host country.  No more being an unpaid ambassador or arguing the finer points of American politics with the locals - forget being an American abroad and be French, Chinese, German, Venezuelan.  Cut off the American family still living in the U.S. (or tell them that they have to buy a plane ticket to come see the nieces, nephews, siblings, cousin and grandkids).  Take the children out of any American cultural organizations or schools and if they are young enough, don't even tell them they are American.  If they were born abroad, they may never have to know.

Is this doable?  Maybe.  It is a calculated risk but I think it's one that many are taking.  This is not the path I've chosen but may I say that I sympathize with them and I completely understand why someone would do this.  Look, folks, if the American government can't give these people a clear palatable path to follow and they don't see any way out of this terrible conundrum, then don't be surprised if they clear one for themselves using whatever resources are available to them.

And, who knows, perhaps one day things will be better and they (or their children) will be able to come out of the closet and be Americans again.

(*I just read my email and there is an outstanding letter from ACA in my inbox detailing their efforts and accomplishments in this fight.  This is exactly what is needed.  Bravo.  Also they recently re-designed their website and I had a look when I was writing this post.  Much much better.  I encourage everyone to go have a look.  Here's the link again:  American Citizens Abroad.)

32 comments:

Jacques said...

This is what they call being between a rock and a hard place.

Christophe said...

What a sad post...
Living in hidding from their own government because of fear.
Had you not mentioned that you were talking about the American goverment, a reader would have thought that you were talking about some dictatorship.
I am really saddened about it, especially since I chose to live here.
The US government should be ashamed of their policies that result in this situation, and in so many Americans dumping their citizenship.
I am wondering if someone other there has visibility on the number of renunciations. Surely, they're not going unnoticed.
However, they are so proud, that instead of questionning the policies that lead to that, some just think that people who renounce don't deserve to be American in the first place.
This is a cultural issue. Country pride is very important here, so much more than in Europe and is tought very early on (pledge of allegiance in schools, flags everywhere). Because this is anchored as part of the society, it is unthinkable for most people that one would want to get rid of their American citizenship and they're seen as traitors.
Oddly enough, this pride in the country does not necessary translate into high numbers of people voting. I find that odd.

Anyway, Because of this cultural trait, it's going to be difficult to get homeland people and politicians to change their mind.

Janet said...

The vast majority of homelanders do not know that the US tax system is citizenship based and the problems this causes Americans living abroad. I contacted relatives and friends in the US twice. The first time asking for their help in protesting the Ex-Patriot Act and the second time asking them to sign the "We the People" petition for a change from CBT to RBT. The majority of the homelanders I contacted were very supportive. They signed the petition. Even more surprising, they wrote letters to their Senators protesting the Ex-Patriot Act and requesting RBT.

Many American expats that I have met don't know about their US tax filing obligations. Others believe that since the taxes they pay in their country of residence are higher than the taxes they would have to pay in the US, they don't have to file. You only learn about FBAR and FATCA by working your way through the US tax forms and instructions

The best hope for change is a combination of lobbying and protest. The biggest problem is how to connect with and inform the estimated 6 million Americans who live abroad when there is a petition to sign or letters to write or maybe someday soon a demonstration to attend.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Jacques, Yep, for a lot of US Person abroad there are no good answers to this dilemma - just options that suck less than others.

@Christophe, I concur - it's really hard to get this debate reframed. Homelanders don't want to give up that vision of Americans abroad as either wine-sipping millionaires living it up in the south of France OR youngsters backpacking around the world and finding themselves in ashrams in India. Heaven forbid that Americans outside the U.S. be something so mundane as immigrants. :-)

@Janet, Good point. Yes, many people in the US have no clue about this (or a lot of disinformation about it). Many Americans abroad are also still unaware of FATCA and CBT. I'm very encouraged by your words and the support you got when you asked your friends and family for help. Alas, in my case that didn't happen. No one was mean about it but they made it pretty clear that while they thought it was a bummer for me they agreed with the overall goal - "how else if the U.S. supposed to catch tax cheats abroad?" For the record these people are all "progressives" living in the US.

I really liked your suggestion about doing more to connect. In your view, what could be done? Does anyone else reading this have any ideas?

Janet said...

In January, I called the AARO office in Paris to ask them to publicize the "We the People" petition on their web page. During the call, I discussed the problem of connecting with Americans abroad with the woman I spoke to (unfortunately I didn't write down her name). She mentioned Meetup (www.meetup.com) which AARO uses for their monthly meetings in Paris. I had a look at the Meetup web site but didn't pursue it further at that time. Instead I joined DA-Germany. I had joined ACA late last year. I speak to anyone I hear speaking American English: on the street, in the lobby of the english language movie theater, on public transport, in english bookstores.

I have no experience with Twitter or Facebook. I don't know how to make
a plea for RBT go viral. Maybe an RBT "Harlem Shake"?

I'm sorry to hear that in your case family and friends were not so willing to help. Try sending them the link to
http://americansabroad.org/issues/taxation/taxing-americans-overseas-think-about-it-this-way/
Maybe that will help convince them.

Christophe said...

Victoria,
I was surprised for example that so few signed the We the People petition. It seems that more needs to be done by organizations like ACA and AARO to advertize such actions. They're the ones who can do mass mailings to advertize things like that, or for asking people to contact their senators about FATCA.
Passive press release on their website are not enough.
Traction should come from them.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Janet, I LOVE the idea of spreading the word one person at a time. Maybe some kind of campaign could be organized around it.

But how do we make the message "sticky"?

I've been talking to someone and we are thinking about it. We'd like it to be funny and memorable - a kind of gentle "isn't this ridiculous?"

One campaign that I think was just wonderful was the 1975 Tea Bag campaign . This was a movement to get voting rights for overseas Americans and it worked. It's a great story and a great idea. Here's more info:

http://www.aaro.org/about-aaro/the-teabag-campaign

Now why in the heck can't we come up something similar for FATCA/citizenship-based taxation?

Blaze said...

I call FATCA Foreign Attack To Control All by United States of Arrogance.

"Hippy-dippy migrants" is a mild term for how Americans think of anyone who dares to live outside US.

Elected officials are far more likely to call us "tax cheats," and "traitors."

I will not personally lobby US politicians. US Consulate tole me clearly, directly and firmly I was "permanently and irrevocably" relinquishing US citizenship when I became a citizen of Canada 40 years ago.

I will not allow US to reclaim me and my money now that I am in retirement. Contacting US politicians would be too much like agreeing I am still a "US person."

I will continue to lobby Canadian government to ensure my rights as a Canadian citizen are honored and respected.

You can be assured there WILL be a lawsuit if Canadian banks ask where I was born or demand consent to release information to US.

Another leading constitutional lawyer told three of us over a year ago we have grounds for a lawsuit if banks violate Canadian banking, privacy and human rights laws.

If the government changes those laws, we have grounds for a lawsuit against the government.

I know many others will join in if that becomes necessary. Check out maplesandbox.ca for more information as things progress.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Blaze,

The harassment and hassle folks like you (those who gave up U.S. citizenship years ago) are living is a travesty. I agree that you shouldn't have to do a damn thing on the U.S. side and I hope you don't have to sue the Canadian government.

But if you have to, I'll be cheering you on and I would be happy (nay I would be delighted) to donate to any fund you might set up to fight this in court.

I'll be watching the Maple Sandbox for more news
http://maplesandbox.ca/



Janet said...

Thank you for pointing out the 1975 Tea Bag campaign.What a great idea! I moved to Germany in 1972. California, my last state of residence, allowed me to vote. The procedure was very time consuming. An absentee ballot had to be requested by mail. The ballot, which arrived only a week or two before Election Day, had to be notarized at an American embassy or consulate to validate it. Mail to and from the US was very slow at that time. I doubt if my ballot ever made it to California on time. I eventually stopped voting and only started voting again after Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act into law in 1993. Now I understand why some of the more recent expats tell me that we are only able to vote because we have to pay taxes.

It would be great if you came up with a
"sticky" message.

Tim said...

I have information that a committee of the EU Parliament in Brussels will be holding a hearing on these issues soon(No date has been set however). I think it is important that someone who is a US Person EU Permanent Resident/Citizen attend this hearing as a witness not just have bankers and tax lawyers. Any prospective volunteers I can pass on to someone in Brussels.

Janet said...

a quick reply to Christophe before I leave for a week of skiing and no internet access -
Both the ACA and the AARO posted a link to the petition on their home page. ACA informed me that they needed all their time and resources to prepare for OAW 2013. At OAW 2013, AARO, ACA and FAWCO worked very hard lobbying for the RBT proposal on behalf of all Americans living abroad.
I will continue to inform and ask any American I meet if I may contact them when the ACA requests its members to show their support for RBT.

Anonymous said...

I am an accidental US person - and have lived outside the US since I was a baby.

I owe no US taxes, but because of the nightmarish US laws about 'foreign' bank accounts and 'foreign trusts', I've had to pay extortionate legal and accounting fees out of my non-US family's non-US savings in order to
become 'compliant' - because I felt strongly that I could not live with US citizenship - and be subjected to arrogant US might-makes-right any longer than forced to. The fees I paid far exceeded my annual earnings. I work multiple jobs, poorly paid, irregular hours, no benefits, no security. At my current rate, it will take me more than 3 years to earn what I paid to prove that I owed the US nothing and be able to renounce. For my last simple return, the local chain of preparers quoted up to 1000. for a 1040 and 3520 plus 3520A. Another wants a signed letter of engagement - but will provide no estimate of cost and the agreement has no limits.

I cannot stand to be an American for one second more. Through the torment of the last two years, I have come to loathe the US, the US tax lawyer and the accounting firm who made major errors that even I could see - but who charged me incredible fees regardless. I came very close several times to concluding that suicide was my only option in order to be free. Or that maybe I should leave my family in order to wall them off from the US threat. I could not eat or sleep. I did not know before about FBARs and the US threat, but inadvertently, I was the cause of our financial loss, and I will have to live with that for the rest of our lives together. My spouse does not rebuke me, but sometimes questions whether we really had to spend the money. I told him that it was a ransom we had to pay so that the US could not hold me hostage forever. I will never forgive or forget what is happening, and neither will my non-US family. There is no way I could remain a US citizen and live with myself. I could not justify to myself or anyone else why I would remain in any relationship to a government and country who would treat us this way, and who continues to, regardless of our stories, our lobbying and the evidence reported by the Taxpayer Advocate.

It is only because of others like me on the web, plus the Taxpayer Advocate, that I had any hope at all and survived this.

Polite deputations do not do my and other's torment justice. The US will not readily let us renounce or stop asserting its claims and power over our lives and the live of our family - even though they are not US persons.

If Democrats Abroad have not been successful in getting their very own personal President and party in power to see that what is being done is very wrong, then any polite lobbying is doomed to failure. I don't believe that the US will willingly strike any commission in order even to pretend to hear us, much less do anything to redress the wrongs we are suffering. Some Democrats Abroad have even echoed the words of the IRS and Treasury that this is the price we must pay for the 'privilege' or 'choice' of living outside the US.


Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Christophe, I want the traction to come from them. I want to see more direct action. I want and I NEED to feel that I'm able to do something in my own defense that is more than just writing letters or signing petitions. When I have had the impression that I was being asked to kick back, write a check and passively let others to act on my behalf it just killed me. I had much the same experience as Janet but with a different organization. That's when I started writing about it in my blog and why I ended up as a contributor at Isaac Brock.

I'd like folks to consider that maybe the reason people don't want to sign petitions is because they don't see it as a satisfactory and effective way of getting heard. So enough already. Time to explore other options.

@Tim. My .02 would be that we try to pull together a delegation. The ideal would be an Accidental American, a dual who is a naturalized EU citizen, a European citizen who resided in the US and is a former or current Green Card holder, the spouse of a U.S. person, and a long-term EU resident originally from the US. I could represent the last.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, Thank you, thank you, thank you for your comment. You sum up so beautifully the experience so many of us are living. Oh do I empathize with your guilt. The checks I have had to write over the past couple of years to the US Treasury (plus the fees for help preparing my returns) and the conversations I've had to have with my spouse left me feeling so bad.

And I hear you about "polite deputations." This is not a cocktail party - this is the Diaspora Tax War of 2012-2013. When will we all learn that being overly polite is getting us nowhere?

I still have a strong grudge against Democrats Abroad that is so strong that I have to refrain from talking about them on the blog. Some of the things they've said had me whispering to myself "collaborateurs".....

Anonymous said...

Today's Secretive American expats are analogous to the runaway slaves of the 19th century.

bubblebustin said...

@Victoria
You probably didn't miss this, but in case you have:
http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2013/03/14/house-ways-and-means-committee-discussing-tax-reform-at-full-speed-now/
One more way of getting our voices from abroad heard.

Anonymous said...

@victoria

Wow, the French constitutional case is rather complicated because it refers to several historic documents. Unlike the UDHR, Swiss, or EU Charters, the elements we need about origin discrimination are spread about rather than being in one place.


http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/connaissance/constitution.asp#titre_11B

PRÉAMBULE

"Le peuple français proclame solennellement son attachement aux Droits de l’Homme et aux principes de la souveraineté nationale tels qu’ils ont été définis par la Déclaration de 1789, confirmée et complétée par le préambule de la Constitution de 1946, ainsi qu’aux droits et devoirs définis dans la Charte de l’environnement de 2004."


Art 1

"La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l’égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d’origine, de race ou de religion"

"Chacun a le devoir de travailler et le droit d’obtenir un emploi. Nul ne peut être lésé, dans son travail ou son emploi, en raison de ses origines, de ses opinions ou de ses croyances."

DÉCLARATION DES DROITS DE L’HOMME
ET DU CITOYEN DE 1789

"Article Ier

Les hommes naissent et demeurent libres et égaux en droits. Les distinctions sociales ne peuvent être fondées que sur l’utilité commune.

Article II

Le but de toute association politique est la conservation des droits naturels et imprescriptibles de l’Homme. Ces droits sont la liberté, la propriété, la sûreté et la résistance à l’oppression.
"

Still, can we build a summary to put in http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2013/03/16/national-origin-discrimination-is-prohibited-by-many-constitutions-charters-and-declarations-around-the-world/
???

Jefferson D Tomas

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, I wouldn't use that analogy but I do think that a great injustice is being done here. Roger Conklin has said (and I think he's on to something) that what the American and public are levying against us is a "sin tax." Yes, they want to hassle and punish us for the crime of abandoning the homeland. What homelanders should consider is that this is a an attack on emigration and the right to leave one's country. If this continues will they or their children be able to leave the country and participate fully in globalization or will Americans be "captive citizens" - forced to stay in the US because no one wants to hire them, marry them or offer them access to basic local services like having a checking account.

@bubblebustin, Hey, good to see you. I was over at Isaac Brock yesterday trying to catch up. I missed the one you mention in your comment. Heading over there right now to have a look.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Jefferson, Hey, I think we just missed each other. I was over at Isaac Brock not two minutes ago reading your piece and offering to put something together about France. You bet I can do that and let me see about other Francophone countries' constitutions.

Anonymous said...

I completely empathize!! I will have lost over two years' salary just to pay tax prepare to become compliant enough to expatriate. I share your loathing of U.S. arrogance and complete indifference to all the collateral damage they've caused; I can't wait to finally put all this behind me in what will have eaten four years of my life.

Janet said...

The local "Masion du Tourisme" provides access to the internet.
I cried when I read the posting from Anonymous. I grew up in NYC in the 1940's and 50's (the McCarty era). At the beginning of each school day, we recited "The Pledge of Allegiance". This pledge ends with the words "and justice for all". These words are deeply engrained in my conscience. Justice was not what Anonymous received. Many, many more Americans living abroad will face the same injustice if the IRS is allowed to continue its witch-hunt and its application of draconian punishments.

A protest will only be successful if it is highly visible and uncomfortable. I doubt that we could mobize many people to demonstrate in front of American embassies and consultates around the world but is there any chance we could take our case to court? Could we interest the ACLU in representing us? What about the International Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights? I know the US doesn't accept the rulings of these two courts but it would publicize our plight. Has the Issac Brock Society already looked into this?

Is it at all helpful to send a statement to the House Ways and Means Committee?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Janet, I asked Allison Christians about the possibility of litigation. Her response is in the comments:

http://taxpol.blogspot.fr/2013/03/irs-brushes-aside-constitution-to-make.html

Not likely to work, she says.

What is possible (in fact I think it is almost certain) is for duals in other countries to sue their local governments if they try to implement FATCA. The Canadians fighting this will do it. I think EU dual citizens will as well. Not sure about Asia.

I've been thinking about ideas for protest that are visible and "sticky." We need a simple compelling message and a campaign like the one AARO and FAWCO led in 1975.

http://www.aaro.org/about-aaro/the-teabag-campaign

bubblebustin said...

@Victoria,
I like your comment about the effects of all of this on American migration. As a matter of fact, I left a similar comment for you on Brock before seeing your here. I wrote: "The genie that’s being uncorked here is forever going to change the meaning of what it means to be a US person living abroad and could very well see the end of American global migration on any significant scale. What does that mean to the future of American society, culture, and influence when an American’s experience of the world is on a ‘day pass’? What will it mean to the rest of the world? It can’t be something good." :-)
I would love it if we could explore this further. If countries change their laws in order to accommodate the US in the implementation of FATCA and as a result engage in practices that discriminate against USP's, wouldn't it be ironic if the US accused these countries of passing laws that result in the discrimination of Americans?

Sally said...

Protest? Do we really think that will help?

While it's true that the ignoramuses that passed FATCA probably didn't realize what they were doing to us, that ignorance just proves that they DO NOT CARE about Americans who live abroad. And why should they care. Many Americans who live abroad cannot vote, and those who can are spread so thin about the voting districts that "their" representatives couldn't care less.

Even if the FATCA mess does get fixed, it'll just be a few years and and some similar nonsense will come again. The point is that US politicians have no motivation whatsoever to treat expats fairly and plenty motivation to cast expats as scapegoats.

Essentially, they do not want us. The only solution is to get your house in order IRS-wise (if you must) and renounce your citizenship. They do not want us.

The fact that FATCA was passed at all convinced me of that. I'm coming up on the 2nd anniversary of my renunciation of US citizenship. It was the only logical thing to do.

But still it hurts. Emotionally, I still can't come to terms that the promise of "liberty and justice for all" from the Pledge of Allegiance I recited so often in my youth does not apply to me.

But it does not. FATCA proves it.

WhiteKat said...

Hi Victoria,

I love your blog, and this post in particular. I am one of those 'accidental Americans'. My Canadian born parents left Canada in the 50's so that my father could pursue a career oportunity in the USA. I was born there, and when my parents separated I moved back to Canada with my mother when I was less than 2 years of age.

I have never thought of myself as 'American', since I have lived approximately 1/2 century in Canada, and have had little contact with my father. Until a few months ago, I had no clue that USA had a unique policy of citizenship-based taxation.

Like 'Anonymous', at one point I felt I had no choice but to comply in order to get out from under the shackles of US control. I do not have a SSN, so I made an appointment with the US embassy to obtain one, and was told I needed proof of my life abroad. Having to dig up decades of old school records as evidence of a life somewhere outside USA, first made me cry, then made me so angry that I cancelled the embassy appointment.

Does this make me a 'secret American'? I don't think it does. I post often at IBS, respond to articles, email politicians, and talk to anyone who will listen to me about USA's immoral invasion.
I am secret, only so far as IRS and my bank are concerned - at least I hope I still am. I think we need another term for people like me.

P. Moore said...

Even though I have been following this issue for sometime now, I continue to be amazed by the whole mess this has caused. Victoria, I am still sicked by the big fat cheque you had to send with your last US tax return. I am sure it made your husband 'deliriously happy' as well. Of course, for you and many others, that is far from the end of this ridiculous situation. As for Canada, I am waiting to see what the government will do, but if they agree to an IGA with the US, I too will be happy to donate to any legal challenge.

In the meantime, I applaud how you continue to write so eloquently on this subject and am encouraged to see that many are noticing.

bubblebustin said...

@sally
I can totally relate to what you're saying, although I have not renounced yet. A tiny part of me (maybe the Pollyanna) thinks that this situation that makes life impossible for USP's abroad will somehow resolve itself. Then there's the realization that my US citizenship is like a gangrenous limb that needs severing and any error in judgement may result in my death. Phantom pains after the fact are another issue. The limb may be gone, but the memory of that limb and emotional scars last forever.
@Whitekat, I would call you a 'conscientious tax objector'.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Sally, I'm not sure either that protest will work. The problem with doing something visible and obnoxious (the only thing that is likely to get their attention) is that we just might provoke homelanders into treating us even worse. Could it get worse? Maybe. Phil Hodgen seem to think it will and he counsels us to renounce before it is too late.

@Whitekat, Thank you for sharing your story. Yeah, I would have cancelled the appointment too. Proof of life abroad since you were two years old? How ridiculous. I agree we need another word for "secret American".

@P. Moore, Thank you. I really appreciate your kind words.

Janet said...

All those willing to lobby should go to

http://americansabroad.org/issues/taxation/have-your-say-tax-reform/

for information on a once in a life-time opportunity

Anonymous said...

Lobby v. Protest:

All of the above. Lobby Congress (AOW, Americans Abroad Caucus, ACA, letters to legislators). Lobby foreign legislatures.

Protest as vocally as possible.

But also, prepare lawsuits, preferably in foreign courts, on civil rights grounds.

Jefferson D Tomas

Anonymous said...

http://maplesandbox.ca/2013/aca-blasts-fatca/#comment-6104

http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2013/04/05/american-citizens-abroad-blasts-fatca-in-comment-to-house-working-groups/

http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2013/04/07/nyt-article-overseas-finances-can-trip-up-americans-abroad/

-Jeff