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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Americans Abroad: A Desire to be Counted?

In closing I would like to reiterate the need for the U.S. Census Bureau to count all Americans, including private citizens living and working abroad.  Not only will such a policy provide an accurate census, but it will allow Congress and private sector leaders to realize how to best support U.S. companies and our citizenry abroad. 
The Honorable Benjamin Gilman, House of Representatives, New York

On July 26, 2001 at 1:30 PM the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Census (Committee on Government Reform) met in Washington to examine the question:  Americans Abroad, How can  we count them?

The question itself shows that there was already a consensus around it.

In the rooms of the Rayburn House Office Building in the nation's capital that day were a wide variety of actors - government and non-government alike.  There were U.S. lawmakers and speakers from the State department and the U.S. Census Bureau. There were also representatives from the major American political parties (Democrats and Republicans Abroad) as well as  the American Business Council of the Gulf Countries and the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham)  as well as American Citizens Abroad, the Association of Americans Resident Overseas and the Federation of American Women's Club's Overseas.  Nearly all spoke in favor of including Americans abroad in the U.S. census but for different reasons.

Domestic Politics:  U.S. citizens living abroad have the right to vote in U.S. elections and they do so through their last U.S. state of residence. So, for example, my last U.S. residence was in Seattle, Washington and I vote in that state in local elections and through that state in federal elections (Congress and President).  This will be the case regardless of how many years I remain outside the United States.  However, that virtual presence in the U.S. only counts for voting purposes and does not count for apportionment (the number of Congressional seats alloted every ten years to each state by population).

If Americans abroad were counted in the U.S. census for apportionment purpose, who would benefit the most?  Those state that have the largest numbers of American citizens living abroad who claim that state as their last state of residence.  Some obvious winners would be California, New York, and Utah.  These states would gain population and therefore might win seats away from other U.S. states that have populations that are less globally mobile.  This site has an chart that shows the changes in Congressional apportionment between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.  In 2010 12 seats changed hands. Native population growth, immigration, and internal migration from one state to another account for these changes.  Adding Americans abroad to the count would mean adding another variable and there would clearly be winners and losers.

Diaspora Politics:    U.S. citizens abroad are a very diverse group but the most visible are those who belong to certain kinds of organizations:  business, for example, or groups that represent American citizens abroad in the homeland.  Here were a few of their arguments and interests :

Raise the profile of Americans abroad in the homeland:  As long as Americans abroad are not "legible" to the American government and the homeland, it is very easy to ignore them or (much worse) paint a picture of them that is rather unflattering and then pass laws that intentionally or unintentionally hurt them.  A count would provide real information as to their numbers and just what they are up to over there.  Participation in the national census would hopefully dispel some of the suspicion and reveal a population of patriotic Americans still bound to the homeland by ties of love and loyalty, and doing good for America by doing well wherever they may be.  "The conduct of the census will respond to the patriotic desire  of the American community around the world to be counted, to be measured, to be seen in its proper proportions as a dynamic part of our society.  It will reveal the importance to our economy and to our society of our overseas citizens."

Provide benefits and services to the American "domestic abroad":  Once the numbers are known, then steps could be taken to prevent the erosion of services to this population and offer the possibility of adding others like access to Medicare.  It would also make it easier for consulates to protect and aid American populations abroad.  Once a count is made staffing could be adjusted accordingly.  Exclusion yet again from the census one speaker said, would "demean our citizenship and our contribution to America, and also, deny us our rightful allocation of Federal revenue."

Improve the global competitiveness of the U.S.:  U.S. businesses abroad are an American presence abroad.  Americans "on the ground" are necessary to promote American products and to generate jobs back in the homeland.  Knowing where this presence is would make it easier for the American homeland to support their efforts and thus help reduce the trade deficit and generate jobs back in the United States

In addition, I would add that having this population counted, recognized, and legitimized would make it much easier for organizations like American Citizens Abroad, AARO and FAWCO to represent their members.  Today, ACA and others say they are the "voice of American abroad" (roughly estimated today at 6 - 7 million).  This would be much more plausible if some quantitative data existed to bolster their claims.  If it could be shown that American abroad were not just a few Americans temporarily outside the U.S., but a real community of millions of people who vote, pay taxes and support American interests, then lobbying efforts (for or against various homeland initiatives) would take on an entirely new dimension.

This proposal in 2001 to count Americans abroad was a happy conjunction of many different interests both domestic and diaspora alike.  Why did the planets align in 2001 and give impetus to this initiative?   Hard to say but one reasonable assumption would be that the American population abroad grew and reached some sort of critical mass at the turn of the century.  In a globalized era with more and more international migration, Americans (like many other nationalities) took the opportunities opened up by globalization and went abroad to live and work as private citizens.  With millions of visitors each year  coming to the US temporarily to travel, to study or to work, there were more chances for an American to meet and marry a foreigner and then choose to leave the US with his or her spouse.  Looser jus sanguinas citizenship laws made automatic (or "accidental") Americans of the children of U.S. citizens born abroad. The global reach of the US military (bases and engagements in various places) meant that some of the troops had a taste of life outside the U.S. and decided not to return to the U.S.   All these things swelled the ranks of American abroad.  It is unfortunate that this emigration has not been the study of more research.  Having better data about it would would give us a lot of insight into American immigration/emigration.

Here is what we do know:  Once installed abroad some Americans did not like to be treated as "semi-citizens" with fewer rights, fewer benefits, almost no representation, and zero political power in the homeland.  To add insult to injury the image of Americans abroad was (and is) terrible.  Some of the homeland rhetoric around this population still paints them as unpatriotic Benedict Arnold's who abandoned the US in order to evade taxes or to engage in frivolous, selfish, and un-American activities.

This desire of a growing American population abroad to matter (to count for something in the US)  dovetailed with the desire of some U.S. states to tilt the homeland political representation apportionment game in their favor.  And that is why I think calls for Americans abroad to be included in the U.S. census were seriously considered in the summer of 2001 in a hearing dedicated to that purpose.

That is my analysis based on the research I've done.  Please do argue with my conclusions. I know that some of the people who worked on this issue back then read the Flophouse.  I invite them to give their perspective on it, either in the comments section or via email.

Starting from the premise that Americans abroad should be counted, the next question was how to do it.  As we saw in the first post in this series, attempts by the U.S. government to count this population throughout the 19th and 20th centuries all ended in failure.  In the next post we'll look at the responses of the U.S. government (State Department and Census Bureau) to this proposition.  As we shall see there are some serious challenges to defining this universe.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

As we have learned, with the absence of sufficient support for even a token Presidential commission to look into the issues faced by those defined as 'US citizens abroad' - we are only of concern to the IRS and Treasury and the GAO as far as they continue to cast us as sources of US extraterritorial double taxation. We are only of interest as cash cows and lifelong indentured servants - whose labour and assets are deemed to be first and foremost the property of the US - despite being born or naturalized as citizens and residents of other countries 'abroad'.

Knowing what I now know about the US and the insults hurled our way by the US IRS and Treasury and Obama appointees, as well as the threats and punitive laws directed towards all of us abroad - by various Senators, and the US exploitation of those abroad; I would never participate in a census, and I would never register my children, or engage in any other activity that is more likely to be used to persecute us further - and steal our legal local already-once-taxed assets AND the assets of our non-US spouses and family.

They prefer to make up slander about us owing the US - and being a source of the US tax gap rather than spending any money on hearing from us or examining our plight.

The US doesn't even bother to provide accessible services to those living abroad - even though those in Canada and Mexico are right next door - and make up the largest populations of US citizens living abroad in the world.

P. Moore said...

Victoria, this is truly a messy issue considering those points you raised ALONG WITH, in the current environment a substantial number of 'duals', accidental or otherwise, have not desire to be "counted in" and do not wish for any services from the USG. They simply want to be left alone. On top of that, since the USG borrows 40% of every dollar they spend, expanding the census, representation and services to cover Americans abroad can only add to the fiscal problem. Seems these days, the USG only wants to count sources of revenues (taxpayers or potential taxpayers) but they sure don't want to accept any more responsibilities or protect the rights of those potential revenue sources.

This whole issue is one helluva situation.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Anonymous, I think what you said well represents the current thinking right now by many Americans abroad. Back in 2001 there was hope and some trust in the US gov. Today I think that's long gone.

@P.Moore, Yes, it's a damned if we do and damned if we don't. If we aren't part of the census then we are not a force to be reckoned with in domestic politics. If we do accept to be counted then we run the risk of being hunted down and fleeced.

Sauve said...

When I was back in the US earlier this year I was surprised by the outright derision I met.

I've always thought of myself as liberal who is very patriotic and loyal to the USA. After all, I have a son in the service who has put his life at risk in every conflict. What surprised me most, and I understand the least, is that 2 of the 3 of my children refuse to come to France to visit me because of the general feeling generated towards Americans who live abroad. I got an earful from my son regarding why my American reputation is so 'rightly' tarnished. As far as I can tell, there is no question of a persons national pride or loyalty among the French for their French citizens to be living abroad. I've come to the conclusion that in-place Americans rely more on rumor and hearsay than they do on facts and even what is right before their eyes.

Sally said...

As long as those few US citizens abroad who have the right to vote (many do not) are spread thinly around the congressional districts and there is no proportional representation, their votes count for nothing anyway. Candidates care about groups of voters who can affect the outcome of their election.

Since I had voted when I lived in the US, I was allowed to vote, but my vote didn't count for beans because of the district I had last been in.

This was one of the several reasons I decided to expatriate...so my vote would actually count somewhere.

Voyons said...

Couldn't figure out where else to ask my question: Has the FATCA Fact Sheet been translated into French?