New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dual Citizenship - Michele Bachmann

Plural citizenship poses a central challenge to citizenship as an organizing principle of world order and individual identity.  Dual citizenship was once thought an offense against nature, an immoral status akin to bigamy. 
Peter Spiro
Beyond Citizenship

There is a huge furor in the U.S. right now over the news that Michele Bachmann, the U.S. Congress representative from the state of Minnesota and a former Republican presidential candidate, has become a naturalized Swiss citizen.  From the reaction of her compatriots (see the comments on this Yahoo article) one would think that she has indeed committed bigamy.  Some are confused as to why this Right-wing American politician would want to be a citizen of another country.  There are spurious accusations that she is doing this for monetary gain.  Some are even going so far as to say that as an elected U.S. official at the Federal level (we are talking about the U.S. Congress after all) she ought to lose her security clearances or even be ejected from public office.

Now, I am no fan of Ms. Bachmann's politics but on this subject I would stoutly defend her actions.  She has done nothing against the law - one of the benefits of U.S. birthright citizenship is the ability to become a citizen of another state without losing U.S. citizenship. (In theory naturalized Americans do not have this right though it's not really enforced.) There is also, to my knowledge, no rule against a dual national holding public office in the U.S.  She may, in fact, be in very good company.  This rather outdated Wikipedia article shows a long list of current and former U.S. politicians and government officials who were born outside the U.S., some of whom must still be citizens of other states.  Remember that in the citizenship game it's not only about the citizenship(s) you claim, it's also about the countries that can claim you.  As Douglas Klusmeyer points out, "States experiencing high levels of emigration, for example, have routinely exercised the right to preserve membership links with their departed nationals long after they have become permanent residents, if not citizens, of other states.  They have even maintained such links with the descendants of those residents and citizens." Yes, folks, it isn't always about what you want (or where you think your loyalty lies) - it's about each country's citizenship rules and whether or not you fall under them for reasons that are very often beyond your control.

Since the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and those immigrants are emigrants (or their descendants) from other nations, of course there are huge numbers of American citizens who could legitimately be citizens of other nations through jus sanguinis and/or jus soli.  This seems to come as a big surprise to Americans.

Bachmann however is clearly not one of these accidental or involuntary citizens.  Because her husband is Swiss she had the right to ask to be Swiss too - facilitated naturalization through marriage to a national.  Very common and seems to have been a family affair with the children also activating their Swiss citizenship at the same time.  So this was a choice she made and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to criticize her since I have effectively made the exact same decision for myself.

Above and beyond her personal life is there a reason for concern because she is an elected official holding high office?  I don't think so given that she has been very transparent about it. If Americans are truly concerned about this they might do better to wonder about their politicians or high government officials who (and let's be generous here) prefer not to discuss or have it known that they are duals.  Let the good people of the U.S. state she represents decide whether or not she is the right representative for them with full knowledge of her status.

And in breaking news (mere moments after I finished this post) the BBC is reporting that, "Mrs Bachmann said she had decided to give up her new Swiss passport to prove she is a "proud American citizen".  Now that I find really annoying since it seems to imply that those of us who do became duals (or our children who are duals by birth) are not "proud American citizens."  I'm disappointed that she caved.  


Berliniquais said...

I can understand your disappointment. This is, as you say, another indirect slight towards expatriates and dual citizens.

However, I am not at all surprised by Ms Bachmann's decision to give up her newly acquired Swiss citizenship. It's a Tea Party politician we're talking about after all. Now, I probably know little about US politics, and my awareness of the Tea Party movement might be biased by the defavourable press coverage it receives in the European media, but my impression was that most of its supporters come out as staunch (if not rabid) patriots. In such circles, people with dual citizenships are viewed with even more suspicion than elsewhere, as in the Front National's manifesto for example... She would have lost support and credibility in her arena over this, no matter what we personally think about her commitment to and "pride" for America.

This would be the very same in France... Eva Joly may have run as a candidate for the Green party in the latest election, she would not have fared so well had she tried to take over the FN instead of Europe Écologie.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

I think your analysis is correct, JM. I can't imagine her being able to continue her career in US politics as a dual (especially since she swings to the Right).

Her case has sparked yet another debate in the US over dual citizenship. US law on this matter is quite interesting - those of us who are born American can take on as many citizenships as we like without losing our US passports. Naturalized citizens, on the other hand, may not (at least in theory). I think Australia does the same thing. Here's an interesting piece in the New York Times about this that was passed along by Arun via Facebook. A good summary of the arguments for and against: