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.