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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Americans Abroad and the Founding Mothers

A very nice post up on Ellen Lebelle's blog Thinking Out Loud.  It's called Lost Potential and the perspective is one familiar to many long-term American citizens abroad, but perhaps not as well known as it should be to young US citizens living outside the US right now.

If the United States of America has Founding Fathers, Americans abroad have Founding Mothers:  Phyllis Michaux and friends.

In 1961 they founded an organization called the Association of American Wives of Europeans (AAWE) and then in 1973 formed the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO) which launched two fights with the homeland:  the right to vote from overseas and the right to transmit US citizenship to children born abroad.

The Right to Vote:  Not nearly enough American citizens today vote;  and this is just as true of Americans at home as it is of those living outside the US.  But prior to 1976, Americans abroad couldn't vote at all. In the early 70's, AARO, FAWCO (Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas founded in 1931) and the Bipartisan Committee on Absentee Voting started a grassroots campaign which ended in victory when President Gerald Ford (on the advice of Barry Goldwater) signed the Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act on January 2, 1976.

This was the Teabag Campaign and every time I read the story on the AARO website, I take heart.   Make no mistake about it, the homeland was not exactly falling over itself in its eagerness to give us the vote.  It took unity, political savvy and persistence.  And they (we) won.

US Citizenship for Children Born Abroad:  Another battle and one that is still controversial (see this award-winning article from The Foreign Service Journal called What Makes Someone an American Citizen?) was the fight to transmit US citizenship to our children born outside the United States.  If you are an American living abroad today and have gone to the US consulate to register your child's birth as a US citizen, know that just a generation or two before that would have been very difficult, if not impossible.

It was due to Ms. Michaux' and these organization's tireless efforts (and all of them putting up with an enormous amount of crap from dubious bureaucrats and politicians in Washington who did not take them terribly seriously at first - not even Phyllis who was a WW II veteran) that the citizenship laws of the US were changed to be more favorable to transmission of US citizenship through jus sanguinas (blood).
"Strenuous AARO advocacy helped to abolish in 1978 the law requiring that a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen married to a non-American reside in the U.S. for a specified period of time in order to keep the American citizenship the child was born with. In 1986, largely through our efforts, the period of residence in the U.S. required to transmit citizenship to children born abroad was reduced from ten years to five."
Today we face yet another challenge - homeland efforts to strenuously enforce its unique tax system, citizenship-based taxation, and its onerous reporting requirements (FBAR and FATCA).  Those women I've talked to who fought so hard to obtain citizenship for their foreign-born children are very worried about the impact this will have on them and their children.  As Ellen says:  
"The ones most likely to renounce are the American children born abroad and the accidental Americans, the ones born in the US to foreign parents and who never really lived in the US. The US only sees their potential as taxpayers, none other, so the country will lose them as potential ambassadors. In addition, the country will lose those of us who followed our hearts and chose to live and work almost our entire adult lives elsewhere."
This is the hand we've been dealt, mes amis, and the situation is dire with renunciations of US citizenship reaching all-time highs..  But every time someone tells me that I and others are wasting our time taking on the all-powerful US government, I have to wonder if they know their history - the history of Americans abroad and the fight for legitimacy (the right to have rights as American citizens wherever we live.)  It was not something we just have today that we can take for granted;   it was something the Founding Mothers had to fight long and hard for.  CBT and FATCA/FBAR are just another battle (like voting and citizenship) in the long long war for recognition of the American Diaspora which goes back to the middle of the last century.

So I would humbly suggest that the naysayers take a good long look at that history.  The facts are clear - those Americans abroad who came before us fought and won.  

And if they could do it,  damn it, than so can we.


Ellen Lebelle said...

Thanks, Victoria. I know one kid who would like to be transferred to the US. He is one of these children of an American mother who never had the chance to live in the US when younger, but has always wanted to go. He's an engineer. If he now decided to renounce his citizenship, he would lose his ace card (US citizenship, no need for a work visa), but more importantly, the US would lose an engineer, and a whole family settling (back) in the US.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Ellen, Yes, and that's what makes the decision so hard. To be able to return easily to the land of one's father or mother is a wonderful thing. And as you pointed out so well these are kids with skills and talents that the US will lose if they renounce.

My Frenchlings have decided to keep their US citizenship and I am very VERY grate to my parents (their grandparents) for helping them start their lives compliant with the US system. My father helped them with their tax returns.

It seems to me (just a suggestion) that American organizations might think about offering these kids some help becoming compliant. Some free advice and assistance for them? So that they know that their fellow Americans abroad will stand with them and help them if they want to keep their US citizenship? Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Socialism , Big brother , 1984 are creeping in to our lives.
We are just a number for the system . Those in control want to standardize everyone and everything. Something has gone very wrong . I would not even do the same thing to my dogs.

Tim said...

I am not sure whether this belongs here or in your other post on types of expatriates.

Right now their appears to be an ever deepening divide between the US expatriate organization such as AARO and its head Lucy Leaderich and the so called "Accidental" Americans and their lobby organizations. John Richardson who is head of the Alliance for the Defense of Canadian Sovereignty just recently posted a direct response to Laederich and AARO. It is a must read for all sides of this issue.

The final paragraph directed at Laederich and AARO was somewhat harsh where Richardson quotes from an accidental American ADCS supporter in Canada.

"The ADCS legal challenge has given me hope where there was none, and I support it with all my heart. It speaks to BOTH my strong desire to protect the sovereignty of my home country of Canada AND to my desire for remedy for those who have chosen to or who have no choice but to remain US citizens – though I could not. I found specific support and information here at IBS that I could not find elsewhere. I think what the US is doing (in many arenas) is VERY WRONG and unjust. I don’t want to be muzzled because it is impolitic to say out loud that the Emperor is naked. I don’t really believe that if we were nicer that the Senate Finance Committee, the US Treasury and the IRS will do what is right.

But there is something important missing. If we are to work together, that has to be addressed. I want to be able to state freely that the US Emperor has no clothes. I don’t want to have to pretend to admire his latest outfit while begging him for alms."

What is somewhat amazing is Laederich is also a French citizen while Richardson is also an American citizen despite the fact the respectively indentify heavily in public with the US and Canada not France and the US.

My personal biggest issue right now with ACA, AARO, and FAWCO is they should at least acknowledge that the current ADCS litigation is "real" and is being handled by some very high profile lawyers in Canada. Anyone ACA or AARO chooses to contact for an independent assessment of the Canadian legal community would say the ADCS Arvay/Gruber team is totally top flight. I should know as while I personally am not involved officially with ADCS I played an early unofficial role in choosing the legal team. My personal view is ADCS(before it was even called that) needed the toughest, meanest, most junkyard dog like legal team to go head to head with the IRS. I think myself and others accomplished that.

Tim said...

I should also add in terms of "toughness" metaphors the ADCS legal team is also the SAME legal team for the Hells Angels of Canada.

Tim said...

One more thing that I want to take issue with Laederich's remarks. I personally am not in position to say to say whether the whole AOEI/OECD/GATCA thing is "inevitable" as AARO describes it. Additionally I do not speak official on behalf of ADCS. However, any attempt to implement the OECD/AEOI program by the Government of Canada in a way that harms to individuals universal civil rights of mobility and immigration I strongly suspect will be met by additional litigation from the same ADCS legal team fighting the FATCA intergovernmental agreement.

So again I am not in a position to judge AARO in saying OECD/GATCA is inevitable. However if it "inevitably" goes forward the odds of "inevitable" legal action in Canada at least are quite high.

FF said...

We need a totally different way of looking at how all these rules and regulation got stated. I bet Fatca is supported by by tax lawyers, accountants and tax software companies.
There is no real "work" anymore. So politicians created these cottage industries of lawyers and accountants to rob from average people. :(

Victoria FERAUGE said...


For me the difference of opinion is about timing - not about CBT. Both AARO and ACA are for RBT. Don't know about Dems abroad.

The ADCS lawsuit is a problem for them - all of them. ACA and AARO work on behalf of the interests of US cits abroad. The lawsuit is a Canadian lawsuit filed on behalf of Canadians (who may or may not be US citizens - though they may be deemed US Persons). And that creates quite a conundrum for them. If they were diaspora organizations citizenship would matter much less but they aren't. This is the situation as I see it but if anyone from AARO would like to respond to what I've said, please feel free.

My .02 is that I'd like to see ACA and AARO become diaspora organizations and loosen their definition of American. More and more I don't see having a US passport as defining who is an American. But that's just me.

I'd also like to see these organizations move toward more diversity. And by that I mean geoographic and also age. I'm living in Japan and most of AARO's and ACA's events are based in Europe. So that means I can't attend. And that really bothers me. I also note that the boards of these organizations are filled with people who have done amazing things for Americans abroad and have been in the fight for a very long time. You see the same names over and over. I think they need younger people and I'm not sure why they don't have them.

Tim said...

I will add that several of the key people at ADCS served as unofficial ACA reps to Canada until they went "rogue" so to speak. I should know because I was actually in the room when ACA was informed of the lawsuit and you could cut the tension with a knife.

So at least one risk the ACA, AARO et all take with opening up to a larger geographic base is the new people they bring in could end up going "rogue" like what happened in Canada.

Tim said...

One more thing I will add about the ADCS lawsuit. The plantiffs in it were choosen by the ADCS legal team in regards to greatest likelihood of legal success not its board. Additionally it is quite possible additional plantiffs maybe added in the future that have closer personal ties to the United States in the current or future litigation.

Additionally the lack of AARO or ACA presence in Canada makes ADCS the only game in town so to speak. Even if you are more sympathetic to ACA's viewpoint and live in Canada if you want to participate in these issues you by default almost have to go with ADCS.

**I will note the AARO Facebook forum is open and many ADCS people are regular participants there.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Noble Dreamer, Thank you very much for those clarifications and for the link to the Brock post.

You know what I find heartening? That we have come so far that there are now many perspectives and many orgs working on FATCA/CBT. That we have grown and matured to the point where we have our own politics (I have a degree in Political science and I do not consider "politics" to be a dirty word.)

The organizations in which we hash out OUR views are many these days and I think there is room for even more. We are not all alike, we do not all agree.

But we are no longer entirely looking to the homeland for answers. Or thinking that its system the only game that matters. We have our own forums, our own debates. We will not always agree. Sometimes we will get testy with one another. But that's normal - more importantly it is THE process by which we come to define ourselves - more and more as an Americans abroad community that talks across borders with issues and experiences that bind us together in some way. It's wonderful to watch.

ADCS, Brock and Maple Sandbox have really done us all a service. (For the record I consider myself a Brocker and identify as such. They have another perspective which has really broadened the conversation and opened up new ways for Americans abroad to ACT in their own defense. And they've done it using social media, a non-hierarchical organizational structure, and no dues for membership. As I look at all this I am in awe of what's been accomplished since I stepped into the mess in 2011. Can't wait to see what 2015 looks like. :-)