When it comes to matters of citizenship, it is best that each nation be an island unto itself.
The United States has thankfully avoided the self-inflicted constitutional crises currently bedeviling the Australian Parliament over accusations of dual citizenship.
We’ve done this by effectively adopting, when it comes to matters of legal citizenship, a policy of “America First, Last and Only.”
The United States sensibly ignores all other nations
You see, the United States neither recognizes nor bars citizens from holding so-called “dual citizenship” with other countries. To the U.S., legally those other countries don’t exist – at least when it comes to matters of citizenship.
In other words, you either are an American citizen, or you are not. And the status by which other nations regard you matters not at all under American law.
This doesn’t change the entertainment value of mini-controversies over American politicians who also hold citizenship from another land.
The Canadian-born Ted Cruz claimed not to be aware of his putative foreign citizenship. Minnesota Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann acquired Swiss citizenship through marriage.
And consider the many discussions a decade ago about whether the Austrian-born former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a naturalized immigrant, would have been eligible for the presidency under the Constitution: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”
Our nation’s simple and even simplistic approach is a wise one. Particularly when compared to the current chaos in Australia.
In Australia, ‘Whoops, I’m a foreigner?’
Australia’s constitution is in many ways modeled on the United States. It’s a hybrid of American federalism and British Westminster-style parliamentary government. Their national parliament consists of a House of Representatives and Senate, its constituent territories are deemed “states,” and they possess reserved powers similar to their American counterparts.
One ill-begotten innovation, however, was a prohibition on dual nationals serving in Parliament.
This has suddenly become a problem. With the government’s majority in the lower house hanging by a single seat, no less than five members of Parliament have recently been accused of holding foreign citizenship. Most of them hold it by a technicality, or even acquired it through their parents without their knowledge, and are from either Britain or New Zealand.
Once upon a time, Australians and their English-speaking counterparts held a common nationality as British subjects. The gradual process of full independence within the former Empire, and now Commonwealth, has included a sort-of formal severing of that link.
Even though they still share a monarch, Brits and Kiwis are officially foreigners in the eyes of Australian law.
Now, owing to complaints on both sides of the partisan divide, it seems that the Aussie Supreme Court will have to rule on whether to disqualify members of their opposition for their unwittingly having held foreign citizenship. And this has provoked a constitutional crisis paralyzing the government of conservative Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull.
Please note: None of this involves any serious accusations of divided loyalty, or insufficient Australianality.
Just stop caring about what other nations think
In the United States, by sensibly ignoring the laws of 200 foreign nations, we don’t venture into this strange territory of dual citizenship.
The oath of naturalization for new U.S. citizens declares that the new citizen “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty.”
Nice words. However, the formal oath and the legal reality don’t quite match. As in the case of dual citizen Arnold Schwarzenegger, naturalized American citizens are allowed to retain their status as citizens of their former country, unless that country’s laws provide otherwise.
In other words, Schwarzenegger may have renounced his former citizenship in his American oath, but it’s up to Austria to decide whether or not to recognize that renunciation. And – here’s the important point – the recognition of that renunciation doesn’t matter to the United States!
By declaring that one either is or is not a citizen of the United States, and ignoring whether a citizen is also a “dual” citizen somewhere else, the United States avoids many landmines.
This is even more so when you consider that some countries, like Iran and China, make it difficult or impossible to formally renounce nationality. North Korea could tomorrow declare all 535 members of Congress to be “citizens” of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea. Then they would be validly North Korean citizens – as a matter of North Korean law.
Sure, members of Congress could renounce and denounce it, but there would be no requirement North Korea recognize that renunciation. And, in the case of Iran, that’s been a real problem for American-born children of Iranian emigrants. They’ve never even been to Iran, and yet are considered Iranians by Iran.
Lessons to our mates in the southern hemisphere
When it comes to citizenship, Australia: Keep it simple, stupid!
Instead of service in a national legislature being qualified by what other nations (even ours!) may or may not claim, you should instead qualify it simply by that person’s citizenship status, length of time as a citizen and (for certain offices), his or her age.
The laws of other nations need not apply.
(Photo of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during Australian House of Representatives question time at Parliament House on August 17, 2017, in Canberra, Australia. Justice Minister is the latest Member of Parliament to have questions raised over his possible dual citizenship following revelations on August 14 that deputy Prime Minister was a dual Australian and New Zealand citizen. Dual citizenship, which is prohibited for members of Parliament under the constitution, has already forced two Greens senators – Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters – to quit and Nationals senator Matt Canavan to resign as resources minister. By Stefan Postles/Getty Images.)