The Weaponization Of Citizenship: From “You Are NOT American” to “You ARE American”

Recommended Reading For Americans Abroad

I recently came across the book “You Are NOT American” by Professor Amanda Frost. I read very few books from beginning to end. This particular book I read twice. The subtitle of the book is “Citizenship Stripping From Dred Scott To The Dreamers“. Ms. Frost documents the struggles of those unlikely people who were conscripted into the an internal struggle – invisible to all except those affected – in the United States. I think of this struggle as the “weaponization of citizenship”. Historically this struggle has resulted from the attempts of the United States to reconcile its ugly history of slavery with its beautiful aspirations of freedom. The book is well researched and Ms. Frost was able to tell the stories of the principal “warriors”, bringing them to life in a way that humanized them. Although each person/warrior was the public face of a legal issue (many of their cases were heard by the Supreme Court Of The United States) we learn and understand the facts and circumstances that brought them to the court. While reading the book, I could feel the pain, the frustration and the injustice. We learn how the laws of the day impacted the people of the day. This knowledge comes from Ms. Frost digging into the archives and finding many original sources. The footnotes constitute a “treasure trove” of information akin to reading old newspapers. The book tells the story of “citizenship stripping” as a commentary on American history, culture and values in a broader sense.

Charles W. Adams argued that the history of taxation was a proxy to describe the history of civilization. I suspect that Ms. Frost might argue that the history of “citizenship stripping” is a large part of the history of the evolution of the 13 Colonies into the United States of America. All growth is painful. But the growth of the United States has inflicted extraordinary pain on many.

The description of how the history of slavery led to the the 14th Amendment (establishing that birth in the United States is a guarantee of US citizenship) is exhibit A. How many “accidental Americans” of today would link their current plight/persecution to Dred Scott and Justice Taney ruling that a Negro could not be a US citizen? The decision in Dred Scott is believed to be the catalyst for the enactment of the 14th Amendment. Who could have foreseen that the mere fact of birth on US soil could lead to a lifetime of regulation and US imposed disabilities on people who don’t live in the United States and have little connection to the United States?

Approximately 100 years later in 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States in Afroyim v. Rusk ruled that the 14th Amendment prevented the US Government from most forms of “citizenship stripping”. How many of the American emigrants of today, who are being constructively forced to renounce their US citizenship, would link their renunciations to Afroyim, a decision for the purpose of protecting US citizenship? The 14th Amendment conferred US citizenship on those emigrants at birth. The decision in Afroyim v. Rusk made it much harder for them to lose their US citizenship.

For most, citizenship is an abstract concept with the practical significance of having a country to belong to. For most people their citizenship is part of their personal identity. But, citizenship means different things in different countries. There is a huge difference between being born with German citizenship and purchasing a citizenship in Grenada or Antigua. Different citizenships come with different degrees of mobility and opportunities. Citizenship is a status that affords the legal right to live in and belong to a country. But, citizenship also comes with obligations. Citizenship does not automatically include the right to leave a country. In some cases citizenship may be necessary for certain kinds of employment or professional licensing. In the 21st century, US citizens, because and only because they are US citizens will find it difficult to live in any other country. Citizenship matters! Citizenship creates opportunities and can also impose disabilities. Few people in life experience “citizenship induced” problems. But, no “citizenship induced” problem is a small problem. Citizenship problems tend to be experienced by small numbers of people and/or political minorities. For a particularly egregious example in Canada visit the “Lost Canadians” site.

Citizenship impacts peoples lives in unanticipated and unexpected ways. For example, Ms. Frost introduces us to Ms. MacKenzie – a U.S. born citizen who lost her citizenship because and only because she married a non-citizen. What about Mr. Cook who learned that the mere fact of US citizenship meant that he was taxable on Mexican income while living in Mexico? What Ms. MacKenzie and Mr. Cook teach us about U.S. citizenship is discussed here. What about Ms. Griffiths who was told that because she was not a U.S. citizen that she couldn’t have a license to practise law in Connecticut?

Ms. Frost describes “citizenship stripping” in the context of a culture, that while built on slavery, preferred to view itself as a country premised on the dignity and equality of the individual. The issue was which groups of individuals were entitled to that presumption of dignity and equality. In many respects the book (like much of American history) is about the struggle to reconcile these polar opposites.

“Citizenship stripping” is considered on the broader level of whether the US government can/could choose its citizens or whether the citizens would choose the government. Perhaps an early form of gerrymandering. Perhaps a situation reminiscent of Maya Jasonoff’s “Liberty’s Exiles” where the Loyalists were forced to leave the United States after the American Revolutionary war. (The expulsion of the Loyalists was probably the first form of “citizenship stripping” even before there was such a thing as US citizenship.)

Interestingly much of the book describes the issues and events after the Civil War where the 14th Amendment guaranteed that those “born in the United States” were US citizens. This correlates with the 1868 Expatriation Act which – as analyzed in Lucy Salyer’s “Under The Starry Flag” – was a period where the United States was also considering the right of expatriation.

Ms. Frost has written a superb account of citizenship stripping in the Pre-Afroyim era where harm was premised on the notion of an individual NOT being an American. As an observer of events in the Post-Afroyim 21st Century I observe how the United States is inflicting harm on individuals precisely because they ARE American.

Citizenship Stripping Because “You Are NOT American”

Although the book describes events into the 21st Century most of the characters were navigating citizenship problems prior to the 1967 case of Afroyim v. Rusk where the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not strip people of their citizenship without their consent. Significantly most of the book describes “citizenship stripping” in the pre-Afroyim years where:

1. Citizenship was (for many people) harder to get; and

2. Easier to lose.

The United States Has Been A World Leader In “Citizenship Stripping”

As Ms. Frost points out …

“Citizenship stripping is a practice more commonly associated with totalitarian regimes than with a democratic government such as that of the United States. The Soviet Union stripped millions of their citizenship under Joseph Stalin’s leadership. During the apartheid era, South Africa revoked the citizenship of the black population, amounting to 70 percent of the residents of that country. Over the four years of which the collaborationist Vichy government controlled France, fifteen thousand men, women and children – the vast majority of Jews – lost their citizenship. But the U.S. experience proves that left unchecked, a liberal democracy can also give in to the impulse to expel those whom it finds undesirable. For over a century, Congress enacted laws that the executive branch enthusiastically implemented and the courts upheld. Indeed, the United States often led the way. In the 1930s, prominent Nazi lawyers praised the United States’ race-based citizenship laws and practices, some of which served as a model for the 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripping Germany’s Jews of their citizenship.”

Introduction – Page 6

A description of Professor Frost’s book along with a summary of the chapters is available here.

A great interview with Ms. Frost is here …


A Further Thought? Do You Feel That You Are Being Stripped Of Your US citizenship?

The Supreme Court ruling in Afroyim v. Rusk marked the gradual development of an era where:

1. Citizenship was easier to get (it was clear that birth in the United States was a sufficient condition for citizenship); and

2. Citizenship was harder to lose (they were was no more involuntary expatriation).

Citizenship problems (which affect many Americans abroad) are usually experienced by a small percentage of the population who are often political minorities. In other words, legislative relief is often difficult to obtain. This explains the number of lawsuits against the FATCA IGAs (launched outside the United States). There are many who believe that the time has come to seek relief in the courts through a lawsuit rooted in the problems of US citizenship taxation.

A Legal Case Challenging The Treatment Of Americans Abroad

Please contact me if you wish to be considered as a plaintiff!

John Richardson – Follow me on Twitter @Expatriationlaw

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