I am, legally speaking, a citizen of the Netherlands. If you asked the US Foreign Service, they’d probably say I have US citizenship too, at least until I get my Certificate of Loss of Nationality. If you asked the IRS, on the other hand, they would say I’m no longer a US citizen.
What does it mean to say you are a citizen of a particular country? This question is in the news a lot lately, mostly because of the trouble Donald Trump is trying to stir up in Ted Cruz’s candidacy for President.
Cruz, apparently, was born in Canada, not the US. Trump questions his eligibility to run for President based on the US Constitution, which says, in Article II, Section 1, that
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; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
The question, then, is whether Cruz counts as a “natural born Citizen.” On the one hand, you could say that he is natural born in that he was born a US citizen. He may have been born in Canada, but his mother was American, so he was also American right from birth. On the other hand, you could argue that the writers of the Constitution meant “natural born Citizen” to mean born on US territory.
Accidental American Citizenship
This point is being followed very closely by overseas Americans because so many of us, called “accidental Americans” have been trapped by one or the other of these arguments:
- Some were born on US soil, often because their foreign parents were in the US for work. Or, as in the case of very many Canadians, they were born at the nearest hospital, which happened to be over the border in the US.
- Others have never lived in the US or never even set foot in the US. Yet they are also accidental Americans because one or both of their parents are American.
Either way, while Cruz wants to make the argument that he’s as American as Trump, these “accidentals” didn’t ask for (and most don’t want) their US citizenship.
A citizenship class system
The discussion brings out an interesting phenomenon around US citizenship: it establishes classes of citizenship.
1. First-Class Citizenship
The highest class is those who were born and still live in the US. They have full rights, including the right to privacy as defined by US law and the right to vote for representatives to the Senate and House who represent their needs in the region where they live. It makes sense that they pay taxes to the US for services they receive in the US.
2. Second-Class Citizenship
Second-class citizens were born outside the US but have US citizenship, either through their parents or through naturalization, and live in the US now. This class has the same rights as the first class, except that they may not be able to run for President. While Cruz’s situation still has to be clarified, the reason why Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger has never run for President is that he is a naturalized, not natural born, citizen. People in this class also pay taxes to the US for services they receive in the US.
3. Third-Class Citizenship
The third class is made up of those with US citizenship (either natural born or naturalized) who have lived in the US before, but live elsewhere now. This was my particular situation until I renounced my citizenship. At third-class level, they have lost the same rights to privacy that those who live in the US enjoy: since they are presumed guilty of hiding money overseas, they have to submit a list of all account balances held overseas (the FBAR) to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Notice that first and second class citizens do not have to do this unless they are under investigation for a federal crime.
Since they don’t live in the US, third class citizens receive no services from the US, and yet still have to file tax forms and, after exemptions, pay taxes to the US. They pay taxes and receive services where they live as well. They can still vote, but since they vote based on where they lived in the past in the US, their elected “representatives” don’t actually represent them. Can you imagine only being able to vote in the place you moved away from 18 years ago?
4. Fourth Class Citizenship
The fourth and bottom class of US citizens is made up of citizens who have never lived in the US. Very few from this group, despite being citizens, feel any sense of connection to the US at all. From what I’ve been reading on-line, it can be difficult for them to register to vote in the US, if they even wanted to. At the same time, like third-class citizens, they are expected to file US tax forms and, after exemptions, pay taxes to the US, despite receiving no services from the US. Like the third class, they have lost the right to privacy and have to file the FBAR. They pay taxes and receive services where they live as well.
Clearly the third and fourth classes gain little from being US citizens, and I’ve noticed quite a few comments on-line to the effect of “Well, then they should just give up their citizenship.” This can be very difficult because of the requirement to become tax-compliant (which usually means filling out several years of hopelessly complicated tax filings to prove they don’t owe anything to the US). The US also imposes a fee of $2350 for the “service” of renunciation.
Is this what the writers of the Constitution meant when they specified that a Presidential candidate has to be a “natural born Citizen”? On the one hand, it’s clear that they intended a class-based system. After all, the original Constitution accepted slavery and denied women the vote.
I doubt, though, that they intended for citizenship itself to become a scale with different gradations of rights and requirements, with some citizens enjoying higher value than others.
Whatever the original intentions, should the US be enforcing such a system now?
This post is the eighth in a series on American values that I’ve written since my renunciation day. Here are the others: