Sen. Ted Cruz’s decision to renounce his Canadian citizenship has inspired several commentators -- including my colleague Patt Morrison -- to meditate on the cultural implications of his decision. I’m more interested in a political question: Has the Calgary-born Texan alienated a potentially significant bloc of voters with his suggestion that being an American is an all-or-nothing proposition?
“Nothing against Canada, but I’m an American by birth and a U.S. senator,” Cruz said. “I believe I should be only an American.”
You can read this two ways: Dual citizenship is a bad idea for people who hold elective office in the United States, or it’s a bad idea for any “real” American.
If the latter interpretation is what the senator intended, he might be Cruzing for a bruising with voters who happily hold both U.S. citizenship and citizenship in some other country. How large is the binational community? Michael A. Olivas, an immigration professor at the University of Houston Law Center, told CNN last year that the number is likely well over 1 million but could be several times that.
A lot of those “twofers” are probably U.S.-Canadian dual citizens like Cruz. Some are Irish Americans like my best friend from childhood, a native of Pittsburgh who obtained his Irish passport well into middle age on the basis of having recent Irish-born antecedents.
It was a Jewish American who made it possible for U.S. citizens to double their patriotic pleasure. Beys Afroyim, an immigrant to the U.S. from Poland, went to Israel in the 1950s and voted in an election there. When he tried to renew his U.S. passport in 1960, the State Department balked, citing a law saying that a U.S. citizen forfeits his citizenship if he votes “in a political election in a foreign state.” In 1967, the Supreme Court reinstated Afroyim’s citizenship. Justice Hugo Black said that the 14th Amendment conferred on every citizen “a constitutional right to remain a citizen in a free country unless he voluntarily relinquishes that citizenship.”
The State Department isn’t entirely comfortable with the dual citizenship made possible by the Afroyim decision. Here’s what it says on its website: “The U.S. government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. government efforts to assist citizens abroad.”
And if you’re a dual citizen applying for a position in national security, be prepared to explain what you would do if the interests of the U.S. were in conflict with those of your “other” country. Probably not a big issue for dual U.S.-Irish or U.S.-Canadian citizens, but a dual Russian-U.S. citizen might be a tough sell for a job at the embassy in Moscow. And even countries with which the U.S. is friendly take positions contrary to those of this country.
So maybe a one-person, one-country rule makes sense even if the Constitution allows you to double up. But dual citizenship has its defenders, and the number of “twofers” is likely to increase with immigration and globalization. At some point, dissing them may become politically counterproductive.