What’s U.S. Citizenship Worth? Not Much For Some

By Alex Gonzalez

The unexpected news this week about Michelle Bachmann adopting dual citizenship in March of 2012 came as a surprise for many, especially conservatives. For many, the fact that Bahamann applied for dual-citizenship was hurtful because Bachmann was running for President at the same time that she was filing for her dual citizenship in February.  But sadly, Bachmann is not alone in the list of Americans wanting to acquire another citizenship for the purpose of economic benefits.  These Americans have essentially put a price on what it means to be American. Conversely, there is list of “undocumented Americans,” or Dreamers, who wish that they had the opportunity to enter a process by which some day they could become citizens.

The Wall Street Journal reported that last year nearly 1,800 American expatriates renounced their citizenship.   The number of Americans renouncing citizenship has taken a sharp upward turn, from an average of 482 per year under George W. Bush to 742 in 2009, to 1,534 in 2010 and to 1,788 in 2011.   This trend is happening particularly among the business-class who are being advised to renounce their American citizenship to avoid paying taxes. “For someone who has foreign assets abroad, the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t always come out in America’s favor”, the WSJ wrote in the article. So at least for wealthy Americans, the question is: “how I can save money by renouncing my American citizenship?” As a result, for those wealthy Americans the concept of American citizenship has become a tax liability.  So they relinquish it. To these people being An America is nothing more than a tax trap.

At the individual level, says Ms. Bugnion, the IRS imposes a “highly complex, costly double filing.” Even so, it produces little revenue because most Americans end up owing no taxes at all because of exemptions and what they pay where they live. Indeed, this is one area where free-marketeers think that America should be more like Europe, which does not tax its citizens overseas.  Now the whole notion that someone would give up U.S. citizenship to get out from the IRS will be taken by some folks as evidence that he or she isn’t worthy of American citizenship.

Michelle Bachmann argues that for her, the purpose of acquiring dual-citizenship was mainly “to exercise their eligibility for dual-citizenship so they went through the process as a family”—all her children have also acquired Swiss citizenship.  But perhaps, just like others, Bachmann was seeking a type tax relief, or privileges, granted only to Swiss citizens in Europe. However, the behavior of  those trying to avoid taxes–or whatever intentions Bachmann had– by relinquishing their American citizenship only dilutes our national character to a mere bureaucratic financial process, not love for this nation. Renouncing American citizenship or acquiring dual citizenship dilutes the concept of what it means to an American.

Being an American is not simply a natural act of “being born” in this country, as those relinquishing their citizenship, or applying for dual citizenship presume. There is a unique psychological process that we undergo to become Americans.  This nationalistic process of becoming a proud American is open to all those born in the U.S. and those who are naturalized in the U.S.   For example, After the Revolutionary War, Hamilton was influenced so much by Washington’s patriotism and dedication to the cause of an independent nation, that he led the campaign to ratify the Constitution.

When Hamilton was asked about becoming a naturalized citizen, he replied that becoming a citizen is like getting married. While in a marriage you learn to love your wife; in Naturalization, you learn to love your country. In a marriage, one makes a voluntary commitment to love your spouse through bad and good times. As in Naturalization, you love your country through war and prosperity. During the time it takes to become a Citizen, a person learns about the country’s history, has enjoyed economic success, and witnessed its democracy in action. During this process, you have courted the U.S. and you are ready to propose to it. Hence, when you become a citizen, you marry a nation that you have learned to love, respect, and protect.

Thus, American values and citizenship are a byproduct of nurture, not nature only, and those values cannot just renounced for tax purposes, or for benefits grated in another country . Today, a child becomes an American through interaction with other peers who are exposed to Americans flags in parades, conversation with parents about what it means to be an American, and mandatory elementary schooling. When people are born, they are not asked where they would like to be born. Nature and circumstances dictate this event. For example, at the time of birth, a baby in Sweden, Ireland, or Spain has as much understanding of American values, or American identity, as any baby born in the U.S. The acknowledgment or American-ness is a gradual process that birth alone cannot guarantee.  As Hamilton believed, becoming an American is a gradual nurturing process that a soon-to-be citizen voluntarily embraces. The elements of patriotism to our nation can be learned at home, work, or school. Therefore, loyalty to a country is not by birthright alone rather, but by the time invested in that country; in this case, the United States.  But this psychological process of becoming American is something that those abandoning their American Citizenship are precisely forfeiting.  They are no longer married to this nation because they have opted to renounce being American and pledge allegiances to other country.

What many are willing to do to acquire American Citizenship  

 In the US we have about 1.6 million of “undocumented Americans”, children who were brought here at young and do not know other country, who want to join the Military to acquire what some wealthy Americans are renouncing.  And these “Dreamers” want to pay the ultimate price to become Americans, serve in the Military.  As history has shown, in American there is no more intimate experience to build a national identity than creating a bond between individuals who fight wars together for a nation. In building a strong national identity, individuals and different “ethnic” groups come together to fight for common ideals and in defense of a nation. This is what has made our national character exceptional and our “fighting spirit” the defender of such national character.  And this has been the American experience.

People develop their identity “under varying degrees of pressure, especially pressure under war. Identities are imagined selves, which can later be used to build a national character by putting many individuals together under pressure (war) to create a bond.  So in order to define themselves, people need one another; and they, too, need an enemy. “  this togetherness gives aid and comfort to individuals… it makes our comparison with ourselves gratifying.” Thus, the need for self-esteem leads them to believe that their group is better than the other groups. As a result, our military American fighting spirit, or creed, and identity is an essential development of who we are as a nation because out of many we have become one by fighting war together. And “Dreamers” are merely seeking the opportunity strengthen this national character.

Therefore, unlike those wealthy Americans who are renouncing their citizens to avoid paying taxes may presume, being an American is based not on tax rate. Or for those acquiring dual-citizenship like Bachmann wanting “to exercise their eligibility for dual-citizenship so they go through the process as a family, being an American does not seem that one can share with other nations. “Dreamers” desire what some are giving up; and they already have a psychological patriotism because they love for this nation by nurture. For them, it is about love for this country, not about taxes or dual-citizenships. It is about a love acquired by nurture because  they grew up here.  Moreover, they are willing to join the Military where they will be exposed to the “bonding” pressures of war. And there is no more patriotic American than that.  Dreamers already have an American identity, and their participation in the military will strengthen their identity as Americans, and they will never need to renounce their citizenship.

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