To become an American citizen, all naturalized citizens must renounce foreign allegiances. But even after centuries of immigration, many Americans still have strong ties to countries and cultures abroad. We examine how citizenship rules and concepts of national identity complement and clash with each other around the globe.


  • Demetrios Papademetriou President and Board Member, Migration Policy Institute
  • Michael Jones-Correa Professor of Government, Cornell University; Member, National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Redesign of US Naturalization Test (2004-2005); co-author, "Latino Lives in America: Making It Home" (Temple University Press)
  • Gabrielle Buckley Shareholder, VedderPrice; Member, American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Last year, 700,000 people chose to become American citizens. They stood in front of a judge and they recited these words, I hereby declare that I absolutely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, state or sovereignty. It's an elegant and simple idea. You're born in one place, but you choose to make a clean break. But for millions of people, their transition from one citizenship to another is much more complex.

  • 13:07:32

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAbout half the countries in the world allow some sort of multiple citizenship, recognizing that the accident of birth or the path of love and marriage can create all sorts of mixed loyalties. This hour, we'll be exploring what it means to have multiple passports with Demetrios Papademetriou. He is president and board member of the Migration Policy Institute. Demetri, thank you for joining us again.

  • 13:07:56


  • 13:07:59

    NNAMDIJoining us from studios at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. is Michael Jones-Correa. He is a professor of government at Cornell. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee on the redesign of the U.S. Naturalization Test and co-author of "Latino Lives in America: Making it Home." Michael Jones-Correa, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:22

    MR. MICHAEL JONES-CORREAThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:08:23

    NNAMDIGentlemen, last year, 743,000 people stood in front of a judge and said the words that I mentioned earlier, words that sound pretty airtight, Demetri, but there's a giant loophole lurking in those words.

  • 13:08:37

    PAPADEMETRIOUYes, indeed. You know, it's one thing for you to verbally renounce your citizenship and adopt a new citizenship and another thing for the country from which you came or in which you were born to actually accept that renunciation. And then, there's a third thing for the United States to try to sort of figure out, how it enforces that renunciation.

  • 13:09:05

    NNAMDIMost of us have a mixed bag of allegiances and cultural identities. We may identify as American and say -- in my case, and -- as coming from the Caribbean. But Michael Jones-Correa, that, in a way, engages me and others with a very big question, doesn't it? What does it mean to be an American?

  • 13:09:27

    PAPADEMETRIOURight. So what do we expect of people who take this naturalization oath? What do we want from them? Do we want them to give up every possible tie and loyalty or do we want them to commit to and express loyalty to the United States? I think there's some debate there about whether we want one or both. Certainly, right now as stated in the oath that you read, we expect both. Many people, in fact, don't give up all their ties and loyalties. And, in fact, it may be impossible to expect that of them.

  • 13:10:09

    NNAMDII'd like to hear our audience in on this conversation. Do you have more than one passport? And how do you feel about your divided loyalties? 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Or are you looking to have more than one passport? Is national identity, in your view, more than a passport? 800-433-8850. You can go to our website Send us a tweet at kojoshow or an email to Is it possible, Demetri, to hold two passports and live up to your responsibilities to both countries?

  • 13:10:42

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, certainly you're going to live up to the responsibilities of the place in which you actually live.

  • 13:10:50


  • 13:10:51

    PAPADEMETRIOUSo that passport certainly is the dominant passport. But that does not somehow require somebody to cut all ties with the country of birth or, for that matter, to give up the other passport.

  • 13:11:07

    NNAMDIWhat do you think, Michael Jones-Correa?

  • 13:11:09

    JONES-CORREAI've heard the dual citizenship or dual nationality likened to bigamy, to having two spouses. And how can you be true to both spouses? And I think that Demetri is right, that in the end we live with the one spouse, the other one is like a mistress. The place where we live, the place where we are, that place is the place that has our dominant loyalties and our dominant ties.

  • 13:11:42

    NNAMDIJoining us now by telephone from Chicago, Ill. is Gabrielle Buckley. Gabrielle is a partner at Vedder Price and a member of the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration and a former co-chair of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the ABA Section of International Law. Gabrielle Buckley, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:12:02

    MS. GABRIELLE BUCKLEYI'm glad to join you, Kojo.

  • 13:12:03

    NNAMDIThe U.S. government doesn't keep track of how many people have dual citizenship, even though it officially recognizes dual citizenship. But it doesn't encourage it to quote the State Department. "It" -- quoting here, "recognizes that dual nationality exists, but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may 'cause." Which brings me back to the question I raised earlier, Gabrielle Buckley, holding two passports, living up to the responsibilities of both countries, doable?

  • 13:12:34

    BUCKLEYWell, it is doable, but there are a lot of issues that can arise. Putting aside the kind of touchy-feely and qualitative issues about dual nationality, we do have laws that will affect citizens of the United States regardless of whether they are dual nationals. For example, our tax laws are considered to be rather onerous. We tax people on their worldwide income if they're U.S. citizens, where other countries may tax citizens only if they -- for income that arises in that country. But there are a lot of issues that do arise. For example, income taxes, estate planning. There are a number of things that you are required to comply with whether or not you have citizenship of additional countries.

  • 13:13:14

    NNAMDIDo our definitions of citizenship need to change to reflect our globalized economy? And I'd like you all to take a stab at this. First you, though, Gabrielle.

  • 13:13:24

    BUCKLEYWell, our -- you know, the 14th Amendment simply states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside. There are really no other obligations that are set forth with regard to dual nationality, except that people who do carry more than one passport are required to use their U.S. passport when entering the United States.

  • 13:13:48

    NNAMDIYour turn, Demetri.

  • 13:13:49

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, I certainly think that with more permanent migration happening around the world, the U.N. estimates that we'll have about 200 or 210 or so immigrants that qualify under its definition. In other words, will live in a country other than the one in which they were born and they have done so for more than a year. There are all sorts of complications, you know. Income taxes is one of them, military service is another one. You know, we do have also two anomalies.

  • 13:14:22

    PAPADEMETRIOUYou know, I was born in Greece. I've been an American citizen for a long, long time. But as far as Greece is concerned, I'm still a Greek national. And to my children, in fact, could be subject to military service in Greece, if they happen to be in Greece at a point where Greece declares a general mobilization, you know. So there are also two anomalies like that. But countries have sort of learned to sort of, you know, handle these things. And the general direction is more toward looseness rather than less looseness or more restriction.

  • 13:15:00

    NNAMDIYour take, Michael Jones-Correa. Do our definitions of citizenship need to change to reflect our globalized economy?

  • 13:15:08

    JONES-CORREAI think they have been changing, not just in the United States, but around the world. As you get these population flows, people leaving countries and entering new countries, there are interests for both sending and receiving countries to see ties maintained. So countries that are sending countries often have changed their nationality laws to allow their citizens abroad to maintain their nationality in those countries, even as they acquire new citizenships and new loyalties.

  • 13:15:45

    NNAMDIGabrielle Buckley.

  • 13:15:46

    BUCKLEYWell, I think that the U.S. has certainly relaxed its rules. When we look back at the 1940s when we first enumerated the categories for loss of citizenship and then looking again at the changes in 1952, it clearly reflects the national mood. For example, looking at the laws in the '50s where we were concerned about that thing, communism, it became easier to lose your citizenship if you were involved in seditious conspiracy. In the '60s, we were at danger of losing citizenship if we advocated the forceful overthrow of the U.S. government. The U.S. Supreme Court fortunately has, case-by-case, really liberalized the status of these laws so that now the only way you can lose your U.S. citizenship, if you're born in the U.S. or acquired it through parents, is if you really intend to lose your U.S. citizenship.

  • 13:16:41

    BUCKLEYSo we have, I think, kept up with the times in the U.S. And I think other countries are gradually coming along. But it is always interesting to me to see which countries are still very restrictive about this, countries you'd think would be a bit more liberal. For example, Germany being in the EU, you'd think that they would not object to acquiring the citizenship of another country. But they are still one of the countries that require permission if you want to retain your German citizenship and still acquire the citizenship of another country.

  • 13:17:07

    NNAMDIYes. We talked before about how German citizenship laws seem to be influx. But here is Demetri Papademetriou.

  • 13:17:12

    PAPADEMETRIOUYes. And there is now increasingly sort of an in between status between dual citizenship and single citizenship only. So you have your Indias and your Chinas and many other countries that try to maintain the ties with people of Indian origin or Indian citizens who live abroad. And they're creating all sorts of special documents to try to indeed maintain those ties. Because let's face it, it's a practical thing to do. It tends to -- or at least theoretically, it suggests that people will remit, will send home money, which is very important now in the international migration business, if you will. Over $300 billion travels back. So increasingly, you have all of these intermediates. Now, this practicality, I think, is what actually defines this area.

  • 13:18:08

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Lola in Fairfax, Va. Lola -- Fairfax and D.C. You're on the air, Lola. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:17

    LAYLAYes, hello. It's actually Layla. I apologize.

  • 13:18:19

    NNAMDIHi, Layla.

  • 13:18:21

    LAYLAThank you very much for taking my call. Yes. The comment that I wanted to make, actually, is that I think that there are still a lot of Americans who don't realize that dual citizenship is allowed in this country. And the reason why I make that comment is just from personal experience. I'm actually originally from Afghanistan. My parents are from Afghanistan and I was born in Iran when they were -- when they left Afghanistan, they came to Iran. I was born in Iran. And I came to the United States when I was only about a year or two years old so I was very young. I grew up here. This is the only home I've ever known.

  • 13:18:55

    LAYLAWhen I got to a point where I was registering to take some courses at a community college in Texas, the lady who was at the registrar, she asked me where I was from. And I told her, well, you know, I -- she asked me, I guess, originally where I was born. I told her I was born in Iran and she said, well, you know, are you an American citizen? I said, yes, I'm a naturalized citizen. And she said, well, that's not good enough. You know, when you become 18 years old, you have to go through another process to formally relinquish any ties that you have with any other country because dual citizenship is illegal.

  • 13:19:28

    LAYLAAnd I said, first of all, you know, I don't even know if I have Iranian citizenship just from being -- just by being born there. And second of all, I'm already a naturalized citizen. I'm a United States citizen just like you, you know. And I was raised here. I mean, you know, so that kind of (word?) I mean, it just really kind of hurt my feelings. But, you know, she was trying to tell me that even though I was naturalized, that I was not on the same level as she was because I was naturalized and she was born here. Do you see what I'm saying?

  • 13:19:57

    NNAMDIBut she also tried to insist that you had to go back when you were 18 years old to renounce any other citizenship that you might have had, but didn't know for sure whether you had or not?

  • 13:20:07

    LAYLAShe told me that there was some additional paperwork that I had to fill out (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:20:10

    NNAMDII don't think that's correct. Gabrielle Buckley, is that correct at all?

  • 13:20:13

    BUCKLEYThat's absolutely not correct.

  • 13:20:15

    NNAMDIYeah, that is absolutely not correct, Lola (sic), but it does raise an interesting question. We got an e-mail from Keith in Silver Spring who says, "I don't understand dual citizenship. Either you want to be a full-fledged member of a society or you don't. Should I decide to become a citizen of another country, I would renounce my U.S. citizenship and become a member of my adopted nation. And this boils down to the question of assimilation across all these debates. In the minds of some, you can only have loyalty to one country." What say you, Michael Jones-Correa?

  • 13:20:44

    JONES-CORREAImmigrants who are leaving their country as adults to move to a new country, immigrants, for instance, who come to the United States, would find it very difficult to completely renounce and abjure all ties to their countries of origins, as the oaths would state. Everyone has ties to family, to their hometowns, to some extent, to their countries. Those are -- even as they, I think many immigrants, as they take the oaths, fully commit to their loyalty and commitment to the United States. I think many also find it very difficult to completely give up ties. And I think in some -- to some extent, it's unrealistic for us to expect that they would give up those ties. These are people with, again, these kind of strong emotional and personal links to other places. And so...

  • 13:21:49

    NNAMDIAllow me to put that fairly difficult question to Lola. It might be a ridiculous question. But, Lola, we are currently involved in a war in Afghanistan. When you look at that situation, do you look at it through American eyes or do you look at it through Afghan eyes? Of course you'll say I look at it through Layla's eyes, but exactly where is the loyalty of those eyes?

  • 13:22:11

    LAYLAYou know what? Honestly, I have to say that I do look at it through both perspectives. I look at it through my own American perspective. I would be -- I could not ever say that, you know, I'm not an American. I'm definitely an American. But at the same time, I have very strong ties to my Afghan roots, my Afghan heritage and the Afghan people because of the culture that I was raised with. So I do really see both perspectives. I see both sides and I -- but I don't think that they necessarily conflict all the time, either.

  • 13:22:47

    NNAMDIAnd I guess that's the most important point. Layla, thank you very much for your call. Here's Demetrios Papademetriou.

  • 13:22:51

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, on the last point that Layla made, we have never really asked people in American history to simply cut off any emotional ties to where they came from. We're not about to start now. This is not the conversation, of course, that we're having. So whether you're an Italian-American, you know, whose grandparents came here in the 1890, or whatever or whether you're an Afghan who came here in the 1980s or '90s, we can't ask of people more than we've asked of people in the past. But I think that we shouldn't lose sight of an additional fact, on the issue of a single commitment, a single nationality, we shouldn't forget that it takes two to tango.

  • 13:23:40

    PAPADEMETRIOUIt's not sufficient for one person to renounce, both legally and emotionally, the prior commitments -- in other words, the nationality, the place that they were born because that country may not accept that renunciation. And even in the United States' case, even when we renounce and we go through a court procedure and we say, no, we don't want to be U.S. nationals any longer, we can then change our mind, I believe. And Gabrielle, perhaps, you know, will correct me on this. We can change our mind and petition a court to actually give us back our U.S. citizenship.

  • 13:24:22

    BUCKLEYYou can...

  • 13:24:22


  • 13:24:22 can petition back, but it's extremely difficult. And largely, it's difficult because it's very, very hard to abandon your U.S. citizenship. There--you now must demonstrate that you intended to abandon when you committed any of the acts, like committing treason or registering for the military in another country. And in fact, when you look at the Department of State, which -- it, you know, makes the determination as to whether you are a citizen or you're not a citizen. They make it very difficult for you to abandon. They want to make sure that you really know that this is your intention to abandon.

  • 13:24:52

    NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on dual-citizenship and the implications thereof with your phone calls coming to 800-433-8850. You can shoot us an e-mail. It's or a tweet at Kojo Show. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:26:47

    NNAMDIBetween two passports, we're discussing dual-citizenship laws with Michael Jones-Correa. He's a professor of government at Cornell University. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Redesign of the U.S. Naturalization Test and he is co-author of "Latino Lives in America: Making It Home." He joins us from studios at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Joining us in our Washington studio is Demetrios Papademetriou. He is president and board member of the Migration Policy Institute. Joining us by phone from Chicago is Gabrielle Buckley, partner at Vedder Price law firm and a member of the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration and a former co-chair of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the ABA Section of International Law.

  • 13:27:33

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Before we return to the telephones, Gabrielle, we're really talking about a kind of underbelly in international law, aren't we? There's no common definition of what rules and responsibilities come with citizenships. So people who claim multiple identities exist in a kind of bizarre legal gray area, do they not?

  • 13:27:54

    BUCKLEYWell, I think what -- it's not so much a gray area as an area that's controlled by many jurisdictions because each country has its own law defining what citizenship is. And so it's -- and the other issue that we need to look at, that Demetrios mentioned as well, is we discuss holding citizenship in another country, but in fact, it's really the country that claims us as its U.S. citizen. For example, a child in the U.S. can't say, I no longer want to be a child -- or want to be a U.S. citizen. It's a decision that can't even be made personally. It's the government which claims us. So it's a gray area simply because, I think, that it's controlled by the jurisdiction of all of these other countries.

  • 13:28:38

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here is Ben in Arlington, Va. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:28:45

    BENYes. My question is -- actually, it's not a question. It's more of a comment. I'm an Ethiopian-American. I love my American citizenship, in fact, so much that, you know, I'm a combat veteran. On the other hand, there's the situation where now the tax money I'm paying goes to a regime, such as the one in Ethiopia, that has shot some 190 people there on the streets...

  • 13:29:19

    NNAMDIA regime that...

  • 13:29:20

    BEN...for demonstrating...

  • 13:29:21

    NNAMDIA regime to which you are...

  • 13:29:22

    BEN...for demonstrate...

  • 13:29:22

    NNAMDI...opposed, yes.

  • 13:29:22

    BENYes, sir. And this poses a very interesting situation for people like me, the difference between national interest and morality. And I'm wondering if any of our desks can, you know, maybe elaborate or comment on that.

  • 13:29:45

    NNAMDIIt is a fascinating question, Demetrios Papademetriou, is it not?

  • 13:29:49

    PAPADEMETRIOUYes, it is. I'm not 100 percent certain that I understood the question. What I don't understand from the questioner is why is he paying taxes to the Ethiopian regime, if he's...

  • 13:30:04

    NNAMDINo. He's paying taxes to the American government...

  • 13:30:04


  • 13:30:07

    NNAMDI...but the American government is supporting...

  • 13:30:09

    PAPADEMETRIOUIs supporting Ethiopia.

  • 13:30:10

    NNAMDI...the Ethiopian government for reasons of...

  • 13:30:11


  • 13:30:12

    NNAMDI...foreign policy, that it deems are in the interest of the United States.

  • 13:30:14

    PAPADEMETRIOUNow, I am clear. Thank you very much, Kojo. So this is certainly one of the dilemmas that we all have to face, you know. There are American citizens who just hold a single nationality that are opposed to American foreign policy in different parts of the world. This is something that everyday people have to make judgments about. The rules are very clear. We don't have a choice how our tax dollars are used, but we do have a responsibility to pay taxes. And this is a moral issue, a moral dilemma that you're facing that I suspect hundreds of thousands of other Americans face every day.

  • 13:30:54

    NNAMDIMichael Jones-Correa, does it make a difference if there is more emotional investment? A lot of Americans oppose governments in other parts of the world the U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to. But if one happens to be born in that particular country, there is a stronger emotional investment and I suspect that's why Ben particularly doesn't like his tax dollars going to the Ethiopian regime, even though I'm sure there are other regimes to which he is opposed. Michael?

  • 13:31:22

    JONES-CORREAI think Demetrios is right. We all encounter this dilemma at times. So the option that is open to dual-nationals and dual-citizens, as well as to native-born citizens is to participate, to vote for or against representatives and change the direction of government. So one question is, if you're a dual-national, are you more or less likely to participate? Are you more or less likely to commit to engaging politically in the United States? And this is a debate in this area, with some people saying that, you know, dual-nationality, dual-citizenship leads to divided loyalties and divided loyalties means that you're less likely to participate in the United States.

  • 13:32:08

    JONES-CORREAI think the research, both in Europe and the United States, is pretty conclusive now that countries that allow dual-nationality and individuals that come from countries that allow dual-nationality are, in fact, more likely to acquire American citizenship and more likely to participate once they do acquire American citizenship.

  • 13:32:28

    NNAMDIBut, Ben, you feel more strongly about American dollars going to Ethiopia than American dollars going, say, to Egypt or Israel?

  • 13:32:36

    BENI would imagine citizens -- well, not citizens, but people from those countries would have their views.

  • 13:32:48

    NNAMDIYeah, I can...

  • 13:32:49

    BENThe view I expressed was directly -- is very explaining or...

  • 13:32:55

    NNAMDIAnd I'm -- I...

  • 13:32:56

    BEN...because I have seen exactly what those -- that money is doing over there. I have a 20-year-old (unintelligible)...

  • 13:33:06

    NNAMDIAnd therefore, you are much more familiar with that situation and because it's the country of your birth, as I was saying, more emotionally invested in it. But thank you very much for your call. Here is Marcus in Rockville, Md. Marcus, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Marcus, are you there? Marcus, can you hear me? I'm going to put Marcus on hold, but Mark...

  • 13:33:29


  • 13:33:29

    NNAMDIOh, here's Marcus, finally. Marcus, (sic) hold on, I'm coming back to you. Marcus, go ahead, please.

  • 13:33:32

    MARCUSI'm sorry. I hit the mute button. I have three things. Well, first one is when I turned 18, I was -- there was this weird law in Brazil, because I'm a dual-citizen of both, and I had to go down and actually choose what nationality I was. Like, I had to go down and choose to either renounce my Brazilian citizenship or get it back. This also leads to the...

  • 13:33:58

    NNAMDIYou had to go down where?

  • 13:33:59

    MARCUSTo Brazil.

  • 13:34:00

    NNAMDIOh, to Brazil, okay.

  • 13:34:01

    MARCUSYeah. And the second thing is, it sort of leads to this. My cousin had -- wasn't faced with that dilemma because it was a sort of a newer law or something. And when he joined the Marines, he wasn't allowed secret clearance or something or he wasn't allowed to do a certain -- join a certain thing that he wanted to do because of the fact that he wasn't allowed to have that clearance. And the third thing is a bit more of vary -- like my grandfather who came here several -- like a few decades ago, he owned property in Brazil. And he died, I think, a year ago and I -- my father inherited it. My father is a Brazilian citizen. He was born there, but I was born here. So what happens to that land after -- well, God forbid, my father dies.

  • 13:35:00

    NNAMDIWhat specifically did you have to do when you went down to Brazil?

  • 13:35:05

    MARCUSWell, I had to appear in front of a court, obviously, like -- it's something similar to here, but we also had to go through a bunch of bureaucratical red tape and it was probably the most confusing experience of my life.

  • 13:35:17

    NNAMDIWhat did you end up doing, renouncing your Brazilian citizenship?

  • 13:35:23

    MARCUSOh, no, no, no. I'm a dual-citizen between America and Brazil.

  • 13:35:28

    NNAMDISo what exactly did you do? What did you end up doing?

  • 13:35:33

    MARCUSI confirmed -- at the age of 18, I had to...

  • 13:35:36

    NNAMDIConfirm your...

  • 13:35:36

    MARCUSWell, what was explained to me is I had to confirm if I was -- if I wanted to continue being a dual-citizen or renounce my Brazilian citizenship.

  • 13:35:46

    NNAMDIOkay. Demetrios, you want to say something...

  • 13:35:50


  • 13:35:51

    NNAMDI...because I was going to bring up another episode having to do with Brazil, but go ahead.

  • 13:35:53

    PAPADEMETRIOUYes. This is, again, sort of another chapter in this. Here is an instance in which in order for someone to maintain their citizenship in another country, Marcus in this case, had to actually go there and do so. In the case of Germany, at the age of 18, you have to actually appear before a magistrate and you have to choose whether to continue to be, you know, a German citizen, a citizenship that you may have gotten from birth, born, of course, to legal immigrants in German, or choose to have the citizenship of his or her parents.

  • 13:36:38

    PAPADEMETRIOUAgain, many variations which, more than anything else, to me, point out that this is, you know, a legal system that is constantly influx, that governments are looking for the sweet spot, as it were. This way they can identify a means of reassuring their nationals that -- the things that are important, you know, paying taxes, being generally loyal to the country, meeting one's responsibilities, are indeed maintained, but at the same time, a loss in flexibility to people who were born in a different country.

  • 13:37:10

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Marcus. Gabrielle, if you want a tangible example of why governments don't like dual-citizenships, look no further than last year. The economic relations between the U.S. and Brazil, what billions of dollars were threatened by a bizarre case of child custody, the Sean Goldman case, the nine-year-old at the center of an international battle. You remember?

  • 13:37:31


  • 13:37:31

    NNAMDIHe was born in the U.S. to an American father and a Brazilian mother. The mother took her son to Brazil in 2004, then divorced the father. She then remarried, died during childbirth in Brazil. His American father wanted Sean back. His Brazilian stepfather wanted him to stay. And for a long time, it looked as if the Brazilian government was backing the stepfather. It took months to untangle the issues at hand.

  • 13:37:54

    BUCKLEYYes, it did. And I was going to mention, too, in addition to the tax issues, the state of matrimony and divorce around the world has added another layer of complexity to the dual-nationality issue because children may have several different nationalities and the tug-of-war over them in a custody dispute has become a huge, huge legal issue.

  • 13:38:12

    BUCKLEYSo even though there was some claim on the child, a very nominal claim in Brazil, the clear -- the obvious, clear claim was the U.S. citizen whose child was in Brazil because neither of the parents was still alive in Brazil. It was the grandparents who were trying to hang on to the child. But, again, you've got, you know, both countries trying to protect this child and the child had citizenship of both countries. So both countries actually had the right to claim him.

  • 13:38:44

    NNAMDISpeaking of which, here is David in Columbia, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:51

    DAVIDHello Kojo. I really, really love your show. My parents are actually old friends of yours from the early '60s.

  • 13:38:59

    NNAMDIOh, good.

  • 13:38:59

    DAVIDThey're Carol and Peter Lowe.

  • 13:39:02

    NNAMDIOh, of course. Yeah.

  • 13:39:03

    DAVIDOkay. I have an interesting comment that is related to that. I would like to -- and I would like to preface it by saying that Brazil has one thing to its credit that America does not have. Brazil does not allow children to leave its country unless both parents put in writing specific permission for that child to leave and for a specific amount of time. And that issue has created an interesting dilemma for myself.

  • 13:39:35

    NNAMDIHow come?

  • 13:39:37

    DAVIDIn the United States -- well, my child -- my wife is Brazilian and I'm American. My child was born in Brazil. He has dual citizenship. My wife is allowed to go to Brazil -- to leave Brazil from the United States to go on vacation any time and take my son without any documentation. But when she is in Brazil, if he does not have documentation, he cannot leave the country. So I have had situations where he has gone on summer vacation, gone to Brazil -- well, early in our marriage, before I was aware of this, I'd sent him to Brazil and I wanted him to come back for school. He could not come back because there was not documentation that allowed him to leave the country...

  • 13:40:20

    NNAMDIThat documentation...

  • 13:40:20


  • 13:40:21

    NNAMDI...that documentation had to take the form of a letter signed by both you and your wife?

  • 13:40:26

    DAVIDYes. And it has to be -- it actually is an official form and is, you know, signed by the Brazilian government. We don't have that on our side. So parents, if you're child leaves the country of the United States -- any child can leave the country in the United States with a parent and with no documentation. And when the parent -- and if the other parent -- if for some reason that parent leave -- decides to divorce or decides not to come back, the parent over here has -- I mean, it's very easy for the child to leave the country, but not -- very hard for it to come back, in the case of Brazil.

  • 13:40:58

    NNAMDIMichael Jones-Correa, that makes it, I guess, fairly easy to see why some countries and some people would want to discourage dual citizenship.

  • 13:41:09

    JONES-CORREAI think these issues of child custody and tax law and even, to some extent, military service, are really issues of administrative law, law that can be negotiated between two countries and rules ironed out to find compromises that are acceptable to both nations. They don't get at, I think, the fundamental issues that trouble people about dual citizenship, which are these issues of loyalty and where one's loyalties lie when push comes to shove. I think those are the fundamental issues around dual citizenship and -- yes.

  • 13:41:58

    NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on dual citizenship laws, the people who carry two passports. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. If the lines are filled, and they appear to be at this point, you can go to our website,, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:59

    NNAMDIWe're discussing the issue of dual citizenship, people who are allowed to have more than one passport. We're talking with Demetrios Papademetriou, president and board member of the Migration Policy Institute. Michael Jones-Correa is a professor of government at Cornell University. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Redesign of U.S. Naturalization Test, and co-author of "Latino Lives in America: Making it Home." Also with us is Gabrielle Buckley. She is a partner at the law firm, Vedder Price, and a member of the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration. She's the former co-chair of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the ABA Section of International Law.

  • 13:44:38

    NNAMDII'd like to share with all of you two e-mails. The first from Elizabeth, the second from Mark, with contrasting points of view. Mark says, "Becoming a U.S. citizen does not require one to cut all ties with your country of birth, merely your formal allegiance to that country. You can still visit, speak the language, celebrate your heritage, et cetera. You are just no longer a citizen of that country and your core loyalty no longer lies there. I view those who carry dual passports as unwilling to commit to the United States, or worse, willing to garner all the benefits of U.S. citizenship without accepting the commensurate responsibilities, like Americans who sew Canadian flags on their backpacks while traveling abroad. I feel you should either be all in or happy with permanent legal alien status."

  • 13:45:28

    NNAMDIAnd this we got from Elizabeth. "I'm a U.S. citizen from birth and my husband is Australian. I hold only a U.S. passport and my husband holds only an Australian passport, although we both hold legal residency in each other's countries of birth. Our daughters, though, hold passports of both Australia and the United States, although we live in Washington D.C. currently. I find the assertion that people should, in order to fully assimilate, give up one citizenship or another, completely absurd. Indeed in our ever-increasingly globalized world, the idea that we must pledge allegiance to one government is an extremely limited view of the world.

  • 13:46:08

    NNAMDIThe idea that the sovereign nation state is the most important and central player in any of our lives will, I believe, someday become obsolete. But perhaps this is just the view of a youngish world-traveled woman." Starting with you, Gabrielle Buckley, comment on those e-mails?

  • 13:46:28

    BUCKLEYYou know, I think it's a very interesting thing. I think it's -- frankly, as someone who supports world peace and international understanding, I think that dual nationality can be a very good thing. I'm happy that the family is encouraging their children to maintain residency -- or citizenship in both countries. I don't think that you do need to abandon. I think that both -- fortunately, both the U.S. and Australia permit permanent residency for spouses of citizens so that you don't have to become a citizen if you don't want to, but can reside permanently in each other countries. But I think it's a very good thing that they're encouraging their children to explore both cultures.

  • 13:47:08

    NNAMDIDemetrios, the whole notion that loyalty to the nation state should be a thing of the past?

  • 13:47:14

    PAPADEMETRIOUWell, you know, I really am not going to look into the future and see what happens to the nation state.

  • 13:47:20

    NNAMDIFor the time being.

  • 13:47:21

    PAPADEMETRIOUFor the time being. However, the nation state is doing well. I think it is a false and an unnecessary choice that you really don't have to choose. You have to follow the rules in the place in which you live and that is all that is being asked of you. And I suspect that over time -- and certainly the literature supports this. Over time, sometimes it takes a generation or more, as it has always taken a generation or more, people assimilate. So this issue of choice becomes less and less relevant.

  • 13:48:00

    NNAMDIYou know, Michael Jones-Correa, allow me to go to another issue and that is how other countries view their citizens. It makes me think of a well-known hip-hop star who was flirting with a campaign for president in Haiti. You remember?

  • 13:48:14


  • 13:48:15

    NNAMDIWyclef Jean was born in Haiti. He wanted to run for president, but an elections commission ruled he could not because he had not lived in Haiti for five consecutive years. A number of countries that have large diasporas are interested in getting these ex-pats to reinvest in their homeland, but they seem to be apprehensive about them holding actual political office.

  • 13:48:37

    JONES-CORREAYes. Demetrios had mentioned earlier that there are huge remittance flows from immigrants...

  • 13:48:48


  • 13:48:49

    JONES-CORREA...back to their home countries, their sending countries. So up to $300 billion every year. And so the sending countries are very interested in maintaining those ties to their immigrants abroad, in part on the belief that they will encourage these remittances and perhaps encourage some people to return eventually and reinvest in their country of birth. But there are also many countries wary of political engagement by these immigrants abroad. They're often seen as kind of a political loose cannon, disproportionately wealthy, disproportionately able to influence the political process. So countries want to encourage the economic ties and perhaps discourage the political ties.

  • 13:49:41

    JONES-CORREADemetrios had mentioned the case of India. And India had a debate beginning in the 1990's about whether to allow dual citizenship for its ex-patriots abroad and decided in the end not to. They chose, instead, an in between status, which allowed Indians overseas to have some of the rights of nationals so the right to property, for instance, the reinvestment, but not full political rights. This was a -- it was an in between status that allowed, in a sense, nationality, but not citizenship.

  • 13:50:20

    NNAMDIIn that case, Demetrios, explain this phenomenon. Already the Washington region is a political center of political races taking place thousands of miles away. Political candidates in El Salvador, Ethiopia, the Congo, swing through to raise money from the diasporas network with influential ex-pats. Now, the next frontier of this issue seems to be voting, which other countries seem to be reluctant to let them do.

  • 13:50:44

    PAPADEMETRIOUThey are reluctant to let them do because this is a very unpredictable electorate. You don't want to give the right to vote to your ex-patriots and have them vote for the opposition. So this is very tricky. But even in that -- on that issue, we're moving in that direction, you know. There have been openings in France and in Italy where ex-pats are actually able to vote. And in today's world where elections are very, very close, these one or two or three members can actually make all the difference in being -- you know, enabling a government to actually form.

  • 13:51:24

    PAPADEMETRIOUBut I think that, you know, Michael has hit it right on the head when he said that all these issues that we're discussing here beyond, you know, besides this loyalty issue, which is a legitimate one, but at the same time, not one that can be handled by choosing, you know, to be a citizen of either one country or the other. All of the other things can be handled through administrative law changes. For instance, on issues of criminality and extradition, this is an important enough issue, so countries actually sign by lateral agreements on this.

  • 13:51:59

    PAPADEMETRIOUYou know, on issues of property, you can do the same thing. Custody, you can do the same thing. It's going to be complicated because you're going to have to, in a sense, sign whatever -- tens, dozens of these agreements, but those issues can be handled.

  • 13:52:13

    NNAMDIOnto Esa in Arlington, Va. Esa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:19

    ESAHi, how are you?

  • 13:52:20

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 13:52:21

    ESAMy son is Palestinian and I was born in Jerusalem. But my parents came to America in 1972 and they became U.S. citizens and through them, I became naturalized when I was a teenager. And in 2006, my family and I went over to Palestine and it was my first time back since I was born in Jerusalem. And we went through Israel. We had to, you know, go through Tel Aviv. And when I got to the airport, on my passport, it says I was born in Jerusalem. And when I got to the airport in Tel Aviv, the immigration INS there stopped us. And apparently, because I was born in Jerusalem, they asked me, you know, where my Israeli citizenship was or my Israeli passport was.

  • 13:53:11

    ESABecause to Israel, Jerusalem is considered Israeli territory. And I told them I'm not Israeli. I'm not Palestinian. I'm American. My passport's right in front of you. It's an American passport. And that, apparently, wasn't good enough for them. According to them, because I was born in Jerusalem and because my family is Palestinian, I am supposed to have a Palestinian passport. And I kept telling them over and over again, I'm not Palestinian, I'm American. My passport's right in front of you.

  • 13:53:45

    ESAWell, to make a long story short, my son in the U.S. had to contact the embassy in America because I was denied entrance into Israeli territory. And on my passport, it was stamped denied access to Israel and they'd written a residency policy -- new residency number on my passport. And that was a residency number which I never knew I had. And so my family in America called the embassy and the -- you know, the U.S. Embassy in Israel contacted me and I told them, why am I not treated like an American?

  • 13:54:22

    NNAMDIWe're running out of time. How was it ultimately resolved?

  • 13:54:26

    ESAUltimately, I wasn't allowed in Israel. I was denied access to Israel. And the only way that I was allowed to stay in Palestine was to get a Palestinian residency and I was never allowed -- I'm never allowed to go back to Israel. And I have a Palestinian passport and an American passport. But as an American, I'm not allowed in Israel because I'm also a Palestinian.

  • 13:54:46

    NNAMDIYou're a victim, clearly, of political conflict, but...

  • 13:54:50


  • 13:54:50

    NNAMDI...Gabrielle Buckley, how -- any comments on that bizarre situation at all?

  • 13:54:56

    BUCKLEYWell, I think it's -- my comment would be that I'm not familiar enough with the laws of Palestine...

  • 13:55:01


  • 13:55:02

    BUCKLEY...and Israel to give you a definitive answer, but it's just clearly indicative of the problem that we're all having these days coping with what Palestine is, what Israel is. And it's directly -- you know, many people carry two passports if they travel to Palestine and to Israel. If they travel to one country, they used a different passport to go to the other one to be permitted in. And even though that's somewhat relaxed, clearly it's not been resolved.

  • 13:55:27

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Esa. But that brings me to Betty in Chevy Chase, Md. Betty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Betty. Are you there? Oh, no. I think we lost Betty. We move then to Walter in Sterling, Va. Walter, your turn. Oh, I think we lost Walter also. We'll try one more. And this is Anise in Vienna, Va. Anise, are you there?

  • 13:55:53

    ANISEYeah, I'm here.

  • 13:55:53

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Anise.

  • 13:55:56

    ANISEI just had a basic question. A caller earlier mentioned something about a top-secret clearance, and (unintelligible) . I've heard before from a cousin as well, who was not born in the U.S., that he wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot, but he was told that he has to be a U.S. born, not just naturalized. I'm just wondering if that is actually true or what the case there is.

  • 13:56:17

    NNAMDIYou mean in order to, what, get top-secret clearance or to become a Navy fighter pilot?

  • 13:56:21

    ANISENo. To become a Navy fighter pilot. (unintelligible) top-secret clearance and I’m a naturalized citizen. So -- but what I -- my understanding is that certain jobs just like, you know, being president of the United States you will have to be U.S. born.

  • 13:56:33

    NNAMDIYes. But I don't think that applies -- I don't think that applies to Navy fighter pilots. I have known people in the Navy and I think I've known people who have been Navy fighter pilots who were permanent residents of the United States. Is that correct, Gabrielle Buckley?

  • 13:56:46

    BUCKLEYYes, that's correct. You don't need to be a citizen for that. I mean, there are certain top...

  • 13:56:51


  • 13:56:52 clearance rules for which you would require U.S. citizenship or usually just even permanent residence, but I doubt that a Navy pilot would fall into that category.

  • 13:57:01

    NNAMDIAs I said, we're running out of time. This e-mail from Susan. "Are there members of Congress with dual citizenship and/or have immediate family members with dual citizenship? If so, does this have to be disclosed when voting on issues concerning the other country?" I don't know, do you, Demetrios?

  • 13:57:15

    PAPADEMETRIOUNo. But we know that we have had members of Congress, both the Senate and certainly many more in the House of Representatives, of people who were born in another country.

  • 13:57:25

    NNAMDIWe certainly do. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Demetrios Papademetriou is president and board member of the Migration Policy Institute. Michael Jones-Correa is a professor of government at Cornell University. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Redesign of the U.S. Naturalization Test, and Gabrielle Buckley is a partner at Vedder Price. Thank you all for joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:58:25

    NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," how mirrors affect the look and feel of a city. As Adrian Fenty leaves and Vincent Gray takes the cities top job, we explore the role city leaders play in D.C.'s growth. Plus, citizenship as a birthright, the way different rules in the U.S. and around the world affects national identity. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon until 2:00 tomorrow on WAMU 88.5.

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