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Pledging Multiple Allegiances

A global blurring of boundaries challenges notions of nationality. U.S. analysts worry about a rise in dual citizenships of convenience.

April 06, 1998|MARK FRITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Jesus R. Galvis came to America, built a business in New Jersey and got elected to the City Council of Hackensack. Last month, he decided to expand this American success story by running for the Senate. The one in Colombia.

Galvis was attempting a feat perhaps unprecedented in American politics: holding two elected offices simultaneously in two countries. He is, after all, a citizen of both places, with a pair of passports to prove it.

"I was going to travel back and forth," said Galvis, who runs a travel agency in Hackensack. "I saw this as a good opportunity to keep some ties to the homeland there."

He lost, however. But the fact that a public servant from an American city campaigned for a post in a foreign government is but one example of a growing global phenomenon: dual citizenship. For better or worse, some analysts say pledging allegiance to more than one flag is becoming the hot status symbol of the coming century.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 8, 1998 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Dual citizenship--A story in Monday's Times about the proliferation of dual citizenship misstated the capital of Australia. The capital city is Canberra.

"You can now live in two societies at the same time," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. "This is an issue of significant concern worldwide."

Years ago, voting in a foreign election was a good way to lose your U.S. citizenship. No longer. While the federal government doesn't endorse dual citizenship, it increasingly tolerates it, at a time when more countries are allowing it and more people are seeking it.

A second or even a third passport has become not just a link to a homeland but also a glorified travel visa, a license to do business, a stake in a second economy, an escape hatch, even a status symbol.

In the last seven years, Colombia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and most recently, Mexico--the suppliers of some of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in America--have allowed their nationals to become citizens elsewhere without losing their original nationality. New leaderships in South Korea and India have expressed support for the same idea.

Upscale Australians in the United States have been pressuring their government to allow dual citizenship so they can become Americans without losing their native status. The main motivation? Avoiding the stiff estate taxes that the U.S. government imposes on foreigners who work here.

"The whole issue is just an aggravation. [Australians in the U.S.] feel discriminated against," said Helen Cameron, who traded her Australian citizenship for American nationality so she could do business, serve on the school board and even seek the mayor's seat in Irvine.

Portable Patriotism Is On the Rise

Signs of portable patriotism, a sort of citizenship of convenience, are everywhere.

In Denver, an American sells passports from Belize to Russian nouveaux riches looking to broaden their travel privileges.

In Toronto, an immigration lawyer custom fits his clients with whatever citizenships will help them navigate global markets. One Canadian tried to get his son an Italian passport as a graduation present.

Last year, a French Canadian with a U.S. passport ran for mayor of Plattsburgh, N.Y. He argued that the incumbent spoke French too poorly to be running a city so close to Quebec. He lost.

Also last year, a retired top American official for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ran for president of Lithuania. He was inaugurated in February to a burst of fireworks. Even some of his fellow Chicagoans had been able to vote for him.

In 1996, Dominicans from New York not only could vote in the Dominican Republic's presidential elections for the first time, they could vote for a New Yorker. And Russian Jews in Israel could help decide whether to reelect President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Multiple nationalities have become so commonplace that some analysts fear the trend is undermining the notion of nationhood, particularly in the place with the most diverse citizenry on Earth: the United States.

Debate over the issue intensified last month, when Mexico joined the growing list of poor nations that say it's OK for their nationals to be citizens of the countries to which they have migrated.

Under the law that took effect March 21, Mexicans abroad--most of them in the United States--will be able to retain Mexican citizenship even if they seek U.S. citizenship. And naturalized Americans of Mexican descent will be able to reclaim their original citizenship. The Mexican government stopped short, for now, of giving expatriates the right to vote.

"It's hard to overestimate how important the Mexico situation is," Krikorian said. "There are now 7 million Mexican-born people in the United States. That's almost a third of all immigrants."

Krikorian is among those who say dual citizenship hinders assimilation and undermines the sense of shared experience that makes a nation a community. These critics say dual citizenship reduces the United States to a place to make a buck, a mere land in which to live while blood loyalties lie elsewhere.

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