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A dual-citizen Facebook founder 'de-Americanizes' himself

May 16, 2012|By Michael McGough
  • One of Facebook's founders is 'de-Americanizing' himself.
One of Facebook's founders is 'de-Americanizing' himself. (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

First Rep. Michele Bachmann renounced the Swiss citizenship she acquired through her husband, insisting that "I am, and always have been, 100% committed to our United States Constitution and the United States of America.” Then it was reported that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, a native of Brazil, had filed papers to renounce his American citizenship before the company went public, a step that apparently will redound to his financial benefit -- after he pays as much as $150 million in exit taxes.

Saverin, who has retained Brazilian citizenship, has been excoriated for un-Americanizing himself. In the Nation, a left-leaning publication, Ilyse Hogue fumes: "In making this decision, the Brazilian native did more than expose his blind disregard for all that his adopted country has done for him. He has made himself the poster child for the callous class of 1 percenters who are all too happy to use national resources to enrich themselves, and then skate, or cry foul, when asked to pay their fair share."

Hogue didn't object in the article to the idea of Saverin holding both U.S. and Brazilian citizenship. Bachmann, however, clearly calculated that her second passport would prove a political liability. Her statement implied that a dual citizen would be less than "100% committed to the United States." But do many Americans feel that way? Given arguments about the constitutionality of "birthright" citizenship, it's surprising that dual citizenship has not become much of a political issue, except in fringe circles.

The Supreme Court has made a dead letter of laws yanking the U.S. citizenship of individuals who, say, vote in a foreign election or fight in a foreign army. Under current law, such activities in themselves don't threaten someone's U.S. citizenship; the dual citizen must intend to relinquish or abandon his loyalty to this country. The State Department is accepting but unenthusiastic about dual citizenship, warning that "dual nationality may hamper efforts to provide U.S. diplomatic and consular protection to [dual citizens] when they are abroad."

"For me personally" -- to quote President Obama's qualification of his support for same-sex marriage -- dual citizenship is problematic, even when someone's second country is a friend or ally of the United States. Three of my friends carry passports from Ireland in addition to their American ones. My Irish ancestors arrived in this country too early for me to claim citizenship, but even if I were eligible, I wouldn't apply.

I don't think my discomfort about dual citizenship makes me a yahoo, an enemy of globalization or a believer in a simplistic notion of American exceptionalism. Culturally one can be a "citizen of the world," but as long as there are nation-states, it seems anomalous to pledge allegiance to more than one of them at the same time. On this subject (and maybe only on this subject) Michele Bachmann is right.

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