Long disfavored though never formally unlawful, dual citizenship is now completely tolerated under U.S. law and practice. Many nineteenth-century immigrants to the United States technically held the status of dual nationals because their countries of origin refused to recognize the transfer of allegiance to their new homeland. However, active dual citizenship was policed by expatriation measures providing for the termination of U.S. citizenship upon undertaking certain activities as a national of another state, including voting in foreign elections, serving in foreign armed forces, or holding office in a foreign state. Mere residence in a foreign country of alternate nationality or the use of a foreign passport could result in the termination of U.S. citizenship.
Dual citizenship was also the target of harsh moral condemnation. It was often compared to bigamy; Theodore Roosevelt described it as a ‘‘self-evident absurdity.’’ In the early and middle twentieth century, the incidence of dual nationality declined as countries of origin came more commonly to terminate original citizenship upon naturalization in the United States.
The Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Afroyim v. Rusk found the termination of citizenship unconstitutional when it was not intended by the individual. Although Afroyim and subsequent cases do not protect the status of dual citizenship as such, current practice allows the retention of U.S. citizenship upon naturalization in another country in all cases. At the same time, the laws of other countries are more liberally permitting the retention of citizenship upon naturalization in the United States; many naturalizing Americans today (including those from Mexico) are routinely retaining their citizenship of origin. In the face of greater global mobility, more individuals are born with multiple citizenship to parents of different nationality. As evidenced by the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and its increasing tolerance in the practice of nation-states, there is evidence that dual citizenship may come to be conceived of as an associational human right under international law.
PETER J. SPIRO
References and Further Reading
See also Citizenship