Obama: Citizen of the World
BARACK OBAMA IS A CITIZEN OF KENYA as well as a citizen of the United States, according the Rocky Mountain News and other sources. There’s reason to believe that Obama is also a citizen of Indonesia. He calls himself a “citizen of the world”, and in some sense, he is.
That’s a good line. Whether Obama is actually a citizen of Kenya and/or Indonesia is interesting but ultimately irrelevant. There’s no reason to doubt his loyalty to the United States and, if he has citizenship elsewhere, it’s simply an artifact of their laws and not any choice he’s made.
If he had obtained passports from another country, it could have implications for his obtaining a security clearance, but there’s no reason to think this is the case. (And, indeed, one presumes any such restrictions would be inapplicable to him in any case were he elected president.)
The larger subject of dual nationality comes up in other contexts on occasion, though, and it’s one that continues to intrigue me. Here’s some background from the State Department:
The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.
A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.
Intent can be shown by the person’s statements or conduct.The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person’s allegiance.
However, dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of the foreign passport does not endanger U.S. citizenship. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship.
Does the U.S. Recognize Dual Citizenship?
It strikes me as bizarre that someone can have loyalty to two countries and pick and choose among them. There’s a longstanding and widespread misconception that Americans are forbidden to hold dual nationality and must renounce any foreign allegiance. As the above excerpt makes clear, though, the United States recognize duals citizenship as a fact of life and we only actively discourage it in rare instances.
In cases like Obama’s, for example, it’s a non-issue. His father was a Kenyan citizen and that automatically conveys to his U.S.-born son. He grew up in Indonesia and, apparently, that conveyed their citizenship on him, too. But he’s not carrying their passports, serving in their military, or otherwise acting as a citizen of those countries.
Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted in the wake of the John Walker Lindh case that dual citizenship is rising fast and that,
Voting in a foreign election, serving in a foreign army, or swearing allegiance to a foreign government used to be automatic grounds for losing U.S. citizenship. But a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 made it all but impossible for someone to lose U.S. citizenship unless he or she wants to give it up.
That’s still the law today.
Image credit: Flickr user tsevis. (And, yes, those are U.S. State flags, not international flags.)