For Dual Citizens, Taking The Naturalization Oath Constitutes Perjury

June 24th, 2014

Last Friday, I had the honor of seeing my good friend Ilya Shapiro take the naturalization oath at his naturalization ceremony at D.D.C. Though, part of the oath itself was problematic for Ilya, who is also a citizen of Canada, and wishes to maintain dual citizenship. Under U.S. law, dual citizenship is allowed. Likewise, under Canadian law, a person can hold dual citizenship with the U.S. and Canada. So no problem there. The problem arises with the oath that the new-citizen must take:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen

That statement, taken under oath, very clearly says the taker will “renounce and abjure” all foreign allegiances. I can’t read this any other way than to say dual citizenship must be “renounced.” Failure to do as your oath says would seem to be a clear case of perjury–a bizarre fact that a new citizen’s first act is to break the law. (Unlike Apu whose first act was to find  ask “Which way to the welfare office.”).

Yet, the State Department, which has not modified the Oath, has basically said it doesn’t mean what it says.

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. nationals, 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. nationality. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose nationality.

This statement ignores the plain, unambiguous text of the oath. I raised a similar point when the district court judge I clerked for presided over a naturalization ceremony, but I did not receive any satisfactor answers. So, what to do?

I found an article in the Georgetown Law Journal, titled “The Role of the Oath of Renunciation in Current U.S. Nationality Policy–to Enforce, to Omit, or Maybe to Change?” that argues the oath should be modified or enforced.

Through this nonenforcement policy, the United States is abdicating responsibility for shaping its own nationality laws and is effectively permitting other countries to determine the international citizenship status of newly naturalized U.S. citizens. U.S. nationality laws, including the renunciation oath, are, however, designed to further the overarching goal of U.S. nationality policy that newly naturalized U.S. citizens become fully functioning members of the U.S. polity.6 The U.S. surrender of responsibility has the potential of undermining this intended result by making at least one aspect of those laws–the renunciation oath–ineffective.

This abdication of responsibility, however, is not the only detrimental effect of the current policy. Nonenforcement additionally allows or even encourages newly naturalized citizens to commit perjury by renouncing allegiance to their countries of origin, knowing that they intend to and will retain,11 for example, their French, Russian, or Peruvian citizenship.12 By doing so, the policy teaches indifference to American oaths and laws at the very instant that the individual becomes a full-fledged member of the American polity. Particularly in light of the recent public discussion about perjury and respect for the law,13 these consequences are undesirable.
In order to ensure that the naturalization process achieves the goal that the United States has set for its nationality policy,14 to avoid giving the impression to both the international community and the newly naturalized citizen that the *332 United States is not serious about enforcing its laws, and to ensure that the United States takes responsibility for its nationality laws, the current policy towards the renunciation oath should be changed. This note will discuss three alternatives for such change and their potential effects on U.S. nationality policy–(1) to omit the Oath of Renunciation from the Oath of Allegiance, (2) to change the wording of the Oath of Allegiance so that it no longer requires renunciation of former allegiances while retaining a requirement that the newly naturalized citizen have primary allegiance to the United States, or (3) to enforce the Oath of Renunciation.

This article seems right on point.

In any event, kudos to Ilya. As special present, I gave him a pre-filled out form to renounce his Canadian citizenship. Under the reason for change, I added, “I am now a citizen of the United States, the greatest nation in the world.” I told him I would personally walk the form to the Canadian embassy, across the street from the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse. He has not yet signed it. Following the lead of Ted Cruz, I will wait.