<< The Body Politic

Citizenship in the news

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

With Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder, renouncing his American citizenship and Michele Bachmann withdrawing her dual citizenship (she had become a Swiss citizen in March), the rights and responsibilities of being an American citizen are still very much up for debate.

First, Saverin. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who renounced his U.S. citizenship in what many have seen  as a move to avoid paying federal taxes, has managed to unify many Americans behind Uncle Sam’s outstretched hand. […]

Saverin is Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook co-founder, and his role in the business venture was immortalized in the Oscar-winning film, “The Social Network.” He has a reported 4% stake in the company, a stake that could be worth nearly $4 billion after Facebook’s highly anticipated initial public offering, expected next week.

A spokeswoman for Saverin says the move was not intended to avoid paying taxes. It just makes more sense, she said, because Saverin plans to live in Singapore for an indefinite period of time handling business ventures that he’s launching in that part of the world. Although tax-planning experts call the move shrewd, the timing–days before the IPO–is just too convenient for many.

As the story notes, reactions to Saverin’s move have not been favorable. Writing for Pando DailySlate writer Farhad Manjoo gives his thoughts:

When Eduardo Saverin was 13, his family discovered that his name had turned up on a list of victims to be kidnapped by Brazilian gangs. Saverin’s father was a wealthy businessman in São Paulo, and it was inevitable that he’d attract this kind of unwanted attention. Now the family had to make a permanent decision. They hastily arranged a move out of the country. And of all the places in the world they could move to, the Saverin family saw only one option. They took their talents to Miami.

Would it be too much to say that America saved Eduardo Saverin? Probably. Maybe that’s just too overwrought. The Saverins were just another in a long line of immigrants who’d come to America for the opportunity it affords–the opportunity, among other things, to not have to worry that your child will be kidnapped just because you’ve become wealthy.

[…] If you study the trajectory of Saverin’s life–the path that took him from being an immigrant kid to a Harvard student to an instant billionaire to the subject of an Oscar-winning motion picture–it emerges as a uniquely American story. At just about every step between his landing in Miami and his becoming a co-founder of Facebook, you find American institutions and inventions playing a significant part in his success.

Moving on to the Bachmann story, the New York Times has a “Room for Debate” forum discussing dual citizenship, with contributors Peter Spiro (Temple University Law Profess0r), David Abraham (University of Miami), Jose Itzigsohn (Brown University), Mark Krikorian (Center for Immigration Studies), and Ayelet Shachar (author, The Birthright Lottery).

Most of the authors argue for the benefits (or at least the reality) of dual citizenship in an increasingly globalized world–with the exception of Mark Krikorian, who sees citizenship as “an exclusive relationship”:

The citizenship oath for immigrants is unequivocal: “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.”

Just as membership in a marriage entails an exclusive relationship, so does membership in a national community. Despite the multiple connections and loyalties we all have, a person can have only one ultimate political allegiance, be the member of one “We the people.” Anything else is, in Theodore Roosevelt’s words, a “self-evident absurdity.”