by Fred Rooney
Day by day, I grow more alarmed by what is not supposed to happen here in the United States of America. I see us as a society slipping away from our moorings, moving from civility and decency and just law to a nation shadowed by disturbing parallels to the worst of modern history. Day by day, my long held belief in the value of dual citizenship evolves beyond cosmopolitan advantage to a potential means of necessitous escape to safety.
I have always been a firm believer in the inherent goodness of the human spirit and to a great extent, I still am. However, I am shocked and saddened by the deep polarization of our society and by the sharp increase in violence, scapegoating and hate crimes.
Growing up on Long Island in the 50s and 60s was an idyllic experience that solidified my notion that people were kind since our neighborhoods were safe and the world seemed to be a wonderful place in which to live.
By my early teens, I began to learn about the atrocities that took place during World War II—the Nazi holocaust, the firebombing of Dresden, America’s use of nuclear weapons in Japan, and more. The internment of innocent Americans of Japanese descent during World Work II created a nightmare scenario of being imprisoned in one’s own country based on one’s national origin. Later, I learned that the eradication of millions of Native Americans and the abomination of chattel slavery are at the heart of my country’s very formation as a modern nation and that the effects of those horrors have never been fully addressed. The fantasy world of goodness and kindness was shattered by the realization that the senseless killing of innocent people around the globe appears to be endless.
In the late 70s, my ongoing thirst for knowledge led me to spend time in the Middle East where I developed a deeper understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and keener insight into the suffering of people whose lives were shattered by unending political turmoil. As law student in the 80s, I traveled to Central America where I witnessed first-hand the consequences of tragic civil wars that resulted in the mass killings of innocent men, women and children caught in the crossfire. In the 90s, I journeyed to Mexico where I spoke with survivors of massacres that had claimed the lives of individuals and families as they took shelter in rural churches. I eventually realized that despite the good that abounds, our lives are impacted on a daily basis by the violence that surrounds us.
By the time I graduated law school, I became interested in the concept of dual citizenship and I researched the possibility of claiming Irish citizenship through my paternal grandfather. What I learned is that he was born in England, not Ireland, and that the United Kingdom does not permit grandchildren to claim citizenship through a grandparent.
Even though I was not able to become a citizen of the UK, I became a strong proponent of dual citizenship and spoke of its value whenever I met someone with a parent or grandparent born outside of the United States. When asked why I felt so strongly about having the right to a second passport, I explained the value of being able to live, work and study freely in another country without having to go through the morass of confusing, costly, and uncertain immigration proceedings. Yet, my principal reason for promoting dual citizenship is because it provides one with the ability to exit a country when society devolves, lives are devalued, scapegoating become a justification for eradicating resistance and the price of dissent is extermination.
I have learned that history repeats itself and innocent people pay the ultimate price of living in a society that goes from civility and adherence to the rule of law to one where those who are perceived as the enemy of the state become easy prey. Had European Jews, gays, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others had a secondary citizenship that permitted them to flee the ravages of the Third Reich, many might have escaped without having to beg for safe passage or political asylum.
Pope Francis used the word genocide with reference to millions of Armenians slaughtered by Turkey during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. During the separatist conflicts attending the collapse of the nation of Yugoslavia, the term “ethnic cleansing” was first used, and it has been needed far too often since then: in Rwanda, and in Chechnya and in the Darfur region of Sudan, in Iraq and in Syria. In all those places, and in many more today, members of targeted or scapegoated groups are held captive and murdered in their own countries, where they are easy prey for oppressive and ruthless regimes.
Events in the United States leading up to and then following the 2016 Presidential election should be a wake up call for individuals who have the legal right to claim a secondary citizenship since historical parallels cannot be ignored. It would be naïve to think that the kind of genocide that has occurred and continues to occur around the globe cannot happen in our own nation.
Today, countless numbers of people living in the US have the right to claim a second citizenship for themselves and for their children. Individuals from around the globe who have settled in the US may still hold a second citizenship and are entitled to seek dual citizenship for their children and grandchildren and the children and grandchildren of foreign-born parents may also be entitled to the citizenship of the country where their parents were born. I hope and pray that if received, a second or third citizenship can be used to enhance educational or employment opportunities and not to flee when all else fails. Unless there is a radical improvement in our political climate in the immediate future, I contend that it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
While not all countries permit dual citizenship, many do. If you, your parents or grandparents were born abroad or if by law you are entitled to dual citizenship, the time it takes to investigate the process for becoming a dual citizen and then applying may very well be worth the effort. Waiting until borders are sealed and hate speech turns to action would be foolhardy.
Fred Rooney is a former Fulbright Scholar, current Fulbright Specialist, international advocate for access to justice, attorney-at-law and the creator of the first legal incubator in the United States, designed to train law graduates to provide affordable legal services in underserved communities in the US and abroad.