Posted on October 5, 2004

Some Citizens Split Allegiance

Daniel González, The Arizona Republic, Oct. 3

Javier Cárdenas, a Chandler doctor, wants to reclaim his Mexican nationality even though he was born in the United States and grew up here.

Now Mexico is letting him do it.

Cárdenas is the son of parents who hold dual nationality, making him eligible for a newly resumed Mexican program that allows Mexican-born citizens of other countries and their children to reclaim their Mexican nationality, though not their citizenship, which carries full voting rights.

In July, the Mexican government resumed the dual-nationality program permanently after the original five-year measure ended last year.

The measure, part of a trend that critics contend poses a potential political threat to the United States, could help hundreds of thousands of Mexican-born people and their children regain a host of rights, including owning property, inheriting property, voting and traveling to Mexico with a Mexican passport.

Cárdenas’ parents took advantage of the original program before it expired, and now Cárdenas plans to apply for dual nationality, too, primarily so that some day he can buy vacation property in Mexico.

Dual nationality and citizenship is part of a growing movement in Mexico and other countries to embrace people who have emigrated, marking a dramatic break from the past, when émigrés were viewed as disloyal.

Fueling the movement, experts say, is Mexico’s recognition of the crucial importance immigrants play in the Mexican economy through the billions of dollars they send home every year, their investments and their trips home.

“Governments are recognizing that émigrés, people who leave, aren’t disloyal as countries have traditionally thought,” said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California-Irvine.

Rather, he said, countries like Mexico that offer dual nationality and dual citizenship have gone through a “philosophical change about what emigration means. It’s not disloyalty, but opportunity.”

Projections are that remittances, or money sent back home, to Mexico this year will exceed the record $13.3 billion sent last year and could top $30 billion to Latin America, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Mexico is one of a growing list of countries that offer some form of dual nationality or dual citizenship to émigrés who gave up their rights when they became U.S. citizens.

Some question program

The trend troubles some like Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based research institution that favors tighter controls on immigration.

Krikorian believes holding dual nationality and dual citizenship undermines the assimilation of immigrants and poses a potential political threat to the United States.

By maintaining ties with immigrants, Mexico and other countries hope to exert political influence over the United States, Krikorian said.

“The objective there is to influence American political considerations so that America’s national interests is not the primary issue at question, but Mexico’s national interests as well,” he said.

Although the government does not track how many countries offer dual nationality, Stanley Renshon, a political science professor and psychoanalyst at the City University of New York, believes the number has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

He estimates at least 92 countries that send immigrants to the United States now offer dual nationality or dual citizenship.

“It’s exploded in the last five to eight years and there are a lot of reasons for that and the primary one is that countries that send a lot of immigrants to the United States have a big incentive to maintain the emotional ties of those immigrants to their home country,” said Renshon, who is working on a a book on the subject titled The 50 Percent American: National Identity in an Age of Terror, to be published next year.

More than economic

He agreed that the growing number of countries offering dual nationality and dual citizenship goes beyond the economic to the political.

“That’s the real rub of dual citizenship and dual nationality: that the citizenship incentives reinforce the psychological incentives to feel connected with your home country rather than with the new community that you’ve immigrated into,” Renshon said.

“That’s the issue. The issue is one of the sending country’s home interest vs. the American community’s national interest,” Renshon said.

Nearly 80 percent of the 1 million immigrants who enter the United States legally each year come from countries that offer dual nationality or dual citizenship, he said.

Not since the Civil War has the United States faced a situation where the potential for multiple allegiances exists among such a large segment of the population, Renshon said.

Not everyone shares the same sinister view toward dual nationality and dual citizenship, however.

DeSipio, the political science professor at Irvine, said research and polls indicate that Mexican immigrants tend to quickly shed loyalties to the country they left and adopt loyalties to the United States.

“I don’t see any risk that the Mexican immigrant population today will develop a loyalty to Mexico that trumps their loyalty to the United States,” DeSipio said.

Unlike dual nationality, dual citizenship restores full voting rights. People who reclaim their Mexican nationality are eligible to vote only in Mexico’s presidential elections, and only if they obtain a voting card and return to Mexico, according to Mexican officials. President Vicente Fox wants to allow Mexican citizens living abroad to be able to vote without having to return to Mexico, but a plan is still being worked out.

Victor Alejandro Espinoza, a political science professor at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, argues that Mexico’s dual-citizenship program also benefits the United States.

The original program offered between 1998 and 2003 spurred many longtime Mexican immigrants to seek citizenship in the United States knowing they would no longer have to give up rights in Mexico, Espinoza said.

He expects more to follow suit now that Mexico’s dual-nationality program has become permanent.

Reasons are varied

The reasons for seeking dual nationality vary from person to person.

Cárdenas’ parents, José and Virginia, were among the 1,443 people in Arizona who took advantage of the program through the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix when it was first offered, , according to officials.

All three consider themselves proud and loyal Americans who also hold a deep affection for Mexico, where Virginia was born.

For Virginia, 52, dual nationality offered a chance to reclaim the rights she lost when she became a naturalized U.S. citizen 15 years ago.

“I would die for the U.S., but I have a tremendous amount of affection for my mother country,” she said.

For José, 51, a lawyer who frequently does business in Mexico, dual nationality allows him to travel more easily using his Mexican passport.

“But the primary motivation was pride in my roots,” said Jose, the son of a Mexican-born father and a Mexican-American mother.

And for Javier, 28, dual nationality offers a chance to own property in Mexico.

“I’d like to introduce my kids to the culture from a non-tourist point of view,” said Javier, the father of three small children.