Wednesday, 08 June 2016 12:47

Trump's Judge Curiel issue raises important dual citizenship issues

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Trump raised an important national issue when he questioned Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s ability to impartially judge the case against Trump University.

Democrats and a few Republicans began shrieking that Trump was a “racist.”

But is asking fair questions about the phenomenon of dual citizenship “racism?”

The official story is that Curiel’s parents were both Mexican nationals.  Curiel’s father came to the United States, apparently illegally, but was somehow able to return to Mexico, marry a Mexican woman there, and both return to the United States, where Curiel was born in Indiana in 1953.

No details are given, however, that would establish whether Curiel’s parents had obtained U.S. citizenship at the time of his birth.

Not that this matters specifically, if Gonzalo Curiel was born in Indiana.  That makes Gonzalo a U.S. citizen in his own right.

But was Gonzalo Curiel also born a citizen of Mexico?

Was Mexican citizenship a right he also acquired at birth through his Mexican parents?

That would make Gonzalo Curiel a dual national. 

So perhaps Donald Trump’s claims are not “racist” and not “crazy,” but point out a much more important factor that is of interest to all Mexicans, whether in the United States or in Mexico.

Mexico actually conducts election campaigns right here in the United States, in order to garner Mexican absentee votes.  And Mexico does not care if its citizens are also citizens of the United States.

The same is true for Filipino communities in the United States. 

Such policies make it difficult, if not impossible, to become, well, to become “American,” and to be loyal to the United States.  And these split loyalties can be communicated to children in a powerful way– so powerful that future generations will not happily enter the immigrant melting pot, but will always have a divided allegiance.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “The U.S. State Department discourages U.S. citizens from retaining or applying for citizenship in another country because ‘dual nationality may limit U.S. government efforts to assist nationals abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.’ The department also warns that ‘dual citizenship can present a security issue whether to permit access to classified information which affects recruitment, employment and assignments.’ In some cases, dual citizenship could disqualify an applicant for a sensitive position with the CIA or the State Department.”

Some foreign states like Iran do not recognize dual citizenship.  

To Iran, if you are the son of an Iranian father or the wife of an Iranian man, you are automatically an Iranian citizen.  Iran doesn’t care about what citizenship you’ve acquired by birth or otherwise, except that if you claim citizenship of a state hostile to Iran’s government, you may find yourself accused of anti-Iranian espionage and in jail for a long, long time, or else executed.  

This was the story of Jason Resnaian, the California-born son of an Iranian father.  Resnaian knew that he could obtain Iranian citizenship through his father, and he did so in order to obtain journalist’s credentials in Iran. He then proceeded to live and marry in Iran.  But Iran is deeply suspicious of “dual nationals,” and Resnaian and his wife soon found themselves accused of spying.  After a closed-door secret trial, Resnaian was found guilty and ensconced at Evin Prison–Iran’s most notorious.  He was later released as part of an arms deal, along with several others who’d claimed to be Iranian-American “duals.”

Even America’s allies can shift citizenship loyalties.  What is a more powerful psychological influence for many than religion?  Whether by faith or by Zionism or by both, in the late 1960s, some born-in-America American Jews went to Israel and stayed to serve in the Israeli military– at a time when the United States was deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. This raised many concerns in the U.S. Senate over the problem of dual nationals.  Should U.S. citizens be allowed to reject involvement in U.S. military objectives (i.e. “draft-dodging), while at the same time, these same citizens have independently decided to fight a war in service of another power? 

Donald Trump stirred a storm when he called Judge Curiel a “Mexican,” and suggested that Curiel’s great regard for his Mexican heritage might unfairly influence Curiel.  But Trump may have opened the door for all Americans to ask whether Curiel or other people of Mexican “heritage” put being an American first, over being a “Mexican-American.”  Curiel’s membership in the “La Raza” California Lawyers Association raises questions that many will now want fully answered.  

And their answers may surprise us.

But what will truly save America is about being able to ask the hard questions. 

Sarah Whalen

sarahw2Sarah Whalen is a university journalism instructor, attorney and author.

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