I couldn’t believe you wrote that the U.S. “tolerates” dual citizenship, and that people born in the U.S. to foreign parents are encouraged to choose their citizenship [June 27]. The U.S. emphatically does not recognize dual citizenship, and those with foreign-born parents are allowed dual citizenship only until adulthood, when they are required to choose. I learned this in eighth-grade civics class, but I seem to be the only person that remembers it.

I had an acquaintance who had trouble managing her dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. As I remember it, she was trying to use her dual citizenship status to avoid serving time in the Israeli army. Unfortunately the U.S. wouldn’t back her up since we don’t recognize dual citizenship. She had to either serve in the Israeli army (which meant, I’m pretty sure, renouncing her U.S. citizenship, since the U.S. doesn’t allow citizens to serve in foreign armed forces) or give up her Israeli citizenship.

–Janet Miller, Oakland, California

Janet and my assistant little Ed exchanged a few notes about this. We tried to explain that the U.S. tolerates dual citizenship but doesn’t officially recognize it. Janet found this policy unacceptably ambiguous and blamed us for allowing it to persist. You’ve probably met people like this.

Anyway, we went back and confirmed the following:

(1) Cecil was of course right. People with dual citizenship are encouraged but not required to choose one over the other on reaching adulthood. Troubled by this, Janet? Deal with it.

(2) Serving in another country’s armed forces is not in itself illegal. You can’t aid the enemy, of course, but what with the fall of communism and all, “enemies” is such an outmoded concept. Also, you can’t serve as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer.

(3) If you’re a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel and you get an Israeli draft notice, your choices are either to serve or to renounce your Israeli citizenship. In the event that an Israeli-American attempts to weasel out of her obligations, U.S. policy is to explain the above and go, “Poor baby.”

Another thing. I said you had to leave the country to renounce your citizenship, which is true. However, you might be able to get back in. Here’s the story from Jose Diaz of Puerto Rico:

“A number of our more radical separatists have initiated a movement to renounce U.S. citizenship. So far there’s no stampede, but we have learned you can renounce citizenship formally and stay within the system, as in the case of [separatist leader] Juan Mari Bras. How? Simple. (1) Travel to a country with which the U.S. has liberal entry/exit policies, i.e., where all that is needed to enter/exit is a birth certificate. (2) Renounce citizenship in the U.S. embassy there. (3) Do not indicate what citizenship you’ll be acquiring. (4) Get back to U.S. soil with your birth certificate. (5) Wait for the state department to issue your certificate of loss of nationality without noticing you did not truly emigrate anywhere. (6) Have a local court rule that you have an underlying ‘natural’ nationality that entitles you to live on U.S. soil without being a citizen.

“This is obviously the tricky part. Essentially what the local court said was, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917, but U.S. rule over Puerto Rico started in 1899, so for 18 years the Puerto Rican people existed as noncitizen U.S. ‘subjects’ or ‘nationals.’ This ‘colonial nationality,’ as it were, was never formally repealed when U.S. citizenship was extended to us; therefore Mr. Mari Bras, in renouncing his citizenship, reverts to the condition of a noncitizen living under U.S. rule.

“This theory would only be useful to people such as Puerto Rican nationalists or members of Native American tribes recognized by the U.S. as ‘sovereign nations,’ who can claim some ‘natural’ nationality apart from the U.S.


If only it were that simple, Jose. I have another note here citing various legal authorities (e.g., ex parte Knowles, 1855) to show that you can be (1) a citizen of a state without being (2) a citizen of the United States. As you may suspect, this is a prelude to the claim that (3) you can renounce your U.S. citizenship, stay in the U.S., and legally avoid federal income tax. I am not about to investigate this, because I figure anybody trying to prove you don’t have to pay income tax is, ipso facto, wack. But if things get rocky during your next IRS audit, and it’s either this theory or jail, be my guest.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Slug Signorino.