Biometric United States passport issued in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I was about the age of my daughter, I saw a television movie called The Man Without a Country with starring the late Cliff Robertson. A deadly dull teleplay in retrospect and I suspect wasn’t incredibly thrilling at the time, but it appealed and appalled my little girl sense of fairness in a way that I can still vividly recall today.
Cribbed from a short story written by Edward Everett Hale, who intended for it to stir patriotic fervor as the Civil War dragged on, it is a tale about a young Army officer, Nolan, caught in the treason trail of Arron Burr and impetuously shouts out at his trial, “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”
Maliciously, the sentencing judge grants the young man’s wish and effectively renders him stateless by ordering that he spend the rest of his days as a prisoner on various Navy vessels, forever deprived of his homeland by word or deed.
I remember the last scene of the movie vividly. A young officer finds the dying Nolan in a cabin decked out in United States flags, maps and other symbolism. He grants the old man the dying wish of hearing about “home”.
It was very sad but my ten-year old self as incensed by the cruelty of the sentence. One impetuous outburst during a treason trial that was more of a political witch hunt (though at the time I didn’t know enough about Burr to really understand the politics in play) and this man was banished from his home while people who bore more guilt were not.
I didn’t know the story was a fiction or that the fiction was a propaganda tool to ignite Union sentiment at a time with the United States was more a collection of states than a country. I just know that it wasn’t fair. Regardless of where a person choose to live or the criticism he/she might have for his/her government, depriving someone of the place where they were born as punishment was wrong.
Because I am currently in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, the idea of “home” is much on my mind. How does one have two homes? When push comes to shove, where lies loyalty?
And then the news of Eduardo Saverin broke via the recent IPO unveiling of Facebook and the fact that Mr. Saverin, as a co-founder, stands to collect billions more in profit. Saverin is a Brasilian who became a U.S. citizen when as a child – probably through his parents much as Dee will attain Canadian citizenship through my application. With news of the IPO, it came to light that Saverin, who hasn’t lived in the U.S. in several years and who has obtained citizenship in Singapore where he lives, had renounced this U.S. citizenship. For purposes of avoiding taxes was the media assumption though as any ex-pat knows, relinquishing citizenship can carry a hefty exit tax for those whose assets exceed specified amounts.
Given the bitter and unrelentingly negative press about ex-pats (American citizens who live abroad) of late, the outcry in the comment sections of news websites was predictably jingoistic and devoid of much by way of actual facts.
“Love it or leave it!”
“America doesn’t need traitors anyway!”
As if anyone who has ever left the U.S. has only done so because they are dodgers of some sort with a sketchy grasp of loyalty.
Most of what has been written lately about those of us who make our homes outside the United States has been decidedly scathing and rather loose with the interpretations of why some of us seek citizenship in other places, often choose to never return and sometimes relinquish our accident of birth derived American citizenships.
America is and has been mostly always about money and the acquisition of it and the stuff that can accompany having wealth. Being so, it makes sense that those who buy whole-heartedly in the myth of the America Dream would see those of us who leave as being money/stuff traitors. What other reason than wealth would propel us to leave the richest most bestest nation on the planet? Nothing is as important as dinero and toys after all.
It could well be that Saverin was motivated to renounce because the hassle of yet another citizenship obligation – including taxes – got to be a bit much. My personal guess is that someone who has lived in more than one country has a world view that allows him to see that America is not the only desirable place in the world to call home and therefore doesn’t see the loss of legal status as a tragedy. It’s not like he is poor Nolan, stateless and barred from contact or news. I am sure he still has his Facebook account to keep him in touch and if not, there is always Twitter.
I have never been under the illusion that the United States is the only nice place in the world to live. It’s not the only democracy or the only place with indoor plumbing. Though some of those in my native land fervently believe otherwise. Canada is not the armpit of the Americas nor is it some red-haired step-child longing to be like its geographically smaller sibling to the south.
While I admit that those who renounce due to the onerous filing obligations to the IRS have a valid point, I am financially insignificant enough that my husband can still navigate my taxes every year, but that’s not the case for many others. It’s especially onerous, and not fair, to expect dual citizens to file taxes when they owe nothing – as is the case with many dual U.S./Canadians and the expectation that those who are married to non-U.S. citizens hand over their spouses private financial information can’t be considered okay no matter how the U.S. government tries to spin it.
Saverin’s case though prompted an additional slap at ex-pats in the form of a bill introduced by two Democrats called the Ex-Patriot Act, which would de facto label any U.S. citizen who renounces as a tax cheat and bar them from ever stepping foot on American soil again. The IRS will be the final arbitrator as to the whether or not the renunciate has a “good reason” for leaving (apparently marriage, children, having a life will not count) and everyone who lives in another country, whether as a permanent resident or a dual citizen will be treated as some sort of traitor to Uncle Sam. At least that’s my understanding. And given the comments of my fellow Americans, most of completely fine with this idea.
I came to Canadian because the man I loved, and was planning to marry and spend the rest of my life with, is a Canadian. Our life, quite frankly, trumps all other considerations including my birth on Plantation America.
I became a landed immigrant not quite four years ago and am eligible to apply for citizenship now. My reasons for becoming a Canadian came home to my quite clearly during the last provincial election here in Alberta. I want to vote. This is my home and I want to have a say in what happens. In fact, when I read about the special ward election coming up, due to our ward councillor being elected as an MLA, I realized that only my lack of citizenship stood in the way of my running for that office.
Not long after Dee started school, she asked me about a line in the anthem that they sing at the beginning of each new week.
“What does it mean to ‘stand on guard for thee’?”
I have known this was coming for a long time. A day when I felt my loyalty lay more with my adopted country than the one I was born in. It doesn’t pain me to begin to take the steps. It does irritate me that I am wrongly attributed base motivations for doing so. It probably pisses Eduardo Saverin off too, but as I don’t know him anymore than Sen Schumer does, I won’t cast him the villain. Of course, I don’t have a reason for grandstand pandering like Schumer does because I am not a politician. Yet.