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Dual Citizens in Congress?

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“You are not entitled to that information!” That’s what a staffer in Senator Markey’s office bluntly told me when I called to ask for help in identifying Members of Congress who hold dual citizenship.

Seems that’s a question no one wants to hear. The Internet sources are flaky, with only unreliable estimates for both House and Senate. So I telephoned the Washington, DC offices of my three Congressional representatives from Massachusetts to ask for their help in obtaining definitive data from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which responds to Congressional offices, but not to the general public.

I might as well have asked the respondents for their social security numbers. While the responses the offices of Senator Warren and Congressman Keating were more polite than the one from Markey’s office, they were no more helpful. Two Warren office interns tried to assist, sending me some interesting but unrelated CRS reports. However, when their internships ended in August, I started all over again with a more permanent staffer. She promised to call back, but never did. I thought I had a promise from a Keating office aide to approach CRS, but she never responded to my several follow-up emails.

As a Harvard Kennedy School alum, I emailed the two professors recommended by a member of the fundraising office, but received no response.

Two prominent ethics in government NGOs manifested a similar lack of interest. Neither the Sunlight Foundation nor the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) saw fit to respond to my phone calls. Nor did my “tipline” submission to CREW spark a reply.

Meanwhile, I did obtain some useful information from the “Ask the Librarian” service of the Library of Congress. First, it referred me to links that reported Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s recent renunciation of her Swiss citizenship and Senator Ted Cruz’ renunciation of his Canadian citizenship. The librarian service also referred me to two government organizations, one of which provided me with a document listing Members born outside the United States and another more detailed CRS document entitled “Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile,” dated August 26, 2014. The profile document includes cumulative Member data on party breakdown, age, occupations, education, Congressional service, religion, gender and ethnicity and military service, but nothing on dual citizenship. The provided reports came with a caveat: my source was not to be “quoted or cited.”

This week I filed a Freedom of Information Request to CRS asking for the names of Members of Congress who are dual citizens; or, if such data is not available, advice on where it can obtained. Given the omission of dual citizen topic in the Member profile cited above, I suspect that the relevant data is simply not being collected.

Until the Supreme Court decided otherwise in the 1967 case of Afroyim v. Rusk, a US citizen who voted in a political election in a foreign state would lose his US nationality. Afroyim opened the way for the acceptance of dual or multiple citizenship in US law.

Not all countries allow their citizens to obtain dual citizenship.   One country that does make it easy to become a dual national is Israel. Under its “Law of Return,” every Jew has the right to come to Israel as an oleh (a Jew immigrating to Israel) and become an Israeli citizen.

The recent experience of Lenny Lapon, a Jewish American citizen from Massachusetts, shows how automatic the conferral of Israeli citizenship can be. As Lapon described it when he publically renounced that citizenship last July, his flight to Israel in October 2010 resulted in the award of Israeli citizenship and an Israeli identification number. Thus it is likely that Jewish members of Congress became Israeli citizens if and when they visited Israel. We don’t yet know if this was the case for any or all of the visiting Jewish Members. Nor do we know if any such member has renounced Israeli citizenship.

Religion and ethnicity in such a diverse country as the US raise no serious conflict issues (1) because neither of those identifications takes precedence over citizen loyalty to the US and (2) because both religion and ethnicity of Members are transparent to the public.

Why is it important for citizens to know if their representatives in Congress are dual citizens? Because both real and apparent conflicts of interest erode the public trust. If there are dual citizens in Congress or in top levels of the Executive Branch, citizens may reasonably demand that all foreign citizenship be renounced as a condition of high political office.

At the level of individual members, transparency is essential. For example, a constituent should know whether or not another state loyalty is involved when his or her representative speaks out on a major issue, such as on military assistance to Israel or recognition of Palestine as a state. Only if we know who are the dual citizens in Congress and what are their second countries, can we intelligently assess the credibility of their policy statements and actions.

Responding to the Markey staffer, we are entitled to that information.

L. Michael Hager is a retired lawyer and diplomat whose work has been published in the Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, The Hill, International Herald Tribune, London Independent, Jordan Times, and Truthout. He was the executive director of Conflict Management Group in Cambridge, MA, president of the Education For Employment Foundation in Washington, DC., and co-founder of the International Development Law Organization in Rome. He now resides inMassachusetts.

L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.

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