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March 2000, Volume 7, Number 3

Mexico: Dual Nationality, Politics

Beginning March 20, 1998, changes in Mexico's nationality laws took effect. Henceforth, Mexican citizens who naturalize in the US or elsewhere will generally retain Mexican nationality. Mexicans who had already naturalized abroad before March 20, 1998 could re-acquire rights as Mexican nationals.

There is a five-year window for the two to three million Mexicans who had already become naturalized US citizens to reacquire Mexican nationality, which is done by paying $12 for a Declaration of Mexican Nationality and then becoming eligible for a Mexican passport, which costs $65 for five years.

Since March 1998, an average of about 1,000 Mexicans a month who are naturalized US citizens have reclaimed their Mexican nationality. After Mexico imposed a $15 tax on foreigners who traveled beyond the border area in 1999, there was a slight uptick in applications; about one million Mexicans living in the US return to Mexico each year for visits, often in December. Mexico expects more to recover their Mexican nationality as the deadline approaches.

Mexican nationals have several economic benefits over foreigners, such as the right to buy property within 100 km of the Mexican frontier and within 50 km of the Mexican coast. Mexicans with dual nationality have to relinquish their right to US diplomatic protection when they exercise this land-buying right.

Until March 1998, Mexicans who became naturalized US citizens lost their Mexican nationality. This is no longer the case: Mexican-born people as well as their children born abroad can maintain their Mexican ties if they wish.

The US government tolerates but does not encourage dual nationality. Foreigners naturalizing swear an oath prescribed by law, which includes renunciation of loyalties to "any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty," but the US government follows a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on the question of whether the new citizen keeps the passport from his original country of citizenship.

Since 1990, the US government has generally permitted American citizens who took an oath of loyalty to Mexico in order to obtain a benefit, such as a license to be a doctor or to attend a university, to keep his/her US citizenship. In order to expatriate himself, an American citizen must voluntarily commit one of seven expatriating acts listed in the US law, such as obtaining naturalization elsewhere or serving as an officer of a foreign government, and must do so with the intention of surrendering US citizenship. In case of doubt, the relevant question is: did the expatriating citizen indicate at the time of the act that he/she did not intend to relinquish citizenship?

Mexico requires its 18-year olds to swear an oath of allegiance to Mexico, after which they are issued a certificate of loyalty. This certificate is a prerequisite of certain benefits, such as a low-cost university education. Mexico sends the list of US citizens taking the Mexican oath to the US embassy in Mexico and, until 1990, the US government judged that this oath met the voluntary and intent requirements of expatriation. The US government issued such persons certificates of voluntary loss of American nationality.

Since 1990, the US has accepted affidavits signed by 18-year olds taking the Mexican oath that they were doing so only to, for example, attend a Mexican university. If the person already received a certificate, these contemporaneous records that suggest that the person did not intend to lose US citizenship can be used to reacquire US citizenship. Other countries have moved further in this direction. Since February 15, 1977, a Canadian citizen may retain Canadian citizenship when naturalizing in another country.

A new group, the International Coalition of Mexicans Abroad, met in Dallas in February 2000 to press for representation in the Mexican Congress and to develop positions on issues important to transnational migrants, including wire transfers, corrupt Mexican customs officials, the health and education of migrants and guest worker programs. Some say the impetus for the new organization was the short-lived attempt by the Mexican government in 1999 to require an $800 deposit of persons taking a vehicle into Mexico temporarily.

Perspective. Modern nationality law evolved at the beginning of the 20th century, as nation-states were created out of empires. The prevailing theory was that each person should have only one nationality so as to avoid conflicting loyalties in times of war. Many countries followed the policy that citizens who voluntarily naturalized in a foreign country automatically lost their original nationality. This meant that, for example, a woman marrying a foreigner lost her citizenship and generally became a citizen of her husband's country, a practice justified by the theory that families should be of one nationality.

The exceptions to this practice in the early 1900s included Austria, Russia and Turkey, countries which did not strip nationals who became citizens of another country of their Russian or Turkish nationality. France also adopted this policy before World War II.

Since World War II, many Western European countries have come to tolerate or embrace dual nationality, allowing for example, the children born to French women anywhere in the world to be French, even if they are also Canadian or American because of their place of birth. Under a 1964 Council of Europe convention, dual nationals are to become the responsibility of the nation-state in which they usually reside.

Eastern European countries, on the other hand, tended to see nationals who acquired foreign nationality as "traitors;" many enacted laws that called for automatic loss of citizenship by, for example, Poles who acquired another nationality. Some southeastern European states, including Turkey and Yugoslavia, do not release their citizens to naturalize in another country until they have done their military service, although Turkey allows those wishing to be released from Turkish citizenship to pay a fee of DM10,000 rather than to serve.

Dual nationality seems likely to increase in the 21st century, which will prompt the development of new rules and institutions to govern persons who owe loyalty to two or more nation states. For example, the number of Latin American countries recognizing dual nationality for their citizens who naturalized elsewhere increased from four to 10 in the 1990s, as Mexico joined countries such as Colombia and El Salvador in allowing their nationals to become naturalized US citizens and retain their original nationality.

Reactions to the rise of dual nationality can be framed by two extremes. On the one side are those who argue that dual nationality will be as common in the 21st century as the effort to avoid dual nationality was in the 20th century. On the other side are those who argue that nation-states that collect 20 to 40 percent of a society's economic output in taxes to provide for common needs and to redistribute income among their residents will try to avoid "citizens of convenience," persons who elect to become citizens of low-tax countries with protective banking laws that sell citizenships.

The usual distinction between a national and a citizen is that citizens have full political rights, including the right to vote and to hold elective office.

There is at least one "cyber-nation state"— the Kingdom of EnenKio, which claims Wake Atoll in the North Pacific. It claims to be recognized by the Central African Republic. For more information: http://www.enenkio.wakeisland.org/ />
Politics. Mexico will elect a new president on July 2, 2000. Most polls suggest PRI candidate Francisco Labastida will maintain the PRI's 70- year rule. In 1994, about 78 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

On February 6, 2000, police arrested more than 600 students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) ending a nine-month strike that began April 20, 1999 to protest the imposition of fees administrators said were needed to improve facilities for the 271,000 students— the cost of attending would have risen from $0.02 a year to $145 a year. Most of the strikers were released, the UNAM reopened in mid-February [the research institutes were never closed, only the teaching facilities]. UNAM was the site of an October 1968 massacre of 300 students by the army and authorities were reluctant to use force to end the strike.

Most students wanted to end the strike, but strikers persisted in an attempt to force a debate about Mexico's current economic policies, which strikers say benefit the few and keep most Mexicans poor.

Economy. Mexico had a $400 billion GDP in 1998, and collected taxes equivalent to 11 percent of GDP. About 30 percent of GDP is in the informal sector, such as unregistered street vendors, and difficult to tax, but an even greater loss of taxes comes from large companies that consolidate their earnings in a manner that reduces taxes. This means that much of Mexico's taxes come from a 15 percent VAT—even though the VAT exempts about half of Mexican sales, the VAT is a regressive tax.

Some 20 to 40 percent of the $41 billion in taxes collected is used to pay for what the opposition calls "past mistakes," including a $100 billion bailout of banks that lent to construction and other firms that went bankrupt in the 1995 recession.

Mexican businesses pay very high interest rates to borrow money, typically 40 percent in 2000 compared to less than 10 percent in the US. Most lenders in Latin America do not recognize common US business loan collateral such as machinery, inventory, accounts receivable and patents, so small businesses must put up their real estate, which often has little value, to secure business loans. Banks note that foreclosure to collect on bad loans is typically a multi-year affair, which makes them reluctant to lend. International Mexican businesses and maquiladoras can borrow at world or US rates, giving them advantages over local firms. Mexico's three major parties support legislation pending in the Mexican Congress to adopt US-style banking rules.

Two-way Mexico-US trade increased from $80 billion in 1994 to $200 billion in 2000. One reason is that maquiladoras, the term given to plants, often owned by foreigners and located on the US-Mexican border, that import components, assemble them into products, and export the finished products. Service maquiladoras are also expanding, doing jobs such as washing hospital linen in Mexicali for US hospitals for $0.30 a pound. There are an estimated 50,000 Mexicans employed in maquiladoras that provide such services to US firms, including call centers, and their exports were worth $1 billion in 1999.

Mexico took its census between February 8-18, 2000. Mexico's population doubled to 100 million between 1970 and 2000, and is expected to reach 130 million by 2050. Rodolfo Tuiran, head of the government's National Population Council, says that about one million Mexicans will enter the work force each year for the next 20 years, increasing the working age population from 42 million to 64 million.

Consular Rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica, issued an advisory opinion on a 6-1 vote in October 1999 that concluded that the US regularly breaches Article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations when state and local police fail to inform foreign suspects of their right to speak to a representative of their consulate at the time of their arrest. Furthermore, the court ruled 6-1 that foreigners sentenced to death in the US who were not informed of their consular rights should not be executed.

The court ruling, issued at the request of Mexico, is not binding on the US, and US police and prosecutors say that they have no way of knowing who is a foreigner and who is a US citizen when arrests are made. The Inter-American Court is a branch of the Organization of American States authorized to arbitrate issues involving 26 countries in the Americas. The 42 Mexican consulates in the US issue cards to Mexicans notifying them of their rights, including the right to contact the consulate, and warn them, in Spanish, "Do not sign any document, ESPECIALLY IF IT IS IN ENGLISH, without the advice of an attorney or your consul." For more information:
http://corteidh-oea.nu.or.cr/ci/HOME_ING.HTM />

Chris Kraul, Jose Diaz Briseno. "Latin Entrepreneurship Is Stifled by Lending Curbs," Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2000. Edward Hegstrom, "OAS court says foreign inmates denied rights," Houston Chronicle, February 17, 2000. James F. Smith, "Mexico Strike Extends Beyond Academics," Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2000.