In the late 1930’s the United States was once again scratching away at the parchment writing out the legal parameters of the Nationality Act of 1940. The problematic parts of the legislation are certiain conditions that, if not met, a person’s citizenship “automatically expires”, with no due process.
What was going on in the country that had lawmakers going to such efforts as to write new laws? With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, its economic effects rippled throughout the world. People from other countries did not have the means to emigrate. Also, because of the restrictive immigrant laws of 1924, many immigrants had been deported. As the threat of a second World War intensified throughout Europe, refugees began to challenge America’s restrictive immigration policies, although rarely successful. The gringa wants to know the facts. Digging a little deeper is required.
By the 1930’s, the religious landscape of the nation had changed. America has been historically viewed as a nation founded by, created by and governed by Christians. By the year 1930, however, the population of Jews outnumbered the ranks of the Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined. Eastern European Judaism was the predominant Jewish culture in the U.S. They assimilated into American culture but designed community programs in order to maintain their distinctly Jewish heritage. Despite their “Americanism”, many schools and colleges blatantly discriminated against Jews. With public figures like Henry Ford openly criticizing the patriotism and character of America’s Jewish population, it’s no surprise that violence was commonly visited upon Jews during this period of U.S. history.
America was becoming infatuated with it’s own national identity. Folk culture became popularized with the Library of Congress even beginning to collect American folk songs. American intellectuals churned out thoughtful manifestos such as “I’ll Take My Stand”, by the Southern Agrarians who desired a return to the simple way of life of agriculture. In direct contrast was Lewis Mumford’s “Technics and Civilization” which was more forward focused on developing technology to advance U.S. capitalism through a new age of modernism.
Such modernist ideas were reflected in the architecture and art of the 1930’s. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York made it clear to the world that America wanted to leave behind the anorexic economy of the Great Depression and this would happen through the development of “the world of tomorrow”. This “world of tomorrow” was pictorialized in America cinema and television shows of the era. This was the birth of the superhero, like Superman and the Lone Ranger. Hollywood also played a critical role in producing forms of entertainment that also served as propaganda to lift American spirits out of the defeatist spirit of the Great Depression. This was when the world was introduced to an American original comedy genre, slapstick and screwball. The financial disaster of the Great Depression gave way to fantasy and longings for a modern, futuristic world.
The nation’s economic solution for the people’s relief from the suffering of the Great Depression was the New Deal. This was not specifically a cure, but more of a stabilizing plan. This would enable people to get their feet back under them so they could focus on what Americans do best, make money. Because social and economic salvation came through the government, American perspective toward the government began to change. Americans who previously were suspicious of too much government control and power were now more inclined to believe that the intentions of Big Brother had the citizens’ best interest at heart.
As people in the United States are looking forward, the Japanese are looking back. After years of chafing at the political insults America meted out to Japan through immigration policies, on December 29, 1934, Japan renounced the Washington Naval Treaty it had entered into with America in 1922.
Five years later, 1939, Germany invades Poland. After a year of appeasement fails, aggression by Nazi Germany begins the Second World War. September 5th of that same year, the United States declares its neutrality. The U.S. had complete confidence in its isolationist position because by that time we already had the A-bomb thanks to refugee Albert Einstein that America welcomed to its shores in 1933 as he fled from the Nazis. And thus begins a flood of European immigrants seeking to escape the horrors of war which inspired the nation, known as the great hope of the hopeless, to once again reveal its true capitalist colors and reform the nation’s immigration and citizenship policies with the 1940 Nationality Act.
Section 201 of this act declares citizenship at birth for any child born outside the U.S. of at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen. This parent must have lived within the U.S. or any of its territories for a minimum of ten years, with at least five of those years being after the age of sixteen years. In order for the child to maintain U.S. citizenship status the child must live within the U.S. or any of its territories for five years between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one years. These, of course, being the formative years of primary education and higher education. The nation wanted assurance that during those critical years the child was in the U.S. being indoctrinated with educational propaganda in the public schools in order to shape the mind of the child into a good patriot. If these residential conditions are not met, the child’s U.S. citizenship automatically expires without due process.
Section 401 contains wording that provides for the revocation of U.S. citizenship if a person votes in a political election of another country. This particular requirement created legal challenges that resulted in inconsistent action by the U.S.
In 1958, U.S. district courts ruled in Perez v. Brownell. Clement Martinez Perez was a U.S. citizen born in El Paso, Texas who traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, residing in either country for extended periods of time. At some point he voted in a Mexican election. Perez lost his U.S. citizenship based on the court’s finding that Congress can revoke citizenship regardless if the action qualifying for the loss of citizenship is intentional or unintentional. The Supreme Court upheld the decision based on the Necessary and Proper Clause of Art. 1, 8, clause 18 of the Federal Constitution which states that voting in a foreign political election means a withdrawal of U.S. citizenship. The purpose of this clause is so that the U.S. can avoid international embarrassment by Americans getting involved in foreign affairs.
Nine years later the United States reverses its position. Beys Afroyim, who arrived in the U.S. in 1912, a Polish immigrant, and was naturalized in 1926, also became an Israeli citizen in 1950. He voted in six separate Israeli elections. He applied with the U.S. Consulate in Israel for an American passport. At first he was refused based on the same legal position attached to Perez in 1958. Taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, the judge determined that Afroyim had not shown intent to lose his citizenship when he participated in Israeli elections. However, this was a direct contradiction to the published court opinion of the Perez case.
Due to the country’s special relationship with the nation of Israel, Americans can hold dual citizenship here and in Israel. That is not the case with Mexico. The gringa suspects the reasoning behind the special relationship with Israel is founded in religion and guilt.
Proof of the nation’s guilty conscience resonates in the words of President Truman after the war, “I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.” Now, if guilt is the reason for the special relationship between Israel and America, the gringa is okay with that. After all the United States should have a guilty conscience for not opening the immigration gates for the lambs who were trying to escape the slaughter.
However, if religion is the basis for this international special relationship, the gringa says, “We gots us a problem.” According to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If religion is the basis for a special relationship between the United States and Israel, resulting in laws being applied in a prejudicial fashion between Americans of different ethnicities, I believe that is some pretty clear evidence of racism as well as a violation of the spirit of the Constitution.
The gringa thinks the District Court of 1958 and the Supreme Court of 1967 has got some splainin’ to do because it seems America’s “world of tomorrow” was one of racial double standards.
Photo credit: www.designarchives.aiga.org