Monday, June 12, 2017

When U.S.-born women were required to apply for citizenship

Linda in Lancaster described her mother-in-law's naturalization process.
Who knew? My interest was tweaked by a throwaway clause in a New York Review of Books article by Marcia Angell:
... until 1936 [women] could lose their citizenship if they married a foreigner ...
It probably shouldn't be a surprise that this happened under something called an Expatriation Act. Until surprisingly recently, women's U.S. citizenship was dependent on the nationality of the men they married.

NPR's Code Switch recently described some of this history:
In March of 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which decreed, among other things, that U.S. women who married non-citizens were no longer Americans. If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship.

But none of these rules applied to American men when they chose a spouse.

... [after women won the vote in 1920, Rep. John Cable from Ohio wanted to please his new potential constituents] ...The Cable Act of 1922, also known as the Married Women's Independent Nationality Act, said women kept their citizenship if they married a man who could become a citizen even if he opted not to. [Marriages to "Asian aliens" wouldn't do.] "It sounds as though the Cable Act fixed it, if they married a man eligible for citizenship," Kerber says. However, "there's a lot of fine print."

These expatriated women had to petition the government to regain their citizenship, and their husband's status still played a role in theirs: if he wasn't eligible for citizenship, she could be denied. And if she lived on foreign soil for two years, she could lose her citizenship.
Even after the Cable Act, some married women born in the United States still were expatriated. According to an article titled Genealogy Notes in a government archive, two more legal changes were required for all U.S.-born women to regain their citizen status:
... An act of 1936 provided marital expatriates—whose marriages to aliens had ended through death or divorce—with an opportunity to regain their lost citizenship by filing an application. Upon approval, women could resume citizenship simply by taking an oath of allegiance. This act required the proof of her U.S. birth or naturalization as well as proof that the marriage had ended. Women flocked to the courts to file their applications. Women involved in ongoing marriages continued to file the regular paperwork for naturalization until 1940.

The act of July 2, 1940, provided that all women who had lost citizenship by marriage could repatriate regard­ less of their marital status. They only had to take an oath of allegiance — no declaration of intention was required. But they still had to show that they had resided continuously in the United States since the date of the marriage.
If all this seems immensely convoluted, it will be no surprise to anyone who has dealt with our current immigration and naturalization processes. These too are a nearly impenetrable thicket of accreted regulations and work-arounds, often with conflicting purposes, always lurking as traps for the unwary. Nowadays, people born in the U.S. can only lose their citizenship if they intentionally renounce that birthright. But people who acquire U.S. citizenship by naturalization remain vulnerable to denaturalization for certain false statements made in the bureaucratic process or for "subversive" activities.

Recently, grandchildren of U.S. women who had lost their citizenship to expatriation during in the last century agitated for some recognition that we'd done them wrong. Senator Al Franken led the charge for an apology which passed in 2014. The United States does sometimes apologize, after the wrong doing.

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