What follows is a commentary on Virginia La Torre Jeker’s interview of ex-IRS Willard (Bill) Yates, recently retired from the Office of Associate Chief Counsel (International), If You Go, You Can’t Come Back. The Reed/Schumer Follies-Past And Proposed Anti-Expat Legislation: Interview With Bill Yates, Former IRS Attorney (International). Yates explains why US has never enforced the exile provision of the Reed Amendment.
It is said that you can tell a lot about a person by what he finds funny. Inside the IRS, they laugh at laws that intend to penalize people through taxation and exile for exercising their fundamental right to expatriate. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states (Articles 13.2; 15) :
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. … Everyone has the right to a nationality. …. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
Congress has passed tax laws aimed at attracting foreign capital: non-resident aliens may invest in the US exempt from interest income tax and capital gains. Therefore, some billionaires have taken advantage of this huge loophole by expatriating to gain tax-free income on their US-based investments. Congress therefore passed the Reed Amendment (1996) to close this loophole. It would penalize the renunciant of US citizenship with permanent exile and ten years of further taxation. Neither penalty is in conformity with fundamental human rights, and this law, and the proposed “Ex Patriot Act” of Charles Schumer, shred the dignity of thousands of alleged US citizens who dare not renounce their US citizenship, lest they be cut off from their loved ones in the US.
I have talked to a few US expats whose only reason for not renouncing US citizenship is that they still have close family members, usually parents, children and/or grandchildren, who are living in the US, and these beleaguered expats do not wish to risk permanent exile from the US. This effectively prevents them from exercising their fundamental right to change their nationality. In the age of NSA and FATCA, many Canadians, for example, would gladly expatriate, if they could, to protect themselves from having their banks reveal their accounts to the IRS, thus exposing them to extortionate FBAR fines, to rights violating extraterritorial taxation, to gouging cross-border tax specialists, and to friendly cross-border lawyers that are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. But the act of expatriating in many cases could potentially expose them to the bill of attainder called the Reed Amendment.
Now Bill Yates explains why the Reed Amendment has never been enforced. We had reason to suspect this, but we never knew why until now. The reason is that Section 6103 of the IRS code prevents the IRS from revealing tax information to other agencies of the US government, including Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which would enforce the Reed Amendment on any renunciant, whose loss of citizenship was motivated by the desire to avoid US taxation. Yates says that INS would have to detain renunciant entering the US and insist that the renunciant waive his 6103 rights so that the INS could obtain the private letter ruling (which determines if the person’s expatriation was to avoid taxes) from the IRS. If the renunciant refused, INS would send him off packing. However, this procedure never came to fruition only because the INS failed to finalize the regulations.
Yates uses the imaginary example of “AC”=”accidental citizen”, who was born in the US but lived from childhood in UK. AC had never paid US taxes and one day his tax account (another wolf in sheep’s clothing), hears that AC is a US citizen. The accountant then informs AC that he should be filing and paying US taxes along with his UK taxes. It is a very realistic story, and likely based on real-life examples. It shows that the IRS intentionally makes life hell for accidental Americans. It exposes the evil inside the IRS. It is a must read for people who wish to understand the mentality of career bureaucrats. Obviously, they have no concern for fundamental human rights. They only care about whether the bureaucracy has the ability to implement a law, once passed. A law is good or bad based on the ease implementation. If it is unworkable, Yates finds it funny, no matter how much misery it could cause. Yates only laughs because the other laws prevented him from implementing the full provisions of the Reed Amendment. Yet he is proud of his authoring of 877a which implements the current exit tax on expatriates, another major obstacle on the path to exercising one’s fundamental right to change one’s nationality.
Now please consider how much misery permanent exile could cause. I am an ex-American. Imagine that an INS agent in Toronto invoked the Reed Amendment when I joined in the search for my missing father last July. Luckily, there is no procedure for enforcing the Reed Amendment, and the border guard let me pass. Had INS barred me from entering the US, I would have felt regret to the end of my days–and that would be in addition to the great grief of losing a loved one.
Clearly, exile is punishment and the Reed Amendment is punishment via Congress made laws applied to single class of people–those who exercise their fundamental right to expatriate. The Constitution bans such laws by forbidding bills of attainder. This is no laughing matter.
NB: Please see Yates mysterious reference to the War of 1812. Does this indicate that Yates reads the Isaac Brock Society? If so, hi Mr. Yates! Feel free to make a comment below.