— Citizenship Lawyer (@ExpatriationLaw) December 28, 2014
Recent discussions with a friend have me wondering whether Americans abroad are indeed the “property” of the US government. At first I considered this a bit exaggerated but am coming to appreciate that there is a great deal of truth in it. Perhaps reflecting a bit on the past might provide valuable insight on how we might approach this ongoing, changing situation. The idea that a human being could be considered “property” is initially strange to me. The only obvious parallel would be that of being a slave. In spite of growing up in a somewhat racially-tense city, I was largely unaware that the very foundation of the U.S. included slavery. I was 10 years old in 1965 when the riots in Watts occurred. Two years later, there were 159 riots during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967. The next year, following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, more riots. By then I was 13 and able to understand some of the reasons: poor schools, lack of employment, overcrowding in filthy ghettos, pollution, discrimination by police, etc. MLK described it as “humiliation for decades, for centuries.” Along with the other assassinations, Vietnam, etc, it did not yet occur to me that the problem was rooted in a very underlying hypocrisy. In spite of the U.S. being the “Land of the Free and the “American Dream” supposedly available to all, the fact was the U.S. was a place where gross abuse of human “rights” was visible in daily life as long as I had been alive.
There are some interesting CBC Radio “Massey Lectures” given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that John Richardson wrote about recently on the ADCS wordpress site. As I listened, I was struck by the fact that intellectually, it was obvious enough that “rights” had been violated in a perverse way for so long. But I was more horrified by the immorality of it. I was much too young to really appreciate what he was and am overwhelmed by his intelligence, clarity and devotion to non-violence. The issue of race in America is clearly an ethical issue, no doubt about it. One could go on and on about social, economic and other mitigating factors but at its root, the problem truly is that one group of human beings is denied the basic respect, dignity and consideration others receive due to discrimination of what they are from birth. The recent incidents in Ferguson, Cleveland and other cities show not much has changed in the last 50 years.
I was taught that America was born due to the brave actions of those who left England because of persecution due to religious beliefs; later attempts to tax the colonists who had no representation in the parliament etc. In recent years, having learned my ancestral roots, I have been proud of the fact that my family has played an integral role in that beginning. Yet at the same time, for the last three years, experience of the treatment at the hands of the US government definitely casts a different light on it. Americans abroad (and even people who are not truly “American”) are not given the same respect as those who live in the Homeland. What’s at the root of this? Does the U.S. view us as if they “own” us? Are we their property and are we not free to leave the country? We may be able to buy our way out but fundamentally, what difference is there between that and a slave from the past doing the same? In the modern world there is a tendency to minimalize emotional or mental suffering as if it is not valid since it is not as severe as say, physical torture. That may be true to a certain degree yet I fail to see how that removes the immoral forces that can be responsible for both. In fact, the only way to see it may be to draw parallels between them.
The reality is that slavery was just as much a part of the origin of the U.S. as the more euphemistic ideals. Most of the “Founding Fathers” had slaves. The original Quakers had no qualms about it; William Penn himself owned slaves. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, all had slaves. Though each did begin to change over time, the most basic right, to be treated with dignity as a human being, was denied to those who lived on their land, served them in their homes, etc. The U.S. was a nation based on slavery due to economic need and immoral racial discrimination. Plantation masters “owned” people as if they were property, something to barter, sell, used to populate workers (so as not to have to buy from the international trade, etc.). Ironically, during the Revolutionary War, the British Army recruited rebel slaves to fight and granted them freedom after the war. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was passed by a vote of 48-7 a mere 17 years after the beginning of the Revolution. The Act guaranteed the right of the slaveholder to recover an escaped slave. The South began to develop the perception that Northern States aided slaves and it became a major justification for secession of the Confederate States before the Civil War began in 1861.
Consider the plight of Oney (Ona) Judge Staines. She was “owned” by Martha Washington and escaped in 1796. She married a “free-black” man and had 3 daughters in New Hampshire. Yet, had someone turned her in, she, as well as her family could have been seized and returned to Washington as she literally was part of “the inheritance” of her mistress’ heirs. White abolitionists, free-born blacks, former slaves whether escaped or manumitted and Native Americans came together to set up the “Underground Railroad.” Canada was “Heaven” and the “Promised Land.” The Ohio River, the dividing line between slave and non-slave states, was called “the River Jordan.” The number who escaped is disputed but by 1850 some 100,000 had made their way to freedom. The US census claimed only 6,000 were gone.
The very long process of changing began and continues to this day. Over 200 years later, we still see this depraved treatment of our fellow human beings. It is reflected in the news, books, and movies such as 12 Years a Slave, Selma etc.
Which human rights then, were denied the slaves?
- They could be whipped, branded, raped, imprisoned without trial, and hanged
- The right to be with their families
- The right to move freely, even off the plantation where they lived and worked
- The right to be paid well enough to save for the well-being of themselves and their families when they could no longer work
- No right to representation in the Congress (even later enumerated as only 3/5 of a person)
- unreasonable searches and seizure of property
- no access to the rule of law
- no access to legal representation or use the courts
- make contracts, or own any property
- denied the right to assemble
- denied the right to have guns (under Jim Crow laws)
- right to own property without proof one was “free”
- requirement to have papers to reflect status
- They primarily could not escape their fate due to what they were from birth
It doesn’t require much to know that what is listed above is quite simply, immoral. Would granting the slaves the exact same “rights” have made them equal? Would that have righted the wrong? How long does it take for people to change?
All of the above are things we’ve been taught to think are our “birthrights” because we were Americans. Some of the things listed above do not apply but it is interesting to see some of the ones that do:
- The Reed Amendment & the proposed ExPatriotAct would deny ex-citizens the right to be with families whether for enjoyment, to care for in illness, death, etc. Some believe this is what we deserve and should be punished for
- The same would deny expats mobility if not within the US, connections to flights, etc.
- The same right to save without penalty for retiring that other Americans enjoy ( It is apparently too difficult to see the “sameness” between an RRSP and an IRA; a TFSA and a Roth IRA so the solution is to make it “equal” i.e., no RRSPs, no TFSAs, no foreign mutual funds, RDSPs, RESPs since Homelanders cannot have them)
- No meaningful, realistic right to representation in Congress
- Demands to financial information assuming criminal behaviour; 8938?
- Assembling in front of a consulate or Embassy to protest?
- NICs list would prevent an expat from having a gun (unwanted but similar nonetheless)
- Must have a CLN to prove one is “free”
- Cannot enter the US without a US passport which creates condition of “using” citizenhip benefit and thus nullifying acts of loss of citizenship and attempted re-imposition of tax status (with a lot of help from the compliance community)
- And finally and most importantly, this is our fate because of our birth
Is there really much difference between the Founding Fathers using slaves for the economic advantage and the US suddenly applying tax law and reporting requirements because of the deficit? Is it reasonable of the US to claim that their treatment of expats is equal to Homelanders, that we are not being discriminated against? Is the Exit Tax and 877 and 877A not somewhat equivalent to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793? FATCA and/or the Whistleblower Act a different consequence than what would have happened to Oney Judge Staines if someone had turned her in? How about the denial of the US government as to the actual number of relinquishments/renunciations and the same with regard to the number of escaped slaves prior to 1865? The mocking tone of those on online forums acting as if losing us doesn’t matter since so many are clambering to get in? And in a positive sense, in the same way different types of people who were anti-slavery came together and formed the Underground Railroad to help those in need, we have border babies, accidentals, duals/former duals and family members coming together at Brock and Sandbox to find a way to help those affected “escape?”
My favorite parallel of all:
While the economic impact was minuscule, the psychological effect on the slaveholders was immense, led to the Civil War and finally, the 13th amendment, passed on Dec 6, 1865.
It seems uncanny:
- the number of us leaving will not have a huge financial effect on the U.S.
- in spite of the abuse given on the forums, it is clear that it does bother the US establishment that this is happening; (the IRS has made changes for the better in the last 3 yrs; others like Shumer want to hit us harder; DS has raised the fee etc)
- at present it does feel like a sort of war what with the ADCS-ADSC Challenge, the Human Rights Complaint and inside the US, the FATCA lawsuit and the Florida/Texas Bankers Appeal
- The only thing yet to become clear is when US legislation will happen to right this situation
Writing this and accepting the fact that the U.S. does indeed consider us as nothing more than property, takes the drama out of feeling angry and all of that. This recognition actually does give me hope that something eventually will lead to a change in American law so this will be resolved. Just like the slaves and the very slow road to equality being experienced by African-Americans, someday we may find a shift in the attitudes and laws and this will end.
But what do you think?