Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a talented Russian writer and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union’s totalitarianism. He helped raise global awareness of the Gulag forced labor camp system.
For his efforts, the Soviet government stripped him of his citizenship in 1974. It did the same – and worse – to many other people it considered internal enemies.
The Nazi government revoked German citizenship from people it deemed undesirable, like the Jews.
After Castro came to power in Cuba, his government made Cuban citizens apply for exit visas before leaving the island. It did not grant them easily.
In recent years, many of the Persian Gulf monarchies – not exactly bastions of individual liberty – have passed laws making it easier to revoke the citizenship of anyone working “against the interests” of the state or of anyone who has who failed “the duty of loyalty.”
In recent years, these Arab monarchies have used these laws to strip hundreds of people of their citizenship. Most of these people were advocates of political reform. Some even lost their citizenship because of mere social media postings.
All of these Arab monarchies are close allies of the U.S. government. Keep that in mind next time you hear a pundit or politician advocating U.S. military intervention ostensibly for the sake of protecting human rights or promoting democracy. But that’s a story for another day.
The point here is, arbitrarily revoking citizenship and forcing people to stay where they are have always been hallmarks of an authoritarian regime. When a government starts these outrageous practices, it’s usually a harbinger of things to come.
Unfortunately, these practices are becoming more common in so-called liberal democracies for increasingly trivial offenses.
Here are a few recent examples of this disturbing trend:
- Australia is set to pass the “Allegiance to Australia Bill.” It would automatically strip citizenship from people who act “inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia” and who engage in “terrorist conduct.” This would not require a court conviction. It would be an automatic administrative process.
- France recently amended its constitution to allow the government to revoke the citizenship of “a person convicted for threatening the nation’s interest or for terrorist acts.”
- Canada recently passed the controversial “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.” It grants the government sweeping new powers to strip people of their citizenship.
- According to Zero Hedge, since 2006, the British government has revoked U.K. citizenship from at least 27 people because the government deemed them “not conducive to the public good.”Civil liberties lawyers in London have accused the U.K. government of using citizenship stripping to facilitate extra judicial killings of suspected terrorists. One lawyer stated:
Our government cannot be involved in secret executions. If people are accused of wrongdoing they should be brought before a court and tried. That is what it means to live in a democracy that adheres to the rule of law.
Washington Joins the Party
Recently, President Obama signed H.R. 22 into law. It’s a seemingly routine federal highway funding law.
The mainstream media hasn’t covered it much, but it should. That’s because this law is part of a disturbing global trend: Governments are granting themselves more and more power to revoke passports and strip people of their citizenship.
Buried in its 400 pages – which I doubt many in Congress bothered to read – is a provision giving the government the power to revoke the passport of American citizens with “seriously delinquent tax debt,” which the government defines as $50,000 or more. If the government accuses you, there is no way for you to challenge it in court before you lose your right to travel. A bureaucrat can simply initiate an administrative procedure to revoke your passport.
It’s worth mentioning that “tax debt” includes taxes owed and penalties and interest. That makes it relatively easy for someone to cross the $50,000 threshold.
Not long ago, there was a scandal over the IRS targeting “Tea Party” organizations. It wasn’t the first time the government has used the IRS as a political weapon, and I doubt it will be the last. I think it’s likely that the U.S. government will use the IRS to target Americans with unpopular beliefs by restricting their right to travel in the near future.
This kind of behavior is hardly unique to the U.S. government. Looking at the historical and current examples I mentioned earlier, you can see it’s common for governments to prohibit citizens with politically unpopular views from traveling.
I don’t see anything likely to stop this trend. I only expect it to accelerate.
It’s worth mentioning that the government can restrict your right to travel for reasons other than tax debt.
In the U.S., the government can also cancel your passport if it accuses you of a felony. It doesn’t even need to convict you.
Many people think felonies only consist of major crimes like robbery and murder.
But that isn’t true.
An ever-expanding mountain of laws and regulations has criminalized even the most mundane activities. It’s not as hard to commit a felony as you might think. Many victimless “crimes” are felonies.
The bottom line is: If the U.S. government really wants to cancel your U.S. passport, it can find some technicality for doing it…for anyone.
What Happens Next and What You Can Do About It
You’ll notice that many of these new citizenship-stripping laws use vague language like “public good,” “loyalty,” “allegiance,” “extremist,” and “national interest.”
But the most ill-defined word of them all is “terrorist.” It has no fixed definition.
“Terrorist” has always been a meaningless pejorative.
In the past, it meant something like “a non-state actor who indiscriminately attacks innocent civilians for political ends” – as if wearing a government-issued costume changes the underlying morality of the act.
Now, governments are applying the label to an ever-widening group of people.
Take Bernard von NotHaus, for example. The U.S. government labeled him a “domestic terrorist” for creating a private gold/silver-backed currency. Bureaucrats in D.C. have described conservative activists and libertarians in similar terms.
Civil liberties advocates fear it’s possible for governments to construe even commonplace internet activity such as clicking “Like” on the wrong Facebook posting as “terrorist activity.”
I think politicians deliberately use imprecise language in these new citizenship-stripping laws. It gives governments almost total discretion. It lets them make up rules as they go along…and get away with it.
It’s a safe bet that politicians will use the flexible wording in these laws to stretch the net wider and wider. More and more people are will become vulnerable to governments that want to revoke their passport and citizenship.
All the government has to do is flip a bureaucratic switch and, poof, it can take your right to travel in an instant, without due process.
A second passport gives you enormous political diversification benefits. Most important, it dilutes the government’s power to effectively place you under house arrest by taking away your passport.
Obtaining a second passport is a fundamental step toward freeing yourself from absolute dependence on any one country. Once you have that freedom, it’s much harder for any government to control your destiny.
That said, obtaining a second passport is often complicated. It’s essential to have a trusted resource with reliable, easy-to-follow information. That’s where Casey Research comes in. We can show you how to get started.
You can get our comprehensive guide on how to get the best second passports by clicking here.
Nick is Doug Casey’s globetrotting companion and is the Senior Editor of Casey Research’s International Man. He writes about economics, offshore banking, second passports, value investing in crisis markets, geopolitics, and surviving a financial collapse, among other topics. He is a CFA charterholder. In short, Nick’s work helps people make the most of their personal freedom and financial opportunity around the world. To get his free video crash course, click here.