By: Guillermo Moscoso
In his December 6 Star Readers' Viewpoint letter Frederick Berríos wondered how Juan Mari Brás was able to enter Puerto Rico after renouncing his U.S. citizenship at the U.S. embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, a few years ago. Complying with his request to be informed on this matter, the following is the answer to his query to the best of my knowledge.
When Mari Brás returned to Puerto Rico, he was still a U.S. citizen and had no problem in entering the island. This was because of the fact that his renunciation of citizenship was not effective until it was certified by the U.S. Department of State and the corresponding renunciation of nationality certificate was issued to him. He did not get said certificate until some seventeen months after renouncing his citizenship.
For those not familiar with the procedure to be followed in renouncing U.S. citizenship, the following information is given, based on the provisions of Chapter 3 of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act and 8 U.S. Code 1481, Section 149:
(1) U.S. citizenship is renounced by making a formal renunciation of nationality before a diplomatic or consular official of the U.S. in a foreign country.
(2) In case the U.S. should be in a state of war, by making in the U.S. a formal written renunciation of nationality in such form to be presented to an officer designated by the U.S. Attorney General, who shall approve such renunciation as long as it is not contrary to the interests of national defense.
In addition to the above, U.S. citizenship is lost by:
(1) Attaining naturalization in a foreign country upon a person's application, or upon application filed by a duly authorized agent, after having attained the age of 18 years old.
(2) Entering or serving in the armed forces of a foreign nation after having attained the age of 18 years old.
(3) Taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign nation after having attained the age of 18 years old.
(4) Committing an act of treason against or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against the U.S.
As can be readily seen, there are officially established ways to renounce and lose U.S. citizenship without the need of resorting to judicial action in federal courts and noisy and dramatic assemblies and demonstrations where drama and publicity are sought. So, there are no impediments for renouncing U.S. citizenship, but there are obstacles to claiming Puerto Rican citizenship and passport once U.S. citizenship is renounced and properly certified by the U.S. Department of State.
As we have seen, those who are no longer U.S. citizens, have been requesting Puerto Rico's Secretary of State to issue them a certificate of Puerto Rican citizenship and grant them the corresponding passport. Our Secretary of State, Norma Burgos, has so far rejected said request on the grounds that this is a matter under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. It is my perception that this is a correct position to take insofar as Puerto Rico continues to be an unincorporated territory of the U.S. under the U.S. Constitution's Territorial Clause and which belongs to but it is not a part of the U.S. for constitutional purposes, as has been ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I believe the above would also be the position taken by the United Nations and of all the countries which have diplomatic relations with the U.S., should the case of Puerto Rico be submitted for their evaluation.
I can't help reiterating time and again that, under the U.S. flag and U.S. citizenship, we enjoy a democratic way of life which, despite all its faults, has given us the best the world can devise. A way of life sought by millions of oppressed people in so-called sovereign and independent nations, because in it they will not only enjoy the right to free speech, freedom of worship and to think as people who are free, but will also have more work opportunities and enjoy an institutional order and a generous tolerance which are hard to find in the world today.
It is, therefore, paradoxical and ironic to see some Puerto Ricans renouncing to their U.S. citizenship and to the democratic way of life they now enjoy, while millions of people in the world long for it and even risk their lives to reach U.S. soil to achieve it.
I say all of the above with the greatest respect for the political ideals of those who renounce to their U.S. citizenship. I also say it at the risk of being continuously called by separatists a "pitiyanki," "traitor," "the Benedict Arnold of Puerto Rico," and "vende patria" (salesman of his homeland). But, I am not willing to end up in that place in hell that Dante said is reserved for those who fear expressing what they think and defending what they believe is right, realistic, intelligent and practical in an honorable, dignified and civilized way.
The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans cherish their U.S. citizenship and that for decades at the polls and at public opinion surveys (as the one held recently), Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly reject independence for the island and favor a permanent union with the United States while still cherishing their Hispanic heritage and culture.