By: Arthur B. Dennis, MPA, MSW (email@example.com)
We understand members of the Legislature are soliciting inputs in order to consider a Bill for dual citizenship. If this is true, we advise that the solution to the realities at home and abroad requires parentage-based citizenship, not dual citizenship.
Realities at Home
The term “dual citizenship” refers to a person who holds two citizenships for two countries. The truth is, every Liberian at home holds no less than two citizenships, and every Liberian in the Diaspora holds two or more citizenships. Here are the realities.
According to history, the ancestors of every ethnic group at home (including Americo-Liberians) migrated from foreign countries and settled in Liberia.
Thus, if we trace the roots of our founding fathers, every Liberian holds dual citizenship: one citizenship by birth for Liberia and one citizenship by descent for his ancestors’ country of origins. That is the first reality.
In the second reality, more than 75% of Liberians at home live in the rural areas bordering Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. These rural citizens are sons and daughters born by two-citizenship parents from both sides of the divide.
As a result, they hold two citizenships: one for Liberia and one for countries on the other side of our borders. In the third reality, under the ECOWAS Protocol, every Liberian holds citizenship for sixteen West African countries.
In the fourth reality, there are reports that during the civil war, over 3,000 children were born in Liberia by foreign peacekeepers.
Today, these children hold citizenships for Liberia and for countries of the peace keepers.
Yet, Article 28 of the constitution provides that: “Any person born by one foreign parent and one Liberian parent, he must renounce the citizenship of his foreign parent upon reaching maturity (age 18) or he is not a Liberian citizen.”
But guess what: Dr. Amos Sawyer, who was born in a two-citizenship family, holding dual citizenship as a result, chaired the Constitution Commission that crafted the language of this provision.
However, this was the exact language used in 1864 by the Liberian Supreme Court when it ruled that the local native people should renounce their primitive lifestyle and adopt the civilized ways of life or else they would not be citizens. And truly, they were not Liberian citizens until President Arthur Barclay conferred citizenship on them in 1904.
The reality in the Diaspora is quite different. During the war, thousands of Liberians, who were born in two-citizenship families at home and elsewhere, travelled to other countries and acquired additional citizenships.
Today, these individuals, who now bear three or more citizenships, hold multiple citizenship, not dual citizenship. Therefore, other countries would make mockery of our laws if we describe three or more citizenship holders as dual citizenship holders.
Parentage-based Citizenship: A Proposal for Consideration
Most worldwide immigration laws require citizenship by birth; citizenship by descent; and citizenship by naturalization.
But in 1981, the British broke ranks and introduced the law of citizenship by parentage. Under this law, any person born by one or two British parents is a British citizen.
Under the parentage-based citizenship system, the person’s place of birth does not determine his citizenship. For example, a person born anywhere in Britain is not a British citizen, unless his father or mother or both are British citizens.
But if he were born in Britain or elsewhere by one British parent, he is a British citizen. The U. S has also adopted the parentage-based citizenship law.
Under this law, any person born overseas by an American citizen and a foreign national, he is an American citizen. The law is designed to accommodate U. S. soldiers and other Americans serving overseas.
In the case of Liberia, the only condition required for citizenship is for a person to be born by one or two Liberian parents, regardless of the place of birth.
That is, if a person were born in Liberia, he is not a citizen unless one or two parents are Liberians.
On the question of multiple citizenship, the parentage-based citizenship system does not want to know how many citizenships a person holds and how he obtains them; it only wants to know whether the person’s father or mother or both are Liberians.
And citizenship should be revoked only when a person applies in writing to abandon his Liberian identity; or when he collaborates with foreign forces and takes up arms against Liberia.
Distinguished Members of the Legislature, we have seen that Liberians, who hold two or more citizenships at home, acquired them by no fault of their own.
The same is true for those in the Diaspora. Here, citizenship is not a luxury but a necessity better life.
For example, in the United States, where more than 80% of Liberians reside, Executive Order 11935, published September 2, 1976, bans the employment of non-citizens in Federal competitive jobs.
These are high-paying jobs, and the only way a non-citizen can apply is to be a U. S. citizen. In Canada, Australia, Europe, and other places where Liberians are taking refuge, citizenship is also a necessity for better life.
And every time a Liberian acquires citizenship for a country (say, Canada) and decides to live in another country (say, America), in order to access better-paying jobs, he would be compelled by necessity to obtain citizenship for that country (America).
Now, should we deny Liberian citizenship to such a person holding three or more citizenships to pursue better life in the Diaspora? Under the parentage-based citizenship, the answer is “NO.”
If his father or mother or both are Liberians, he is still a Liberian.
Therefore, the parentage-based citizenship should be considered in order to co-exist with citizenship by naturalization so that the two can be the only means by which citizenship can be acquired in Liberia.
By so doing, Liberians holding two or more citizenships would be encouraged to maintain their Liberian identity and even pass such identity to their future generations, regardless of where they live. Thank you and we wish you well in your deliberations. THE AUTHOR.