I recently turned myself into a dual citizen. I’m now a citizen both of the United States, where I was born, and of Ireland, where I have ancestors. So I have two perfectly legal passports. This was not something I’d considered doing until a few years ago.
When I was growing up, the only people who had more than one passport were spies in movies. And you knew most of those passports were fake. People were citizens of one country, and that was it. Well, that wasn’t entirely true even then, and it certainly is not true now. Indeed, ever since a 1967 United States Supreme Court decision, Americans have had the Constitutional right to hold more than one citizenship (subject to certain limitations).
Essentially, every nation reserves the right to set its own rules on citizenship. The two most common rules are jus sanguinis (your parents were citizens) and jus solis (you were born there). But the specifics vary greatly from nation to nation. Britain has six classes of citizenship. The People’s Republic of China forbids dual citizenship. Dominica allows you to become a citizen by investing $100,000 in their country. And so on.
Ireland happens to allow you to become an Irish citizen if you had a grandparent born on the island of Ireland prior to 2005. I qualified. To actually become an Irish citizen by descent, as it is usually called, I would have to file an application, pay a fee, and prove my descent to them with supporting documents.
I decided to go ahead with this after my mother died and left a small estate. I thought I’d put a few dollars into some distinctive way of honoring her. Since it was her mother who came from Ireland, this was one way to do it. I mentioned this to all my siblings and first cousins on my mother’s side, as they were also eligible, just in case any of them wanted to join me in the process. I did everything right, got proof of citizenship, and then worked through the helpful Irish consulate in Boston to get a passport.
So now I’m an American citizen, an Irish citizen, and, by virtue of my Irish citizenship, a citizen of the European Union as well. At the trivial level, I can get through more border controls with less waiting. At the routine level, I need to consider what responsibilities and benefits citizenship in two nations brings. And at the profound level, I have to consider what it means to be a good citizen of two different countries.