Over the last two weeks, we’ve watched with growing horror the unfolding crisis on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Our view is that the murder of more than 1,300 Israelis, most of them civilians, by Hamas militants on October 7, is inexcusable. So was Hamas’ kidnapping of more than 200 Israelis and foreigners, transporting them back to Gaza, where they’re being held hostage.
More than two million Gaza residents are now trapped in the tiny, 140-square-mile Palestinian territory, under terrible living conditions, and with Israel preparing for a ground assault.
Understandably, most of them would like to leave Gaza to get out of harm’s way. But Israel has closed the border crossing with Gaza and imposed a naval blockade to make escape by sea virtually impossible.
The only other border crossing is with Egypt. But that border crossing is sealed as well – with two exceptions. One exception is for humanitarian aid coming into Gaza from Egypt. The other is for Gaza residents or visitors possessing a foreign (non-Palestinian) passport who want to leave.
This isn’t the first time that Israel has attacked the Gaza Strip. But again, during a 2009 incursion, Palestinians with foreign passports were allowed to depart the territory.
Historically, situations in which holding a second passport could potentially make a difference between life or death are far from uncommon.
Beginning in 1933, Nazi Germany systematically stripped millions of German Jews of their citizenship, along with persons viewed as political opponents – mainly Communists. At the time, Germany wasn’t at war with anyone. Those German Jews and political undesirables who lost citizenship were unable to obtain German passports. Unless they already had a second citizenship and passport, they were trapped in Germany. Many of them were later murdered in concentration camps.
In 1962, Syria deprived as many as 120,000 ethnic Kurds of their citizenship, as part of an effort to “Arabize” the region where they lived. And when protests against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, his regime responded by weaponizing the country’s Immigration and Passport Ministry. Political opponents were forbidden from renewing their passports.
In 1982, Myanmar enacted a law which effectively deprived citizenship to more than one million of its Rohingya ethnic and religious minority inhabitants. In 2017, the government forced most Rohingya residents out of the country in a brutal ethnic cleansing operation. It then forced those that remained to accept identity cards identifying them as foreigners, making it impossible for them to claim Myanmar citizenship.
In 2013, a court decision in the Dominican Republic effectively revoked the citizenship of at least 70,000 Haitians living in the country. Many of them had ancestors who had lived there for generations.
In 2018, India stripped more than four million people of their citizenship.
If you’re a citizen of the United States or another Western democracy, having your citizenship or passport taken from you might appear unlikely. But you shouldn’t be too complacent.
For example, in the United States, there’s a long history of the Congress or the State Department stripping citizenship or denying passports to individuals deemed to be insufficiently loyal to America:
In 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade any state or federal court from awarding US citizenship to anyone of Chinese ancestry.
From 1907 to 1931, female US citizens who married foreigners lost their citizenship.
Native Americans who occupied the territory that now constitutes the United States for thousands of years weren’t given citizenship until 1924. Indeed, race or ethnic based exclusions to citizenship didn’t end altogether until 1965.
Even those who retained US citizenship were often denied passports due to their political views. Among other prominent US citizens, the list includes entertainer Paul Robeson, author Arthur Miller, and Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling.
Under current law, the State Department can confiscate your passport, or decline to renew it, under numerous circumstances, including:
If a federal court has issued a warrant for your arrest.
If a federal or state court has ordered you not to leave the United States.
If another country has requested your extradition.
If you owe more than $2,500 in delinquent child support payments.
If you have a “seriously delinquent tax debt” amounting to $55,000 or more (adjusted annually for inflation).
But do you really need a second citizenship and passport? Clients from the US ask us that question a lot. After all, a US passport is one of the world’s best travel documents. If you live in the United States, don’t travel much internationally, and have no interest in living outside the US, it might seem you could probably do without a second passport.
Still, given the reality of history, you never know if sometime during your life, you’ll become an enemy of the state. And in that event, a second citizenship and passport could literally save your life.
The Nestmann Group has assisted hundreds of clients in obtaining second citizenships and passports. Contact us email@example.com for more information.