No. 148.

Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Frelinghuysen .

No. 182.]

Sir: A few days since I was waited upon by one Aurelio F. Pinzon a native and resident of this country, who claimed exemption from the duties of Colombian citizenship, and asked the intervention of this legation for the enforcement of such claim, on the ground that he was a naturalized citizen of the United States. In support of this claim he produced the certificate of naturalization which I here inclose.

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In reply to my inquiries, he stated that he had lived in the United States but four years; that he had never made any previous declaration of intention; that he had never been required to prove and that tie had never proven by two of its citizens that he had resided five years at least in the United States; that immediately upon obtaining this certificate he returned to Colombia; that he had never been in the United States since, and that he had no present intention of ever returning thither for the purpose of residence. Further inquiries elicited the fact that he paid the clerk of the court a large fee for this bogus certificate, and that he was never before the judge of the court at any time or for any purpose.

I submit this as a fair sample of perhaps not less than fifty cases of like character that have come before me during my official residence abroad.

Our naturalization laws would not be objectionable if they could be honestly administered; and at the time of their adoption, more than three-quarters of a century ago, before our State judiciary had been divested of its independence, their honest administration was possible. But experience has shown how impossible this has become since the local courts, competent to grant certificates of naturalization, have been degraded by a system of State constitutional amendments and local legislation. The judge, clothed with the power to admit aliens to citizenship, ought to be independent. He should hold his position by some more certain tenure than that by election for short terms by universal suffrage. Besides, since the power of naturalization is, by our Constitution, vested in the national legislature exclusively, the power to admit to citizenship ought to be as exclusively in the national courts. This is of infinitely more practical importance than any fixed term of probationary residence, because it is of little consequence whether that term be long or short, so long as its provisions are habitually disregarded. And they will continue to be so disregarded so long as the judge having jurisdiction holds his position at the caprice of some local political caucus or faction.

The abuses of American citizenship in foreign countries are much more frequent and grave than our people at home have ever realized. It is a very common thing for natives of other countries to maintain a residence in our midst barely long enough to procure certificates of naturalization. They then return to their native country, or take up their abode in some other, with no intention of ever returning to the United States for permanent residence. In this way they enjoy exemption from the ordinary burdens of citizenship in both countries; from those in the country of their residence by reason of their naturalization papers, and from those in the country of their adopted allegiance by reason of their continuous absence. They belong to a class of persons who are the most importunate in their demands for protection by our Government, and usually the first to complain if their demands are not readily complied with. And it sometimes happens that, by misrepresentation and falsehood, they either embroil our Government in difficulty or place it in a wrong position.

I know that it is held by the Department (and justly so) that where by the laws of their native country these persons were never expatriated by being naturalized in the United States, and where they assume duties or perform acts compatible with their original allegiance and incompatible with their acquired citizenship, they must be deemed to have absolved our Government from all obligation to protect them. But this seldom happens, and for obvious reasons. By our treaties with [Page 201] most European countries, and by the laws of nearly all the Latin American States, expatriation is accomplished whenever naturalization takes place. And since the primary object of these persons is to shirk the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in both countries, they are very careful not to assume duties or perform acts that would imply a purpose to resume their former allegiance. And thus, while living beyond the reach of the authority of our Government, without ever having identified themselves with it and without ever having contributed anything to its support, they successfully invoke its power to shield them from the ordinary duties of citizenship in the country of their residence.

An effective remedy for such abuses is not possible, as I conceive, except by some well-digested scheme of Congressional legislation. There should be some explicit declaration by Congress of the conditions under which citizens of the United States—native born as well as naturalized—shall be deemed to have expatriated themselves;* and when a man in a foreign country demands protection as an American citizen he should be required to produce some better evidence of his nationality than that afforded by the certificate of a petty municipal magistrate who, although he may have common-law jurisdiction, a clerk, and a seal, holds his position by the favor of some ward politician.

Long experience in the service has impressed me with the paramount importance of both the reforms here suggested; and this conviction, supplemented by a desire to see our Government respected abroad as it deserves, is my only apology for thus intruding the subject upon you.

I have, &c.,

WILLIAM L. SCRUGGS.
  1. The act of Congress of July 27, 1868, fails to declare how or under what circumstances the “right of expatriation” may be exercised by American citizens, what is essential to its full attainment, or what shall be the evidence of its accomplishment.
  2. In Michigan, and probably in other States, county courts (since they have common law jurisdiction and a clerk and seal) have admitted aliens to citizenship, and this has been held to be in accord with our naturalization laws. (See case of Biddle v. Richards, 1 Cong. Elect. Cases, 407.)