Mr. Tree to
Brussels, April 8, 1887. (Received April 19.)
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the reception of your unnumbered instruction of February 23, last, on the subject of passport returns.
The instruction, in all particulars, will be carefully observed by me.
While I am not able to make any suggestions as to desirable additions or alterations to the form of application, which seems to be searching enough in its allegations, yet some reflections have occurred to me on the subject of passports, as the result of my experience in the discharge of my official duties here, which I venture to state briefly, although, in doing so, I am rather expanding the terms of the invitation of the Department, in its instruction with reference to suggestions as to the form of the application.
I am satisfied that there is a great abuse of American citizenship by foreigners, and that there are very many persons—perhaps if we could get at something like the exact number we would be astounded—who become naturalized in the United States without the slightest intention of either living there or performing any of the duties of citizenship. They are persons who seek to escape the duties and responsibilities of any country, and who, while masquerading as Americans whenever it serves their purpose, do not possess the first element of the American citizen, either in love or knowledge of our institutions, and frequently not even of our language.
Their citizenship is in all, save form, a palpable fraud, not only on the United States, but on the country in which they actually dwell. It often happens in the course of my duty that such persons apply for passports because the police is annoying them, or they wish to travel in Russia, Spain, or other countries, and who admit that they have no fixed intention of ever returning to the United States. Some of these persons have lived there just long enough to get naturalized and no longer: others, although possessing naturalization certificates, I have found, on careful questioning, had never been in the United States the required five years, but had made only occasional visits there, and even then, from the first to the last visit, it covered a period of less than four years.[Page 38]
It is humiliating and degrading to American citizenship that the condition of the law is such that any large number of persons can have facilities for using its high and sacred title for the mere accomplishment of selfish and commercial purposes, or for the performance of clever tricks on other governments of which they are really citizens, but from all of the duties of which they thus escape. Citizenship of this sort is not of the slightest value to us and in my opinion the adoption of a statute which would uncitizenize every naturalized citizen who, not being in the public service, remained out of the United States for a longer period than five years, or some other period fixed by law, would be a most just and wise measure.
It is evident also that there is much abuse of the naturalization laws in the same direction, and some amendment of them by which the act of assuming American citizenship should be more solemn, and at the same time the General Government in some way be possessed of some record of the people of foreign birth who, as citizens, may claim its protection, it seems to me, would be equally judicious and wise.
I have, etc.,