Second Citizenship as a Pathway to Ethnic Minority Status

written by A. L. Hart Havens on March 15, 2021

Anyone who has lived in the United States in recent decades should be acutely aware of the ubiquity of diversity quotas in the worlds of business, government, and academia. Decisions on whom to hire, accept, promote, or subsidize seemingly focus more heavily on the candidates’ race, gender, sexual orientation, and political leanings than on their relevant qualifications.

For better or worse, the principles of equity and equality of outcome have undeniably supplanted the virtue of equal opportunity in the United States, as the progressive viewpoint on this issue has been wholeheartedly embraced across the board by the country’s cultural, economic, academic, and public institutions. It has become inextricably engrained in today’s American way of life.

Rather than lamenting this egalitarian shift or seeking to weigh the merits and faults of diversity quotas from a societal or political perspective, it would be sensible to adopt a practical approach aimed at exploring actionable opportunities to legally leverage the status quo to an individual’s own advantage.

In doing so, this essay will examine the prospect of becoming a member of an ethnic minority group by way of obtaining a second citizenship.

The Problem of Vaguely-Defined Ethnic Groups

Affiliation with certain ethnic groups in the United States can undoubtedly give rise to tremendous opportunities such as preferential treatment in hiring, academic admissions and scholarships, grants, lending, and access to lucrative government contracts that are unavailable to other members of society.

In the face of this arrangement, it is only natural for people to wonder whether they are eligible to receive the benefits afforded to designated socially disadvantaged ethnic minority groups. Strangely, the very corporations, universities, and public institutions promoting diversity‑based quota systems tend to be very heavy on rhetoric but light on detail, especially when it comes to explaining the eligibility rules.

When determining eligibility for lucrative government contracts earmarked for minority‑owned businesses, for example, the US government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) states the following.

If an individual is a member of a group designated by SBA as socially disadvantaged [i.e., Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans (including American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts and Native Hawaiians), Asian Pacific Americans, and Subcontinent Asian Americans], there is a rebuttable presumption that the individual is socially disadvantaged.

Instead of debating whether the SBA’s policy is fair or morally justified, the following sections will explore the prospect of qualifying as an African‑American or Hispanic American by virtue of acquiring the citizenship of an African or Spanish‑speaking country.

African-Americans

Examining the above excerpt from the Small Business Administration, the idea of claiming Black American ethnicity simply by virtue of having acquired an African passport seems fairly far‑fetched, especially in view of the US Census Bureau’s definition of a Black or African American as a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.

Because an individual’s innate and inalterable racial characteristics are viewed (by the US government) as the primary determinant of African‑American ethnicity, the possession of an African passport would ostensibly be of very little value in staking a claim to African‑American ethnicity, except potentially in otherwise borderline cases.

The notion of a Caucasian African‑American gained nationwide attention in 2004 after Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of then‑presidential candidate John Kerry, proclaimed to be an African American, an assertion that she based on her childhood upbringing in the African colony of Portuguese Mozambique. Although technically both African and American, her self‑styled African (pause) American persona was widely viewed as an egregious exercise of bad taste.

In assessing whether the acquisition of an African citizenship can lead to recognition as an African‑American, it is interesting to note that, in a twist, recognition as an African‑American can actually lead to the acquisition of an African citizenship, as a number of African countries offer African heritage programs featuring streamlined residency and citizenship options for African‑Americans and other African diaspora.

Hispanic Americans

While governmental, academic, business, and other institutions in the United States overwhelmingly classify African‑Americans as a racial group, it may come as a surprise that quite the opposite is true for Hispanics. In fact, the US Census Bureau defines Hispanic as…

a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving in the United States. People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race.

With innate racial characteristics as a non‑factor, an individual of any physical appearance, skin color, or perceived racial affiliation could potentially qualify as Hispanic (or Latino) under this definition.

Now, it is unclear how exactly how the awkwardly worded condition of before arriving in the United States is or could be applied, but it would certainly seem to exclude US citizens who acquire a Latin American or Spanish citizenship while already living (or having lived) in the United States. But what about a native‑born Canadian who establishes Hispanic origin by acquiring Columbian nationality before moving to the United States?

Additionally, the children and grandchildren of a naturalized Honduran, Nicaraguan, or Guatemalan citizen could legitimately claim that their Hispanic origin is based on both nationality and family lineage. This is a particularly interesting consideration for expats and digital nomads whose children are born outside of the United States.

It may strike many people as peculiar that the definitions of Hispanic used in the United States typically include European Spanish heritage but exclude Brazilian and Portuguese heritage. Consequently, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was born into a Portuguese family in Africa, would not qualify as either African‑American or Hispanic American.

It is conceivable that many HR departments, admissions offices, and government agencies are afforded ample discretion to bend the rules, invent their own rules on the fly, and make judgement calls which contradict their very own written definitions and policies. With this in mind, the Small Business Administration’s guidelines on addressing cases of disputed Hispanic identity provide some indication of how the decision‑making process could actually work in practice.

If the individual claiming social disadvantage is a member of a designated group, does his or her last name appear to be consistent with the designated group? For example, if the individual’s last name is “Smith” and he or she is claiming to be a Hispanic American, further clarification or proof of heritage may be required.

Although there is no way of really knowing exactly what constitutes proof of heritage, it stands to reason that a legally held Peruvian, Chilean, or Ecuadorian passport would be a useful document to have available in the event that the applicant’s Hispanic heritage is challenged or called into question. The applicant could present this passport in combination with his corresponding Hispanic‑country birth certificate, as Latin American countries often issue national birth certificates to newly naturalized citizens.

Adopting a Realistic Approach and Playing by the Established Rules

In view of the above considerations, it would be wise to remain cognizant of the fact that there are no guarantees when it comes to dealing with government institutions or corporations in any country. It is therefore best to avoid getting caught up in overanalyzing the fine print and ill‑defined terms.

Rather than attempting to ascertain with absolute certainty whether the aforementioned strategy of achieving ethnic Hispanic status will work, a more reasonable approach would be to appreciate this option as one of many potentially valuable perks of second citizenship that could prove to be useful at some point.

Finally, there are certainly people who would patently label this essay as an open invitation to engage in dishonest or fraudulent conduct. In pre‑empting such ill‑conceived claims, it should be emphasized that the legal utilization of an ineptly designed system to an individual’s own advantage does not constitute fraud. The accusation is tantamount to conflating tax evasion and legal tax avoidance.

If the institutions granting diversity‑based benefits feel that their programs are susceptible to being taken advantage of by people whom they do not deem to be genuinely Hispanic, then it is surely incumbent upon these institutions to be more forthcoming by clearly and thoroughly defining what qualifies as Hispanic. Until that happens, people should feel at liberty to use their own personal judgement and moral compass when applying for such benefits as long as they do so in an honest and truthful manner.