U.S. may apologize to women who lost citizenship for love

The U.S. Senate is “pondering” a resolution offering an apology to Elsie Moren of Two Harbors and thousands of others like her, the Duluth News Tribune reports today.

Moren’s “crime”? She married a non-citizen of the United States and, because of the law at the time, she lost her citizenship. She died a non-citizen in her own country.

So what’s to ponder?

“People are shocked that the government would have taken away a native-born’s citizenship and (they don’t) realize how far the anti-immigrant sentiment went in that period,” Candice Bredbenner, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, told the paper.

Moren’s grandson, Daniel Swalm of Minneapolis, found out about the Expatriation Act when he was researching his family tree. He convinced Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, to file the resolution calling for an apology and a reinstatement of citizenship.

“These women were punished for marrying who they loved, and that’s fundamentally wrong,” Franken said.

Here’s the full resolution. You may notice what it doesn’t do:

Expressing the regret of the Senate for the passage of section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 (34 Stat. 1228) that revoked the United States citizenship of women who married foreign nationals.

Whereas throughout the history of the United States, women have made and continue to make invaluable contributions to society that strengthen the political, social, and economic fabric of the Nation and improve the lives of countless individuals;

Whereas women in the United States have been and continue to be leaders in promoting justice and equality during times of great difficulty for the Nation;

Whereas women in the United States have played a pivotal role in ensuring freedom and security in the United States;

Whereas section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 (34 Stat. 1228) left thousands of women born in the United States, such as Elsie Knutson Moren from Minnesota and Theresa Rosella Schwan from Wisconsin, stateless and without a nationality after marrying a foreign national;

Whereas section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 caused thousands of United States women, such as Lorella Martorana from Pennsylvania who lost her citizenship and was not able to vouch for her husband during his naturalization proceedings, and Lena Weide Demke from South Dakota who lost her citizenship and was almost deported during World War I, to have their loyalties questioned, face harassment, and be subject to deportation for various legal infractions;

Whereas section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 affected numerous women, such as Florence Bain Gual, a New York City school teacher whose tenure was stripped after 15 years of teaching because she married a foreign national, causing them to face difficulties providing for their families because they lost, or were not able to gain, public employment after marrying a foreign national;

Whereas section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 prevented women in the United States, such as Ethel MacKenzie from California who was unable to register to vote because she married a foreign national, from participating in the political process and casting ballots in various elections;

Whereas section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 is similar to discriminatory State laws that criminalized or nullified marriages between individuals of different races; Whereas the revocation of citizenship restricted the ability of numerous women in the United States to own houses and real estate;

Whereas an acknowledgment of the actions of the Senate that have contributed to discrimination against women will not erase the past, but will highlight the injustices of the national experience and help build a better, stronger, and more equal Nation; and

Whereas the Senate recognizes the importance of addressing the error of section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 in order to educate the public and future generations regarding the impact of this law on women and to prevent a similar law from being enacted in the future: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) acknowledges that section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907 (34 Stat. 1228) is incompatible with and antithetical to the core principle that all persons, regardless of gender, race, religion, or ethnicity, are created equal;

(2) expresses sincere sympathy and regret to the descendants of individuals whose citizenship was revoked under section 3 of the Expatriation Act of 1907, who suffered injustice, humiliation, and inequality, and who were deprived of constitutional protections accorded to all citizens of the United States; and

(3) reaffirms the commitment to preserving civil rights and constitutional protections for all people of the United States.

The Washington Post points out that this isn’t the first time the Senate has apologized to its own citizens:

In 2011, the Senate expressed regret for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which discriminated against Chinese immigrants.

In 2009, the Senate apologized for slavery and racial segregation of African Americans.

Also in 2009, the Senate apologized to Native Americans for “violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”

In 2005, the Senate apologized for lynchings and for not having outlawed them.

  • KTN

    How about revoking the law rather than merely apologizing (which is nice, but…).

    • Jack Ungerleider

      I don’t know for sure but would guess that the law has been superseded by something that revokes these provisions, since we no longer strip women of citizenship when they marry a foreign national. This resolution goes further than mere revocation of the law in apologizing for its actions.

  • MrE85

    Did the Expatriation Act of 1907 apply only to women?

    • attycats

      Yes. The Cable act of 1922, rescinded it as to women who married non-Asians (because Asians were not permitted to become citizens).. It was further amended in 1931 to permit American women married to non-citizen Asians to retain their citizenship.

      • MrE85

        Thanks. Our nation’s past is filled with stories like this they don’t include in the grade school history books.