Japan Times Community Page on issues of dual citizenship: “Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy”


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Hi Blog. Thoughtful letter on a serious issue in the Japan Times Community Page again this week (Tuesday’s paper is always worth the cover price). Speaking of identity and possibilities of a “Rainbow Society” (which has become a discussion on issues of being “haafu” in Japan in the Comments Section of a recent blog post), one essential issue is the acknowledgement of “doubles” in terms of legal status: Dual Nationality. Excerpting from this week’s Hotline to Nagatacho. Arudou Debito


The Japan Times Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010
Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy

…What does Japan gain by, in effect, rejecting my children and thousands of other young dual citizens living in Japan and around the world, at the very moment when they come of age and are at last able to become productive members of society?

Best as I can figure, the only virtue of the “one citizenship fits all” rule is simplicity.

What does Japan lose by rejecting dual citizenship?

My daughters, for one thing (and that’s a big loss; I know, I know: oyabaka), along with many other repudiated young people whose capacity and willingness to contribute their talents, creativity, fluency in English and other languages, international experience, energy and human and financial capital to Japan as full-fledged members of society are suppressed, or snuffed out altogether, by continuing a short-sighted, anachronistic policy.

In an era of increasing global competition, a shrinking, aging and insular Japan needs all hands on deck. Japan should be actively recruiting these talented young people to come to Japan and lay down roots, not turning them away.

Some may contend that my daughters and others like them are still free to come to Japan as foreigners, procure visas and remain for as long as they like (or at least as long as they have a visa-qualifying job). But that’s a far cry from “being Japanese.”

It’s not just about avoiding the legal limits on what foreigners may do and how long they may stay in Japan. Citizens are more likely to be motivated to make the sacrifices, and take the risks necessary to improve society, such as through public service and entrepreneurial activity. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has often said, in a different context, that “no one in the history of the world has ever washed a rented car.” The same holds true here. Japan cannot repossess the title to the car — citizenship — from some of its people and fairly expect that those same people will still care enough to do what it takes to keep the car — Japan — in good working order or, better yet, to add some chrome and polish.

It is a well-known secret that the Japanese government does not actively enforce the citizenship selection rule. I was even told once — by a Japanese government official no less — that my kids should simply hold on to their Japanese passports after they reach 22 and renew them when they expire, without ever making an affirmative citizenship selection. Many people do just this. It’s the dual citizenship equivalent of the U.S. armed forces’ fading “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

This is a very Japanese approach, but it’s not a solution. It places all “shadow” dual citizens at risk of losing their Japanese nationality any time the Japanese government decides to change its current policy of benign neglect, or if a dual citizen trips up by presenting the wrong passport to the wrong immigration official at the wrong time. Long-term planning and commitment are impossible under these circumstances.

But, more importantly, this “winks and nods” policy of lax or non-enforcement sends precisely the wrong message. Instead of laying out the welcome mat, these young people are told to sneak in through the back door (and hope it’s not locked). Many won’t even try.

One wonders if the existing policy of denying permanent dual citizenship to people who possessed the status as children is motivated by a concern that altering it would lead to dual citizenship demands by others, such as ethnic Korean residents of Japan or Brazilians of Japanese descent. Rather than risk facing such demands, government officials might have concluded that it is “better to leave well enough alone.” However, allowing people who already have Japanese citizenship to keep it will not inevitably lead to more far-reaching changes to Japan’s Nationality Law.

Given its dire demographic outlook, perhaps Japan should open a dialogue on radical changes to its Nationality Law, such as a U.S.-style “birthright” giving citizenship to all people born on Japanese soil, an Israeli-style “Law of Return” allowing the ingathering of all ethnic Japanese everywhere in their ancestral homeland, or an Irish-style “Grandparent Rule” granting citizenship to anyone who can document having one Japanese grandparent. But even if Japan is not willing to open its door that widely, it should at least stop slamming the door on some of its own citizens shortly after they reach adulthood…

Full article at

31 comments on “Japan Times Community Page on issues of dual citizenship: “Japan loses, rest of the world gains from ‘one citizenship fits all’ policy”

  • What I want to know is, even if you have both passports:

    -What happens when you leave japan to to your home country and vice versa? Don’t they HAVE to stamp one of those?? I don’t see how you could get past those dudes without them knowing -.-

    — Stamp the Japanese one when leaving Japan, stamp the non-Japanese one when entering other country of citizenship. Reverse process when returning. Plenty of people I’ve heard do it that way.

  • “Given its dire demographic outlook, perhaps Japan should open a dialogue on radical changes to its Nationality Law, such as (…) an Israeli-style “Law of Return” allowing the ingathering of all ethnic Japanese everywhere in their ancestral homeland, or an Irish-style “Grandparent Rule” granting citizenship to anyone who can document having one Japanese grandparent.”


    Give out citizenship based on bloodline, race, and lineage.

    Gee, sounds so progressive.

    What year is this again? 1937?

  • Japanese citizens with dual citizenship would have an advantage.
    They would be better off than “normal Japanese”.
    They would be more “mobile” than others who only have Japanese citizenship. In a situation of crisis they might not stick to Japan, if they have other opportunities abroad, and their “other passport” do help them, in order to move out. A second passport is an additional “qualification” in the global market, and for that reason, the opposite of becoming committed to only one country. Japanese citizenship is a quasi-mystic thing…You must change your passport, and you must change your name,…This is like when joining a religious order…Dual citizenship would mean TWO NAMES, in many cases, and that would not be acceptable. In my opinion, the first step to be taken, if desirable, is to change the policy of requiring renaming a naturalized Japanese.

    If someone could answer that:
    How many “official names” would have those who are dual citizens (Under 22 y.o.) ? Do they have an English family name in their US passport and a “katakana or Kanji” name in their Japanese one ?

    — Yes. My daughters have different names in their US and Japanese passports. They have middle names in English but not in Japanese.

  • Completely agree the current policy is illogical. Lots of Japanese citizens take additional citizenships and no enforcement is taken against them even when it is obvious at immigration that they hold more than one passport, so the system is very unfair.

    I could understand if there was a list of countries that were considered incompatible with also holding Japanese citizenship such as North Korean or some Middle Eastern Theocracy, but aside from these undemocractic and/or enemy countries, it seems that Japan is out of step with most of the rest of the western world in not allowing dual citizens, especially where those individuals are already Japanese citizens in the first place.

    On the subject of Zainichi Koreas and indeed others who have been born and raised firmly within the Japanese culture, what on earth can be the reason for withholding citizenship. Surely the government should be falling over itself to assimilate these people as they are highly unlikely to cause any of the problems the government puts forward as excuses for restricting immigration.

  • Re keeping two (or more) passports, one being Japanese… Debito-san wrote “Stamp the Japanese one when leaving Japan, stamp the non-Japanese one when entering other country of citizenship. Reverse process when returning. Plenty of people I’ve heard do it that way.”
    I might be misunderstanding this whole process, but let me ask:

    If you leave, say, NRT and have your J passport stamped when leaving Japan, but then use your other, non-J passport, to enter your original Homeland, and then also when leaving your Homeland you stamp your other non-J passport, doesn’t that mean that in the end you only have stamps for “left NRT” & “returned to NRT” in your J passport?
    While your other passport carries stamps of entering/leaving the other country.
    Don’t the officials in Japan get suspicious if you every vacation/every year travel to your Homeland (they can see that from your customs report or your tickets) and your J passport never gets stamped over there? Sorry if I’m slow to understand the whole thing, maybe my question makes no sense, after all. If it were that easy as described, I’d “naturalize” ASAP and keep my other passport too 🙂

  • on subject of passport names in addition to adding middle names its also poss to have a completely different surname on the foreign passport for some countries(e.g. uk etc)

  • Ooops, I think I did misunderstand 🙁
    I should rephrase my question — so, if on the way back from your Homeland, you stamp the Japanese passport, not the non-J one; but in that case every time you go to your other country, your J passport will only have “left the Homeland” stamp in it, but never “entered the Homeland” stamp in there — again, this can be noticed by an official. If they are suspicious of your keeping both passports (which will be easily suspicious just by noticing our/my phenotype, if nothing else), aren’t you in trouble then?

  • I am curious about that, too, Netko. I have a teenage son and I hope he can keep both his Japanese and American passports.

    — He can.

  • Sigh…I lost my Japanese passport when I turned the age of majority (20 years ago). My father, being the stand up Japanese guy that he is, promptly gave up my passport when the word came down. I was young, ignorant and without a care in the world at the time. I am now living here in Japan with permanent residency but feel like I am being jipped as I was originally a Japanese citizen…sigh.

    Debito, has there been any rumblings of late from the J government about reinstating dual citizenship officially? I recall there were some politicians that were/are pushing for this.

    — There were, but I haven’t heard. But then again, I’m not that far in the loop…

  • @Netko – As soon as the Japanese immigration officer opens your passport, if there is no stamp showing which country you left, it is immediately obvious that you’re playing the double-passport switching-game (because you didn’t just enter the plane mid-flight from a U.F.O.)

    The folks recommending this technique are merely hoping that the immigration officer won’t or can’t do anything about it. It seems that currently MOST immigration officers are letting it slide MOST of the time.

    But someday, you might find yourself up against a nasty immigration officer (whether it be in Japan, in America, or wherever) that says, “No, I don’t tolerate that, entry denied.” or even worse, “No, that’s illegal for folks over a certain age, step right this way into the airport immigration jail, you are going to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

    I don’t think this has happened to many people, or even any people (just like the ARC carry-or-prison threat), but there might have been some quiet prosecutions that simply weren’t reported in the media.

    So, let’s not pretend that there are no risks involved in the double-passport switching-game.

  • @Netko, That`s exactly what we do with my daughter`s passport. Stamp the J-one when we leave Japan, stamp the Canadian one when we enter Canada. It`s when we have to transfer in the US that we have confusion. So far, no problems on either END (Japan or Canada). The US transit however….that’s another story. I wish they would have dual citizenship it would definitely ease some tensions in our family over which one to choose when my daughter gets older.
    BTW, my daughters name is exactly the same in her Japanese and Canadian passports – middle name and all.

  • @Laura – “The US transit however…that’s another story.” Would you mind sharing more about any trouble/problems/stress/warnings/threats issued from the US immigration officers when they saw your daughter’s passport?

  • “…So, let’s not pretend that there are no risks involved in the double-passport switching-game…”

    “…where there is a will there is a way..” (Bob Marley)

    If you want to go to your homeland, do not worry…Just do this:

    Stamp the Japanese one when leaving Japan, stamp the Japanese one when entering country B, stop over (Let us say, in the EU) stamp the non-Japanese one when entering other country of citizenship.
    Reverse process when returning.
    In this way you will have your Japanese passport with leaving and entering stamps…
    By the way…If there are questions asked in the Jpn. immigration, you can say that your family is now in country B.

  • I know a lot of people with dual nationality. Although a lot of people without dual nationality speculate on immigration officials getting confused, no one I know has ever had any problems doing this, including at Japanese immigration.

    Immigration officers see evidence of Japanese having dual nationality many times a day, they don’t have time or inclination to investigate these further. Importantly, it is not the job of Japanese immigration officers to enforce dual nationality rules. The idea that they are going to take any action at all is just scaremongering.

    I would be interested if there is actually any Japanese government department tasked with enforcing such rules, not least as I don’t see how they would do that.

    The difficulty of not following these rules would probably come up if you got into trouble in some way, in which case a Japanese government minister who is aware of dual nationality in contravention of the rules may use the rules to cut you lose and refuse consular assistance or prevent you re-entering Japan.
    As I understand it, Debito did not give up his US citizenship due to any pressure from Japan, but rather a dodgy diplomat at the US embassy tried to use the issue as leverage for some reason.

    — Correct. I never experienced any pressure from the Japan side. Only the US, but that was abnormal politics.

  • One thought – not sure if anyone can see a flaw in my thinking, but if you are worried about causing problems regarding dual passports, why not only use your Japanese passport for all travel? My understanding, and we put this part to the test with our own kid, is that you enter your other home country on your Japanese passport – they will give you a tourist visa or something, but this is meaningless as you are a citizen of that country. When you leave, many countries don’t even stamp your passport, so in that case you can use either passport. If they do stamp and your visa is still valid, simply give them your Japanese one again. If you visa has expired, either just show your NJ passport or show both and explain you want the stamps in your Japanese one. What do people think?

    — Not sure that’s the cure-all strategy. Because, for example, the US requires all American citizens to enter the US on their American passport. I know this because last time I went to the US (through LAX last autumn), they asked my place of birth (the US) and why I wasn’t using my US passport (gave it up through naturalization requirements elsewhere). The officer said I must produce my US passport to enter the US, and I repeated what I just said. Took a few minutes and him ducking behind to talk to his supervisor, but I was let through.

  • OG Steve/Laura —

    Thanks a lot!

    I had a problem with the logic behind using two (or more) passports, obviously.
    Thanks for providing your examples/opinions.

    AFAIK, re keeping your old passport there’s no penalty proscribed, nothing’s on the books about that even (yet), but I understand that these rules may change quickly and without notice.
    For now, the law just says one needs to put efforts into ridding him/herself of the old passport/citizenship, but nothing says what happens if you “fail” to do so even years after you’ve got your Japanese citizenship. That’s how I interpreted the whole thing.

    But, then again, I simply don’t know how one could explain to the immigration why there are no stamps in the J passports from one’s Homeland year after year after year, if asked.

    Finally, it looks like you could keep your old citizenship even if you don’t renew your passport. I could just keep it “inactive,” not asking for re-issuance of a new non-J passport, but never actually ask to be removed from my Homeland’s citizen registry.

    My homeland recognizes dual/multiple citizenship, so even if I entered it with a J passport, that still wouldn’t mean to them that I’m not their citizen anymore. As long as I have a citizen ID over there OR my birth certificate (in which my citizenship is noted), that’s valid over there. If I moved back there someday, then I could have my non-J passport reissued and travel with it; using my J passport just to leave/enter Japan and my homeland or only one other country each time I leave Japan. I should be ashamed, I guess! This sounds like a criminal mind at work! 😉
    This is really some difficult issue… I plan to stay in Japan, with my J spouse, for 2-3 more decades. However, we think of spending our old days, retirement, in a less hectic and more affordable place, in my Homeland. Laws that restrict immigration over there would make it really difficult for us to move (back) there if both of us were foreigners. So, while I’d like to be a more active/equal member of the J society during the next 20-something yrs living here, at the same time I don’t want to be a foreigner and difficulties upon return to my Homeland where I have some land and an apartment to live in. I know, many of us have similar ‘problems’
    Thanks for letting me share this much here, and sorry for the long and too personal writing.

  • I’ve also wondered how dual citizens (adults) of US and Japan have managed to get away with this at immigration. It just sounds to me that people simply are ‘getting away with it’, and as OG Steve says, someone is going to get caught one day.

    The only country I know where you don’t show your passport when entering is Hong Kong (OK, not strictly a country, but for immigration purposes, those from the Mainland are treated as foreigners), although this only applies to permanent residents and the ‘locals’. Permanent residents are treated in exactly the same way as locals, as far as I know. If a Japanese passport holder has HK PR, then you just won’t have any stamp on your passport and you can tell the Narita officials if they become suspicious. And it’s well known that HK allows its citizens to have all sorts of passports. The locals can have two – HKSAR and BNO passports – in addition to others they may have accumulated, like US, AUS and UK.

  • @Shinrin – Love the Bob Marley philosophy. Confused about the suggested technique.

    Are you suggesting to, for example, fly from Japan to Germany using the Japanese passport, land in Germany using the Japanese passport, then fly from Germany to America using the American passport, land in America using the American passport?

    Well, that’s a little more creative than the “mid-flight” switching, but still the potential problem remains: when you try to leave Germany with your blank American passport, the German immigration officer can say, “So, where is your ‘Entered Germany’ stamp? How are you magically in Germany with an American passport with no record of having entered Germany at all? Did you beam down into Germany from a U.F.O.? Obviously you’re trying to play the passport-switching game. Security!”

    Your idea does have one good point, at least instead of allowing the US immigration folks to see the switching, you only allow the German immigration folks to see the switching. That is relatively safer. Still, there is no guarantee that the German immigration folks will let this slide.

  • Deepspacebeans says:

    @OG The problem wouldn’t have to do with any kind of “passport switching game” in this instance, as Germany does not care that you have a dual citizenship with a country which doesn’t permit them (that is Japan’s problem, not theirs).

    The main problem here would be that the tourist visa which gives you the legal right to be in the country is on the other visa. Not having an entry stamp could make it seem like you have possibly entered the country illegally. After explaining the situation (that you entered on another visa), they might just suggest you leave on the same visa for the sake of consistency.

  • @Everyone

    If you are a US citizen who is entering the US, it is safer for you to NOT answer ANY questions asked by the immigration officer.

    Naively answering their questions (including seemingly innocent ones like “Were you away for business or pleasure?”) can land you in prison!

    Surprisingly, the safest thing to do is to calmly repeat, “I am an American Citizen, may I enter my country now?” as many times as needed.

    (It sometimes takes 3 hours, but eventually a high ranking immigration officer will come and admit that yes, since you are a US citizen, you have the right the enter your country without answering any questions.)

    You might think 3 hours of saying the same sentence over and over again is a waste of time, but that’s much less time than being jailed and sent before a judge by a mistaken-or-malicious immigration officer.)

    Paul Karl Lukacs explains:

    “1. A U.S. Citizen Cannot Be Denied Re-Entry To Her Own Country.
    A federal judge in Puerto Rico – a territory sensitive to the rights and privileges of its residents’ U.S. citizenship — said it best: “The only absolute and unqualified right of citizenship is to residence within the territorial boundaries of the United States; a citizen cannot be either deported or denied reentry.” U.S. v. Valentine, 288 F. Supp. 957, 980 (D.P.R. 1968). So, while some commenters worried – or advocated – that a citizen who refused to answer CBP questions would be denied re-entry to the United States, the U.S. government does not have the power to prevent a citizen’s re-entry.

    2. (The Right To) Silence Is Golden.
    This is principally about the right to silence. Customs and Border Protection officers are law enforcement, who can detain you, arrest you and testify against you in criminal court. You place yourself in jeopardy every time you speak to them about anything. CBP officers are not your friends. CBP officers treat returning U.S. citizens as potential criminal defendants. You should likewise treat them as if they were corrupt cops on a power trip, targeting you to goose their arrest statistics. The best way to protect yourself against their depredations is to refuse to speak to them or to answer their questions.

    3. Any Misstatement To A Federal Officer Can Result In Your Arrest.
    If a federal officer claims you lied to him, you can be arrested and charged with the crime of making false statements. You do not have to make the statements under oath (which would be the different charge of perjury). This statute – which is referred to as Section 1001 and which can be read here in all its prolix glory http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/1001.html — is the reason why Martha Stewart has a Bureau of Prisons number http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=NameSearch&needingMoreList=false&FirstName=Martha&Middle=&LastName=Stewart&Race=U&Sex=U&Age=&x=81&y=23 . The only way to immunize yourself against a false statements charge is to refuse to speak to federal officers. “Wait,” you ask, “what about telling the truth?” Doesn’t work. If, in the course of your conversation, you mis-remember something or speak inarticulately, you can now be arrested. Innocent mistake? Prove it in court after being jailed, charged, tried and paying for a lawyer. Cardinal Richelieu is alleged to have said, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” That’s also how the false statement charge works. Any cop or prosecutor can concoct a “lie” from your statements. The only way to protect yourself from a false statement charge is to refuse to speak to federal law enforcement officers.

    4. “Business or Pleasure?” Is A Trap.
    Which brings us to the reason why, contrary to the belief of many commenters, the seemingly innocuous CBP question of whether your international trip was for business or pleasure is a trap. You say “business” (because you were at a conference) but the stamps in your passport indicate that you’re returning from a tourist destination like Bali. Now the officer can argue that you have made a false statement, have engaged in an attempt to claim improper business deductions under the Internal Revenue Code and have broken any other federal criminal law — there are more than 10,000 — which he can mold around the circumstances. You and your traveling companion say “pleasure” but you’re returning from Antwerp, a city known for its diamond trade not its nightlife. Liars and smugglers! And, with two people involved, the feds can levy conspiracy and aiding and abetting charges. [Clarification: I’m not saying these charges would stick. I’m saying they can be concocted because of purported inconsistencies in your story. My point is that the officer acting in bad faith wouldn’t have that ammunition if you invoked your right to silence.] Answering the question also immediately opens you up to more questions, which can lead to more chances for the feds to claim that you said something suspicious, inconsistent or false. (In addition, and this is very much a lawyer’s objection, the question requests a legal conclusion. I have no idea how many federal laws create a distinction between business and pleasure travel or what standards are used. It’s not my call.)

    5. Politeness Would Make No Difference.
    Many of the commenters took issue with my rude tone toward the CBP officers http://nomadlaw.com/2010/04/i-am-detained-by-feds-for-not-answering-questions/ . This criticism is profoundly misguided. To the authoritarian mind, there are only two responses to a demand: submission or defiance, and anything less than total submission is defiance. A Lutheran grandmother from Savannah with manners from an antebellum finishing school would be hassled if she refused to answer CBP’s questions. Answering with a tart “None of your business” underscores that I will not be pushed around and – potentially important from a criminal procedure perspective – is an unambiguous statement that I am not waiving any rights. It is a line in the linoleum. Further, why is politeness a one-way street? Many commenters relayed stories about rude, abusive, mean and intrusive CBP officers. The entire cop ethos is based on intimidation and domination. We should be able to give the officers a little of their own medicine, and, if they’re as tough as they claim, they can take it.

    6. There Is A Profound Difference Between A U.S. Citizen Entering a Foreign Country and a U.S. Citizen Re-Entering Her Own Country.
    Multiple commenters confuse or conflate the distinction between a U.S. citizen entering a foreign country (where she can be refused entry for any reason or no reason) and a U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. (where she cannot, as noted in Item No. 1, be denied entrance). These are completely different situations with almost no overlap in terms of governing law, procedures, rights, anything. That being said – and this is a point several commenters made – entering the U.S. is a cruder experience than entering most other countries. Although I enter China multiple times a year, I have never been asked a question by an immigration or customs officer. When I have entered Thailand without a visa, the officer’s questions have been limited to the duration of my visit (to make sure I am within the Kingdom’s visa waiver rules). Once, a German immigration officer wanted to know my plans, and that interview was polite and three questions long. And, in my reading of travel blogs, the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are the three countries consistently mentioned for their overreaching border officers. Even adjusting for the fact that a citizen has more interactions with the officers of his own country (and therefore more likely to have a bad encounter), U.S. border officers have a needlessly hostile view of the citizens who, on paper, they serve.

    7. “Just Doing My Job” Is Bunk.
    Many of the commenters are obviously CBP officers or shills – the repeated references to how CBP officers are underpaid is a tell – and they chant the mantra that the officers on the desks are front-line personnel merely carrying out policy. I will resist the temptation to pull a Godwin and will merely respond, I don’t care. When a person accepts and keeps a job which involves pressuring and tricking citizens into waiving their rights of privacy and silence (while refusing to admit that the citizens possess those rights), the person has to deal with attitude on the incredibly rare occasion when someone exercises their rights. You made your choice, officers. Don’t whine when someone points out the legally and morally dubious nature of the job you voluntarily accepted, remain at and could quit at any time.

    8. The Other People In Line.
    This is a bright red herring. To the extent any immigration or customs line is being slowed down by a citizen refusing to answer questions, it’s because the CBP officer refuses to accept the fact that the citizen is lawfully exercising her rights (as several commenters noted). As a practical matter, there’s almost no hold up. When a citizen refuses to answer questions at the first CBP kiosk, she is ordered to secondary within a minute or two. The wait is less than it might be if a returning citizen submitted to questioning or had a complicated, multi-national family situation. In addition, living in a free country means that sometimes you are inconvenienced by others’ assertions of their rights. On occasion, you have to see advertisements for products you think are disgusting, have your morning commute hampered by a strike, or have to drive half a mile out of your way because of the GLBT parade. Perhaps I or a like-minded person made your stay in the airport four minutes longer. You’ll live.

    9. Small, Successful Battles Can Prevent Large, Losing Battles.
    When it comes to rights, you don’t know in advance what battle will be important. But you do know, based on history and human nature, that a right undefended will shrivel and die. If you don’t fight for the small right, you won’t be in a position to assert the large right. Moreover, the existence of the right of privacy is usually based on whether people have a current expectation of privacy in a certain situation. To the extent that people decline to assert their right of privacy, it slips away. Lack of vigilance by citizens begets more government power.

    10. Travelers Who Have Presented Proof of U.S. Citizenship Should Not Be Detained For Refusing To Answer Questions.
    That’s what this is all about. Once a traveler has provided bona fide proof of U.S. citizenship, he or she is entitled to re-enter the country. CBP should not be asking questions as a matter of course, and, if citizens assert the right to silence, CBP should not be detaining them.


    OG Steve summary:

    No matter who is trying to force you to ANSWER QUESTIONS,
    whether it be a police officer or an immigration officer,
    just show your I.D. then calmly ask, “Am I free to go now?”, repeat. 🙂

  • Extra note:

    “CBP Officers Have Acknowledged The Right of U.S. Citizens To Remain Silent.
    At the end of my silent entry into the United States, a CBP officer — who was the oldest and seemingly most educated and experienced of the CBP officers — said, “Just inspect his bags. He has a right to remain silent.”

    Another CBP officer admitted as much: “Once someone proves they are a USC, all we can do is inspect their bags/conveyance, and absent anything derogatory being found, we cant force them to answer questions.” http://forums.delphiforums.com/customsinspect/messages?msg=10790.3

    Another CBP officer in the same thread discussed the refusal to answer the question “Did you pack your bags yourself?”:

    “In baggage, him refusing to answer whether or not he packed the bags or if everything in that bag is his could have some legal implications. Lets say you open the bag and find dope but you never got a verbal declaration that those were his bags. Be aware that something like could get your case tossed by the USA.”

    The questions CBP asks are not innocuous. They are designed to trick citizens into making incriminatory statements. If someone were to sneak prohibited material into your baggage, and you verbally admitted that you packed the bag, you are now in a world of hurt. If you had said nothing, you would have preserved a potential defense.

    Silence is the best protection when dealing with CBP.”

    And don’t worry even if one of immigration officers try to threaten you with the possibility of a cavity search:

    “The cavity searches that people love to joke about may only be conducted by CBP with reasonable and particularized suspicion that the traveler has swallowed contraband http://supreme.justia.com/us/473/531/case.html . It wouldn’t be reasonable to order such a search solely because a traveler refused to answer questions, and a CBP officer who so ordered would be exposing himself and the agency to monetary liability.”

    CBP loves to talk about citizens “cooperating” — a term which means “waive your rights.” CBP brochures and websites describe CBP’s broad search powers and cite to statutes and regulations promulgated incident to that search authority, but none of these rules repeal — or could repeal — a returning citizen’s constitutional right to silence.”


    So, even if they try to scare you with threats of arrest and/or cavity searches, it’s all a big bluff, they can’t arrest you for being silent, they can’t assault you for being silent, and they can’t refuse you entry for being silent.

    Simply repeat the magic mantra until an intelligent law-abiding immigration officer arrives on the scene and lets you into your own country. 🙂

  • —-Surprisingly, the safest thing to do is to calmly repeat, “I am an American Citizen, may I enter my country now?” as many times as needed.—-

    Usually I’m too tired and in a hurry to catch another flight to play games with U.S. immigration officers. (I travel at least twice a year back to the States.) I’m often asked how long I have been living in Japan and what do and after answering I am either waved through with a bored look or asked who I like Japan.

    —-You might think 3 hours of saying the same sentence over and over again is a waste of time, but that’s much less time than being jailed and sent before a judge by a mistaken-or-malicious immigration officer.—

    I would say the odds of my getting tied up in an immigration stranglehold would be much greater if refused answer a few questions as opposed to running across a malicious immigration officer who decides for whatever reason to ruin my trip.

  • Well, yes, agreeing to WAIVE your RIGHT to remain SILENT (when questioned by immigration, and/or police), in return for the POSSIBILITY of being allowed to get to your destination quickly, is what MOST trusting people do.

    But the “immigration stranglehold” you are worried about only can take a few hours AT MOST in the secondary questioning room (3 to 4 hours is the MOST they can detain you for silence).

    And the gamble you’re taking by agreeing to testify about your complex life story to any authority who asks for it can land you in a “jail stranglehold” if you say something that can be used against you (and intelligent lawyers remind us again and again: ANY thing you say can eventually be used against you if you are unlucky.)

    You’ve agreed to waive your right to silence in the past, and that has bestowed upon you the privilege of having been “waved through with a bored look” in the past… that doesn’t mean you will continue to be so lucky.

    Not testifying = 3 hour delay possibility, zero possibility of jail.

    Testifying = the possibility (however slight) of a 3 DAY delay sitting in a CBP cell waiting for your court date to clear up the CBP officer’s misunderstanding.

  • @OG Steve

    Sorry but I don’t share your paranoia. Serious hassles are FAR more likely to occur by refusing to answer and then suddenly finding myself escorted to some side room and interrogated by the supervisor! You’ve got to be kidding. No thanks. I’ll take the 15-30 sec. to go along with the program so I can catch my connecting flight.

  • Right on, I understand and respect your decision.

    You simply agree to immigration officers’ questioning, that’s your choice.

    Now, how about when it comes to Japanese Police Officers’ questioning?

    Do you agree to answer all their questions, and if so, how about their subsequent requests to check your bags, to empty your pockets, and if it’s a Saturday night in Roppongi to collect your urine? http://www.debito.org/?p=3709 http://www.debito.org/?p=3730

    I’m not being sarcastic or argumentative, I’m seriously curious about how far will you “go along with the program” with the hope of saving time?

    And I’m not just asking you Ken, I wonder how far everyone here currently is willing to submit to requests from authorities?

    Where exactly, in concrete terms, do readers here draw the line?

    I think Mark in Yayoi summed it up well here:

    And Alex summed up the safest TIME-SAVING technique here:

    At what point do you decide to say, “Look, authorities, you have the RIGHT to ASK people questions, and you have the RIGHT to ASK people to submit to warrant-less property-searches and warrant-less urine-checks, but we people ALSO have the RIGHT to ignore the questioning and/or ASK the most important question, “Am I free to go?”

    Forgive me for having been so wordy on this issue, I’m seriously just trying to keep innocent people out of jail and/or prison.

    And please don’t claim that remaining quiet will increase ones chance of being put in jail and/or prison, because that is simply NOT the case.

    Everyone here has read time and time again of people being injustly jailed and even injustly imprisoned because they trustingly waived their rights by speaking.

    No-one I know has ever read about people being jailed or imprisoned for silence, and if you have ever read about such a case please post a link.

    OK, since I’ve already taken up a lot of space on this thread, and I’ve shared so much already, I’ll step off the soap box now and let others share their thoughts. 🙂

  • Hi Steve. My experience with “Europa” is like that. They will not bother about these issues. If you are living the country, that is it.
    When people leave a country of the EU, even without visa, that is OK. Besides, what would be the point in trying to “deport” someone with a ticket to country C and a passport of the country of destination ?

  • OG steve,

    Good write up, and agreed with most of you say, but Ive found cooperation is the best way to deal with any gov. type. On the other hand I know what your saying is probably true. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse, so you got to know when to be quiet. Ive often wondered what they do with that stuff like the crap I bought down in Guam, large bottles of shampoos etc for the wife. They confiscated it, then never reimburse you for it. I thought that was bullshit. What they do with all that? My stash was over the limit, so they took it. That in effect is stealing. They didnt buy it, I did, but I just gave it over to them. Im sure they give out to their friends or use it themselves. Not one to make a scene, I gave it up, but it pissed me off.

    — Just to give yourself some satisfaction, make sure you dink it first next time. 🙂

  • @OG Steve –

    Sorry to reply so late. My troubles with US Customs & Immigration honestly seems to stem from what to classify my daughter as. As a Canadian Citizen, we are processed (as I was told this year) just like US Citizens. However, last year I tried to use her Canadian passport to transit via the US and the Customs officer basically ripped me a new one. As she had left Japan on her Japanese passport, it was registered (?) on the flight manifest (her J passport#). As I was trying to have her enter on a different passport, I was trying to commit some sort of crime (fraud? False identity?). I dunno.

    When I went through this time I tried to cover all my bases and even got the baby a ESTA form all filled out. The officer this time told me that I didn`t have to do any of that, the Canadian passport would have been just fine and everything the officer had said last year was, well, BS. So I`m honestly at a loss. I don`t hate America but I sure hate flying there!

  • @OG Steve

    —I’m not being sarcastic or argumentative, I’m seriously curious about how far will you “go along with the program” with the hope of saving time?—

    I don’t think asking how long I’ve been in Japan and I do here constitutes a slippery by any stretch and I am much more concerned with baggage theft/lost luggage than I am with an immigration officer getting all Gestapo on me.

    [tangent deleted]

  • OK Ken 🙂 the main point was simply to inform everyone that we have the choice.

    The response I was hoping to hear was, “Wow, the immigration officers never informed us that we have the right to remain silent.”

    “I didn’t realize that U.S. Citizens CAN NOT be barred entry into the U.S., regardless of our level of cooperation.”

    “So you’re saying (with links to prove it) that the absolute worst immigration officers can do to non-cooperative U.S. citizens is: check our bags extra-thoroughly and bark at us for a few-hours? No chance of entry denial? No chance of jail? Wow, that’s a relief!”

    “Thanks for finding and sharing that useful information Steve!”

    OK, I really really promise to shut up now. 🙂

    — Thanks for finding and sharing that useful information Steve!

  • Mattholomew III, Esquire says:

    Great stuff Steve. Last time I went through immigration returning to the U.S. from South Korea I was interrogated by some jerk immigration officer for almost five minutes. He asked questions in a circular manner, returning to subjects but phrasing the questions slightly differently trying to get me to give a different answer. I was nearly delirious from the jet lag and raging angry by the end of it, but kept my cool because I just wanted to get home. Next time I’ll be more prepared.


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