A xenophobic 1907 U.S. law stripped U.S. citizenship from any native-born woman who dared to marry a foreign man. Senator Al Franken (DFL-Minn.) is trying to secure an official Senate apology for the 1907 law — which likely would have affected many women in Minnesota in the early 20th century after waves of immigration to the state — since it doesn’t seem to be possible to reverse its effects posthumously for those wronged.
In the early part of the last century, during the rush of European immigration to the United States, Congress stripped citizenship from any American woman who married a foreigner. The little-known Expatriation Act of 1907 stayed on the books until 1940, so even after women won the right to vote in 1920, those who were married to a non-American could not exercise that newfound right.
Franken would like the Senate to offer, through legislation, its sympathy and regret for passing a law “incompatible with and antithetical to the core principle that all persons, regardless of gender, race, religion, or ethnicity, are created equal.”
Franken’s office first learned of this blemish in U.S. history from a constituent who was seeking posthumous citizenship for his grandmother. She lost hers when she married a Swedish man in 1914. Franken’s office couldn’t accomplish that, so is seeking an official apology as the next-best commendation.
Here is a summary of the relevant provisions from the Wikipedia page for the Expatriation Act of 1907:
Section 3 provided for loss of citizenship by American women who married foreigners. Section 4 provided for retention of American citizenship by formerly foreign women who had acquired citizenship by marriage to an American after the termination of their marriages. Women residing in the U.S. would retain their American citizenship automatically if they did not explicitly renounce; women residing abroad would have the option to retain American citizenship by registration with a U.S. consul. The aim of these provisions was to prevent cases of multiple nationality among women. Nevertheless, these resulted in significant protests by members of the women’s suffrage movement, and just two years after women gained the franchise these were repealed by the Cable Act of 1922. However, the Cable Act itself continued to provide for the loss of citizenship by American women who married “aliens ineligible to citizenship”, namely Asians.
The Supreme Court upheld these loss-of-citizenship provisions in 1915 (Mackenzie v. Hare) and said Congress could do whatever it wanted to native-born American citizens’ citizenship as long as it wasn’t arbitrary and there was a set of established rules that would result in loss of citizenship. Since the law clearly said that marrying a foreigner resulted in a loss of citizenship for a woman, the majority opinion held that women couldn’t complain if they married a foreigner and lost their citizenship as a result because it was “voluntarily entered into, with notice of consequences.”
Ugh. Props to Sen. Franken for trying to make things right.