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Former Governor Alejandro García Padilla: Citizen of the U.S. or Spain?


Alejandro García Padilla (Popular Democratic Party), the former governor of Puerto Rico, is a U.S. citizen, as are all people born in Puerto Rico. According to recent press reports, García Padilla is now also a Spanish citizen. This raises an interesting question: Can an individual be an American citizen and a citizen of another sovereign nation?

According to the Consulate General of the United States, “While recognizing the existence of dual nationality and permitting U.S. citizens to have other nationalities, the U.S. Government does not encourage [dual citizenship] as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on a dual-national U.S. citizen may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad.”

The U.S. is clear, however, that an individual who acquires a second nationality is still beholden to the obligations of all U.S. citizens. The State Department, for example, is explicit that all U.S.-Spanish dual nationals must: (1) report world-wide income by filing an annual U.S. income tax return, regardless of whether they also pay taxes elsewhere, (2) enter the United States with a valid U.S. passport, and (3) a U.S.-Spanish dual national male must register with the U.S. Selective Service System within three months of his 18th birthday.

The requirements placed on dual citizens by the U.S. stand in contrast to the conditions associated with acquiring Spanish citizenship. Under Spanish law, a U.S. citizen seeking Spanish citizenship is required to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship. This means that in the eyes of the Spanish government, an individual who holds Spanish citizenship is not a U.S. citizen.  If the former governor were to present himself as a U.S. citizen upon visiting Spain, Spain would not see him that way.

The concerns raised by García Padilla’s situation are timely. On June 11, Puerto Ricans will vote to determine the territory’s ultimate political status and the outcome could have an impact on the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans now and in the future.

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