When Marrying Foreigners Cost American Women Their Citizenship

Mae Franking, featured in the book Eurasian, married a Chinese man at a time when the Expatriation Act meant American women who wed foreigners would lose their citizenship.

Among the many dark, discriminatory chapters in American history, there was a moment in time where my marriage to Jun, a Chinese citizen, would have cost me my American citizenship. As reported by NPR:

In March of 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which decreed, among other things, that U.S. women who married non-citizens were no longer Americans. If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship.

Could you imagine the gut-wrenching choices confronting women of this era who fell in love with foreigners? They included Mae Franking (the subject of Mae Franking’s My Chinese Marriage as well as part of the book Eurasian), whose decision to follow her husband to China was clearly precipitated by the harsh and xenophobic policies of the era (a time when the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in full force). Had I met Jun during that time, would I have had the same courage and devotion to sacrifice my American citizenship in the name of love?

But here’s what’s even worse:

…none of these rules applied to American men when they chose a spouse.

“It’s as though she walks under his umbrella. He puts his arm around her and poof! she’s a citizen,” says Linda Kerber, a professor who teaches gender and legal history at the University of Iowa. “She has had the good sense to come out from these monarchies and opt for an American. She’s a sensible woman, we adore her.”

“Whereas an American-born woman who marries a foreign man, oh my goodness, she is disloyal,” Kerber said.

Doesn’t this just reek of entitlement? The idea that American women must only make themselves available to American men, while the latter are more than welcome to “shop around” internationally for their spouses.

This shameful, double standard of a policy persisted until 1940. That’s more than 30 years that American women were forced into a decision nobody should have to make – your passport or your partner.

As fortunate as I am that I was never presented with this choice, the fact that it even happened should make us pause. After all, xenophobia still remains a virulent force in our society today, from Muslim bans and Islamophobia to the continued fears about China. Once you’re willing to oppose the entry of certain foreign individuals to your country, it’s not that short a jump to the draconian Expatriation Act.

We must all remain vigilant and committed to the words of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. — that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must all remember it wasn’t that long ago that marrying foreigners cost American women their citizenship.

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10 Replies to “When Marrying Foreigners Cost American Women Their Citizenship”

  1. Yeah, unfortunately I knew of the law. Probably only applied to Asiaans, not Europeans… 🙁 majority always makes horrible rules for minority: one example not related: if in medieval times a Jew decides to become a christian, he can, no problems. However if a Christian wants to be a jew, he will get executed and killed for doing it.

  2. Unfortunately, we’re rushing backward in the United States with regard to discrimination and xenophobia. We elected a president whose first campaign issue was to promise to build a wall to keep out Mexicans whom he called rapists and criminals.

  3. This is happening today.

    The U.S. tax code treats all US persons as resident in the U.S. even if they live in another country and are married to a nonUS person. Lets’ not forget that in the U.S. tax code there are penalties for foreign assets, accounts, and pensions. So in face of this if you are married to a nonUS person then one incentive is to have separate accounts (thus financially disadvantaging a nonworking spouse). Another incentive (by the US government) is to renounce U.S. citizenship, when U.S. citizenship should be about the greatest liberty in the world.


    Any US persons overseas caught up in this must visit the message boards of The Isaac Brock Society.

  4. I think Linda Kerber needs from education herself. It was related to the anti-miscegenation laws in over 40 states. Foreign meant non-white. Even white men could not marry Asian women. Google the Page Act. No Asian woman was allowed to come into the US. So the American men wanting to marry foreign women were allowed to do so is simply not true. Both American (white) men and women could marry European (white) men and women with no problems. Why do you think until recently the Bachelorette show was white. Not much has changed since then. Many whites would like the dating shows to remain well all-white. Bit surprised that they did not have white men and women from other countries, unlike the Dating Game Show of the 1980s which even had very racist white South African women (Boers) as competitors.

    In fact, the era we are living in may be worse. At least in the 1920s non-whites were not opposed to marrying whites. Now, that is changing thanks to Donald Trump…


  5. David YOU need to educate yourself.

    The US passed the war brides act where US servicemen could bring back their wives.

    It was THE ONLY exception made to Jim Crow laws before

    Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967),

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