IN DECEMBER, 1932, the Canadian and Northern United States newspapers devoted several columns to the plight of an Englishwoman detained with her children at the Canadian border.
She was on her way to join her husband, an American, now working in Toronto.
At the border, however, immigration authorities questioned "her right to enter the Dominion. Was her husband a naturalized British subject? They thought not. Consequently, under Canadian law she was an American and had no right of entry into Canada.
On the other hand, American authorities were not willing that she should remain in the United States. Since she was born in England and had never become a naturalized American, under United States law she was a British subject. She had no money and, rather than have her become a burden to the States, they proposed deporting her to England. Her children, on the other hand, bom in Ohio, were not admissible into the United Kingdom as British, and would have to remain behind in State orphanages.
No doubt the woman cried, but it couldn’t have helped very much. Women so often weep in the immigration offices !
Not long before, officials had to deal with a Montreal girl, married to a foreigner, not naturalized, who had gone from Canada to the United States illegally in search of work. He was facing deportation to Central Europe.
She didn’t want to go to Central Europe, yet, under the laws of Canada, she couldn’t help herself. She was no longer a Canadian but a Central European, and was forced to go with her husband to a country whose language she could not speak, whose manners and customs she did not understand, and where her husband had little prospect of being able to support her.
There wasn’t anything she could do about it, short of killing or divorcing him. There never is anything to do in these questions of wives’ nationality. Quite often women have two native lands, and just as often they have none at all. Some people say one thing of them and some another. The only people who can’t say a thing are the women themselves. It’s all settled for them.
A Citizen of Nowhere
UNDER the British Nationality Laws, a man or an unmarried woman is a British subject if he or she is born in British territory or on a British ship, is bom of British parents even on foreign soil or becomes personally naturalized, or if his or her parents become naturalized during his or her minority.
A married woman takes the nationality of her husband except in certain instances. If the husband ceases to be a British subject during marriage, the wife may retain her nationality by making a declaration to that effect. She may do so, too, with the permission of the Secretary of State, if her husband is a subject of a State at war with Great Britain and she is British bom.
If the alien husband of a British-bom woman dies or the marriage is dissolved, she may obtain a certificate of naturalization without necessarily fulfilling the residential qualifications of ordinary naturalization.
Finally, under an act passed in 1932, a married woman may retain her British natiónality if her husband’s country does not automatically bestow his nationality on her at the time of marriage (as in the case of Russia, China, the United States, France, and other countries). This act, however, is not retrospective, and has no bearing on marriages contracted before its passing.
Thirty years ago a Canadian woman married a man from California. Shortly after their marriage they agreed to separate, he returning to the States and she remaining in Canada. She owns property here, pays taxes and has brought up and educated her son, a Canadian citizen. Last summer she wanted to go to England, but couldn’t get a passport. Under Canadian law she is an American, like her husband. Under American law she is a Canadian. Neither country will sponsor her abroad and she is still in Canada.
If her husband were dead or she were divorced from him, she might take out naturalization papers and “become a Canadian.’’ She cannot do that at present, even though she has never since the day of her birth been out of Canada. The only way for her to visit her relatives in England is by obtaining entry to the United States, living there for some time, swearing allegiance to the American Constitution and so becoming an American citizen, entitled to an American passport.
Very similar is the plight of a Canadian girl happily married to an American civil servant stationed in Canada. He cannot forfeit his American citizenship without jeopardizing his livelihood. She is, therefore, under Canadian law, an American. Under American law, however, she is not an American but a Canadian, having never even lived in the United States. Consequently she is nothing at all—neither fish nor fowl, unable to travel except on her husband’s passport, unable to vote, of no more importance in Canadian affairs than infants and imbeciles!
Laws of Other Countries
I AST SUMMER this tangled question of L women’s nationality was discussed at four meetings of the League of Nations Assembly, twenty-five nations taking part in the debate. It was proposed by Colombia and Chile that any distinction between the sexes in regard to nationality laws should be abolished. No such distinction has ever existed in the Southern American Republics, and it was suggested that an international agreement on this involved question was both desirable and necessary.
Quite early in the debate it became clear that the proposal had no prospect of being adopted by the Committee. The divergence of opinion among the nations was much too great. A resolution was passed, however, urging that, among other things, the Council “should follow the development of public opinion on this important question in order to determine when such development has reached a point at which further concerted international action would be justified.”
The British laws governing nationality are fundamentally the same throughout the E^mpire. This was thought advisable, in order to maintain the status of the British subject in all countries of the world, and the British Nationality Act, was passed by the British House of Commons in 1914, in agreement with the governments of the Dominions and Colonies.
In 1918 Russia established complete equality of the sexes in matters of nationality. The United States followed in 1922, and China in 1929. With the South American Republics, these States represent nearly half the population of the world.
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In 1922 the Belgian Government, “recognizing the suffering caused during the war by the enforced alienation of native-born women” married to foreigners, gave to any woman so marrying the right to retain her own nationality if she wished. Roumania passed a similar act in 1924, and Turkey, Jugoslavia and Cuba in 1929.
In Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, France and the French colonies, a native-born woman, with certain exceptions, may keep her nationality after marriage with a foreigner, at least as long as she maintains a permanent residence in her own country.
These privileges have not yet been permanently introduced into any country in the British Empire, although for eleven months in 1918-19, following the granting of Women’s Suffrage, Canada did possess an act giving all women equal nationality rights, whether married or "femmes soles.” This act, however, was quickly repealed to bring Canada back into harmony with the laws of the rest of the Empire.
The Canadian girl who marries a foreigner whose country automatically bestows the husband’s nationality on her, is automatically disenfranchised in the Dominion. Any foreign woman marrying the Canadian girl’s brother is automatically enfranchised, even though she may be retaining at the same time her own foreign citizenship !
At the last census it was reported that there are over a quarter of a million foreignborn males over sixteen years of age in
Canada who are not naturalized. The wives of those of them who married before 1932 are either “foreign” like the men or nothing at all. The wives of those who are not yet married will, under the new regulation, either be foreign or Canadian, depending on the nationality of the man they marry. If they want to be Canadian, they must be careful not to fall in love with a man whose country bestows nationality on foreign wives.
There are twin sisters living in a Western town who were married on the same day, one of them to a Jugoslav, the other to a Swede. They are Canadian-born girls, of Canadian-born parents, but neither of the husbands is naturalized. Jugoslavia does not bestow nationality on a foreign woman marrying a national; Sweden does. Under the Canadian law, therefore, the girl with the Jugoslavic husband retains her Canadian nationality, while the girl with the Swedish husband has lost hers. One girl can vote, the other cannot. One owes allegiance to King George; the other, whatever her personal preference, to King Gustaf.
Not long ago a Dutchman living in this country and married to a Canadian woman was perplexed about his wife’s nationality and went to a lawyer to have it straightened out. The legal man took some trouble to explain to him the full splendor of the British law. In half an hour or more of learned dissertation the legal man told the Dutchman just exactly how it was. When he had finished the man got up without a word, paid his fee, moved to the door, and then turned back and shook his head.
“Devil of a mess,” the Dutchman said, “dem laws is in !”
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