Introduction – The general principles of Civil Forfeiture Reexamined
Civil forfeiture is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States and in Western democracies. In it’s simplest form, Civil Forfeiture is a process where governments seize your property without going through the judicial process. Governments love it. It’s efficient, profitable and risk free. It’s on the rise in both Canada and the United States. It has been the subject of numerous posts at the Isaac Brock Society. Certainly, FBAR penalties and other penalties for “Form Crime” are instances of civil forfeiture. I have argued that OVDP is a form of Civil Forfeiture.
Your property, your U.S. citizenship and the forcible taking of your U.S. citizenship
As I have pointed out time after time, after time ….
The Supreme Court of the United States has made it clear that those born or naturalized in the United States have a constitutional right to NOT have their citizenship “stripped from them”. I explored this in:
In Afroyim, Justice Black wrote:
Citizenship is no light trifle 268*268 to be jeopardized any moment Congress decides to do so under the name of one of its general or implied grants of power. In some instances, loss of citizenship can mean that a man is left without the protection of citizenship in any country in the world—as a man without a country. Citizenship in this Nation is a part of a co-operative affair. Its citizenry is the country and the country is its citizenry. The very nature of our free government makes it completely incongruous to have a rule of law under which a group of citizens temporarily in office can deprive another group of citizens of their citizenship.We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to, and does, protect every citizen of this Nation against a congressional forcible destruction of his citizenship, whatever his creed, color, or race. Our holding does no more than to give to this citizen that which is his own, a constitutional right to remain a citizen in a free country unless he voluntarily relinquishes that citizenship.
If U.S. citizenship belongs to the individual, and the Obama administration is forcing people to renounce their citizenship, is this not a form of “Civil Forfeiture”?
The following posts and comments bear on this question.
The “Renunciation Chronicles” – It’s not like Americans abroad have a choice
The above tweet references the following post at Keith Redmond’s Americans Expatriates Facebook group. The post reads as follows:
It is so sad and quite upsetting to receive the number of e-mails, phone calls, etc. from young adults of Americans overseas deciding to renounce their US citizenship which was transmitted to them by their American overseas parent(s). The common theme is that they do not want to be handicapped with US citizenship as they cannot live normal lives in their countries of residence. They want to be able to bank, save, invest, qualify for a loan, buy a home, et al. like others but as a US citizen outside the United States it is becoming more and more arduous Renouncing is an emotional decision and a costly process for many but they are finding it is their only option. Homeland Americans truly need to see what the US government has inflicted upon its citizens living outside the US which is resulting in a rise of animosity toward the US government. It is important to note that 8.7 million is a low-end figure of how many Americans live overseas. For many, Citizenship Based Taxation (CBT) is not sustainable with the current US government imposed policies on other countries. If you see a way where CBT is sustainable for Americans living overseas, please share your thoughts, expertise, etc.
FATCA is generating expatriates most definitely. It puts you in a place where you simply cannot do otherwise if you want to live normally at all. I think eventually there will be a lawsuit. The U.S. cannot keep putting people in this impossible position to have to give up their citizenship. It’s arm twisting and that ought to be illegal.
This whole discussion reminds me of the 2012 letter from a Canadian Businessman to his Son that appeared on this blog:
Fantastic discussion at Robert Wood’s blog – Two particularly relevant discussions with thousands of amazing comments
1. This “Letter from a Canadian Businessman To His Son” was reblogged (in edited form) at Robert Wood’s blog under the title: “Dear Son, Why You Should Leave America Now“.
2. While I’m at it, let me remind you of the letter to President
FATCA Obama from a 45 year “U.S. tax compliant American” living in the Toronto area who had made the decision to renounce U.S. citizenship. This letter with thousands of relevant comments appeared at Mr. Wood’s blog under the title of:
It is no surprise, as discussed in this post, that the fastest growing and most articulate expressions of “anti-Americanism” (verging on outright hatred) are coming from Americans abroad!
Remember this poll?
My point is a simple one:
First, the Obama administration knows full well that they are forcing Americans abroad to renounce U.S. citizenship; and
Second, they don’t care.
Renounce U.S. citizenship and rejoice. You really have no choice!
Epilogue – The Wisdom of Jackie Bugnion
U.S. citizens abroad are living under siege. A wonderful express of this comes from Jackie Bugnion in her submission to the House Ways and Means Committee on Tax Reform. She said:
In 1776, the United States declared independence because the mother country on the other side of the ocean was imposing taxes on the colonies for the benefit of England. Resentment started when Britain tried to enforce the Navigation Act after 1763. Resentment increased with the Stamp Act in 1765, a way for Britain to tax the colonies. The British Tea Act of 1773 led to the Tea Party and we all know the outcome – the American Revolution and independence crying out “no taxation without representation”.
Today, the estimated 7 million Americans resident abroad, of whom the majority are long-term overseas residents in high tax OECD countries, face a comparable situation. Their representation in Congress is non-existent in reality. Americans abroad amount to only 1 to 2% of the votes in any particular state; Congressmen and Senators have ignored their tax issues. The unjustified myth that Americans abroad are wealthy and disloyal restricts a rational approach to the problems because of political image issues.
Citizenship-based taxation (CBT) has existed ever since the federal income tax was adopted. Despite CBT being an anomaly involving double taxation, taxation of phantom gains and explicit tax code discrimination, it was grudgingly tolerated by Americans abroad because it was essentially voluntary, most often involved little tax or no U.S. tax liability and basically was not enforced. In particular, the FBAR filing requirement was so obscure that even the big four accounting firms were not aware of the filing obligation dating from 1970 and failed to inform Americans abroad of the need to file the FBAR.
Since 2001, a series of legislative events have radically changed the situation:
In 2001, the Patriot Act made anything foreign suspect, including Americans residing overseas.
In 2004, Congress, under the Jobs Act, drastically increased the FBAR civil and criminal penalties to confiscatory levels, creating a disguised form of taxation on assets held overseas.
In 2006 administration of the FBAR reports was transferred to the IRS for enforcement.
In 2006 the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act (TIPRA) extended the Bush tax cuts and included a compensatory revenue raising provision that reduced the benefit of the foreign earned income exclusion, limited the foreign housing allowance and pushed Americans overseas into higher tax brackets, thereby increasing U.S. tax liabilities for many Americans abroad.
In 2008 the law relating to renunciation of U.S. citizenship was revised under Section 877A and introduced an Exit Tax on wealthy individuals (defined as “covered”). The law also provided that Americans who inherit from estates of former “covered” U.S. citizens are subject to U.S.
inheritance tax with no exclusion. This outrageous discriminatory provision aims to discourage renunciation of citizenship, but in fact penalizes children of former U.S. citizens for an act they did not commit. In practice, it encourages the children to also renounce their U.S. citizenship.
In 2009 the IRS launched its initiative against tax evasion linked to foreign assets through the Overseas Voluntary Disclosure Programs and a threatening public relations campaign. While it justifiably targeted U.S. resident tax evaders, it simultaneously trapped Americans abroad who necessarily have foreign assets. The IRS’s one size fits all policy and bait and switch tactics led to abuses of Americans abroad which inspired sharp criticism from the National Taxpayer Advocate.
In 2010 FATCA was slipped into the HIRE bill with no debate in Congress and no cost/benefit
analysis. FATCA aims to provide the door that closes the fiscal trap by requiring foreign financial institutions to report to the IRS on assets held overseas by U.S. persons. It effectively cuts off many Americans from foreign financial institutions which find it too onerous to maintain American clients. FATCA creates a barrier to free movement of capital and people.
In 2012 S.3457 proposed to grant the IRS the authority to have a U.S. passport cancelled or not issued if the IRS determined that the individual owed $50,000 or more U.S. tax.
In 2012 the Ex-patriot Act, S.3205, proposed to deny any “covered” expatriate re-entry into the United States, with retroactive effect for ten years prior to enactment of the law. The Reed
Amendment of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act already
allows the United States to deny entry of former citizens into the United States.
In 2013, S.268 was introduced; it compounds difficulties created by FATCA.
In 2013 the Senate Finance Committee included in its tax reform recommendations a provision which would grant the IRS authority to cancel a U.S. passport for tax collection purposes.
This stream of legislation and proposals categorizes Americans abroad as suspected criminals seeking to escape U.S. taxes. Congress has outdone George III and has turned the United States into a fiscal prison, including legislation which is deemed anti-constitutional under the Fifth Amendment1 and is contrary to Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.2
The foundation of the U.S. fiscal prison is citizenship-based taxation. Americans working and living abroad carry a ball and chain of dual taxation throughout their entire lives up to and including death.
Americans abroad already pay taxes in the country where they reside and receive governmental services.
The additional U.S. tax obligation creates inevitable incompatibilities and discrimination and even requires Americans abroad to break foreign exchange control laws to pay U.S. taxes.
A revolution among long-term overseas residents is now underway. Five years ago, Americans abroad never talked about renunciation of citizenship. Today, it is a common topic in the press and among the community abroad. For more and more individuals, renunciation is the only solution to an intolerable situation created by the U.S. imposing its laws beyond its borders. The United States is literally destroying the community of Americans abroad, which plays an essential role in representing U.S. interests and goodwill overseas. The United States is shooting itself in the foot.
While the absolute number of renunciations, currently around 2,000 a year, is insignificant compared to the average annual U.S. citizenship naturalizations of 680,000, renunciations have multiplied seven times over the last four years. So far we have seen only the tip of the iceberg if CBT remains in force.
Today’s situation leads to serious hidden prejudice for the United States. U.S. exports are far below where they should to be because citizenship-based discourages U.S. companies from deploying U.S. citizens overseas to sell U.S. products; the law makes them too expensive. U.S. tax law and FATCA create insurmountable barriers for small and medium-sized companies to establish beachheads abroad to develop exports. The loss represents millions of U.S. jobs, hundreds of billions of dollars of exports, billions of dollars of U.S. tax revenue, and an unsustainable trade and budget deficit. Americans married to a foreign spouse, who represent about a third of the Americans resident abroad, now hesitate to register their children born abroad with the U.S. Embassy. The hot thing among young adults in their twenties is to renounce U.S. citizenship; they are aware of the impossible web of U.S. regulations that restrict job opportunities and personal freedom. Pushing away the young generation of Americans abroad is an immense loss to the United States. In prior generations, many highly educated multi-lingual American children returned to the United States, founded companies and created jobs in the U.S.
Adopting RBT will stop this revolution immediately. RBT law needs to be drafted in the spirit to allow free movement of individuals to leave and return to the United States, to reinforce the competitiveness of Americans and the United States overseas, to provide a simple, non-penalizing transition to RBT for the community of Americans already overseas, to ensure that Americans abroad are not subject to FATCA and FBAR, to adapt existing bilateral tax treaties and enter into new tax treaties so that withholding tax rates on U.S. source income are reasonable and to ensure that Americans abroad who have the majority of their assets in the United States (retirement funds, pension funds, real estate) are not disadvantaged under RBT with regard to either income or estate taxes.
I thank you for the opportunity to comment and hold high hopes that your bi-partisan efforts will lead to the constructive tax reform so necessary for Americans residing abroad.