Ordinarily missed concerts are not the subject of immigration blogs. For the rapper formerly known as Mos Def, however, the situation was notable because he allegedly failed to make a Boston show for “immigration/legal” reasons- even though he is U.S. citizen. While this story has since been discredited, it serves as a valuable reminder that even people born in this country are not always guaranteed automatic entry into the U.S.
Ironically, little seems definite about why the rapper formerly known as Mos Def cancelled a scheduled concert appearance in Boston. According to the Guardian and other sources, Brooklyn-born rapper Yasiin Bey- formerly well-known as Mos Def- missed the show for “immigration/legal issues”. Though not identifying exactly why he had problems from traveling to the U.S., the article notes that the rapper now lives in South Africa. He has also been an outspoken activist against U.S. treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, and has previously had child support issues.
Then again, the Salon website and others refute stories of Mr. Bey’s “immigration/legal” troubles, and indicate he has not attempted to enter- much less been denied admission to- the U.S. It is unclear from these stories why he missed the concert.
The first lesson from this saga therefore is to be extremely careful about anything you read on the internet related to immigration. For immigration attorneys “I saw on the internet that…” is usually followed by a misstatement of the law.
At first glance, this seems to be especially true here. The obvious concern from the story is- though he lives in South Africa, if Mr. Bey was a United States citizen from birth, how could he have been barred from re-entering this country? While this point alone would seemingly invalidate any story that Mr. Bey could not return to the U.S., the answer is not as simple as it may seem at first.
In actuality, while it is unlikely that Mr. Bey would be barred from freely entering the United States, it is not impossible that a United States citizen at birth would have trouble entering this country. First, he could have relinquished his citizenship. Additionally, some United States citizens have been prevented from boarding planes to the U.S. due to the government’s controversial “no-fly” list. Finally, if he had any outstanding criminal warrants, he would not be denied admission into the United States, but could be arrested.
At the outset, it’s important to make clear that as long as Mr. Bey remains a United States citizen, he is entitled to enter this country, even if he lives abroad. Because he was born in Brooklyn, Mr. Bey would have acquired citizenship at birth. Unlike lawful permanent residency, people do not lose United States citizenship by long absences. In fact, some lawful permanent residents naturalize specifically so they can live abroad and return freely. Similarly, he cannot be denied entry into the United States because of any legal problems or statements against the government.
That being said, it is possible for United States citizens to voluntarily give up their citizenship. There a few ways in which this could happen, but it can include naturalizing in another country, if that naturalization includes a voluntary relinquishment of United States citizenship. Alternately, U.S. citizens can formally relinquish their citizenship at a consulate abroad.
The exact requirements for relinquishing U.S. citizenship are beyond the scope of this post, as they are very complicated and depend on facts specific to the case. While naturalizing in a foreign country may result in the loss of U.S. citizenship, it often will not. The point is that while Mr. Bey was born a United States citizen, he could have chosen to relinquish that status. In that case, he would have required a visa or other valid entry document to come to the United States.
Additionally, United States citizens have been put on government “no-fly” lists, prohibiting them from boarding flights to or from the United States. While not technically an immigration issue, this makes travel to and from this country exceedingly difficult.
There is no indication that Mr. Bey is on a no-fly list, and presumably his outspoken advocacy against Guantanamo would not place him on such a list. Nonetheless, this is an important reminder that even U.S. citizenship does not guarantee the ability to fly home for some.
Finally, anyone with outstanding criminal warrants- regardless of citizenship- can be arrested upon entry into the United States. The government receives lists of passengers on incoming flights, and can check those lists against criminal databases. Therefore U.S. citizens with criminal warrants may be apprehended at the border.
Again- there is no indication that Mr. Bey has any criminal warrants, and this is not technically an immigration issue. Nonetheless, criminal issues are another reason why United States citizens may not be able to freely enter the country from abroad.
Therefore, while Mr. Bey’s “immigration/legal” problems may not actually be preventing him from returning to the U.S., his story provides an important reminder that even those who are born here can have problems entering the country.
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