Pick a Passport, Any Passport: Common Spies Hide Their Travels

Interrogations, temporary detainment or warm welcomes. Sometimes you can decide your form of reception, though it often comes down to repressing one identity in favor of another. The selective use of a passport from multiple choices, for those able to obtain more than one, may be a matter of self-identification, depending on the circumstance and the location. For many living in the era of transnational terrorism, the process of traveling has become as much a matter of security as racial profiling. In some places, they are one and the same.
As much as one may imagine that politics and travel are mutually exclusive, the reality is that the facility of travel is often a result of citizenry. Kevin Schlunegger, a second-year biology major, reserves both a Swiss and an American citizenship due to his heritage. While Schlunegger uses his American passport in the United States and Swiss passport in Europe, his associations end there.
“While I am proud of both my nationalities and of my heritage, I don’t flaunt my American nationality in Switzerland. I choose to blend in because being American has gained a particular stereotype that I don’t agree with nor wish to associate myself with,” Schlunegger said.
It is precisely this stereotype that has been developed, in part, by the treatment of foreign nationals in the U.S., particularly during the war on terror. For Persian Americans caught in between the hostilities of the American and Iranian governments, the use of an Iranian passport in American airports is a free ticket to prolonged security checks and interrogations that often result in missed flights. In Iran, presenting an American passport can result in a series of questions. Asad Bandeali, a second-year biology major, claims that his Iranian citizenship results in extra security each time he leaves the United States.
“Once they see my passport and my name, they put me through extra security,” Bandeali said.
Nima Beheshti, a second-year biology major with both an American and Iranian citizenship, distinguishes between the government regulations in both the United States and Iran from public opinion in each respective nation.
“In Iran, the people are very much into American fashion and music; I usually find that I’m asked questions like ‘did you go to a Tupac concert?'” Beheshti jokes.
In contrast, as an Iranian in the United States, he is “usually on the defensive,” marking a shift in public opinion during the war on terror.
“I’m taken to be a citizen of some rogue nation … more around Sept. 11 I found myself defending my race and religion from people who didn’t know better,” Beheshti said.
Another UC Irvine student, who wished to remain anonymous, holds both Iranian and Pakistani passports, and spoke of his brother’s advantage in having the same dual citizenship.
“When my brother had the military service imposed on him in college in Pakistan, he used his Pakistani passport to enter Iran,” the student said.
However, the student also added that his own coming-of-age has become an issue in returning to Iran.
“I personally can’t return to Iran without the permission of the Iranian embassy in order to avoid the risk of being enlisted in the military,” he said.
Acquiring another passport can depend on ethnicity, religion, place of birth and even a spouse’s nationality. In Israel, there are more restrictions after receiving citizenship than before acquiring citizenship. Citizenship is offered based on the Law of Return, which confers citizenship to Jewish individuals, while it simultaneously makes certain young individuals eligible for mandatory military service as citizens.
That leads into another advantage of multiple citizenships — hiding evidence of countries previously visited. In countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which prohibit travel to Israel, arriving with a passport that has been stamped by Israel will bar entrance into those countries.
The facility of traveling and working within the European Union without a visa makes a European passport an ideal asset. For Americans, the prospect of obtaining a European passport is particularly alluring at a time in which the American economy is lagging and unemployment runs high. Yet, obtaining a second nationality is not without consequences. While employment may be a luring advantage, it may also be negated by the fact that certain dual nationals also qualify for dual taxation in each nation. Leaving California with the intent of return, for example, does not necessarily result in a legal tax evasion. State tax is compounded on top of earnings already taxed in another nation of residence.
With the increasing popularity of multiple citizenries, it also becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint a country of origin or a definitive country to belong to. In a time of globalization and travel, it may even be unnecessary to define a home country, let alone commit to one. And in a time of political tension, taboo travel destinations and identity conflicts, it may be best to keep all options open.

Frida Alim is a second-year political science major. She can be reached at aabdelal@uci.edu.