It broke Ruth Freeborn’s heart to give up her U.S. citizenship that fateful day last year. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma native, though, it was either that, or her family. Ruth’s Canadian husband of 33 years, who earns all of the middle-class family’s income, “simply could not go along with this situation,” she explained. “To find myself suddenly not able to live, bank, save or to keep peace in my marriage while being American at the same time was shocking at first and deeply disturbing to me.”
Ruth wrote “what must have been” hundreds of letters to U.S. senators and officials, clinging to the hope that something — anything — could be done to stop what felt like a nightmare. Even as she protested, federal bureaucrats claimed that what was happening to her, and millions of other innocent Americans overseas, was somehow a “myth.” She knew it wasn’t a myth — after all, she was living it.
More than three decades ago, Ruth moved to Canada with her husband to help care for his parents, who were elderly and ill. Then the young couple had a son who was born with multiple disabilities and illnesses, making a move back to the United States all but impossible. All those years, though, Ruth went out of her way at every opportunity to show her community what it meant to be an American — doing volunteer work, helping out neighbors, making sure school children could learn in the best possible environment.
“At every turn I made sure to mention to others that the reason I did so much volunteer work was that I was raised to be this sort of person in the United States by my American family,” Ruth told The New American.
Then, in 2010, Congress passed and Obama signed a new tax law buried deep inside an unrelated “jobs” bill. That changed everything. Of course, even before that, it was already hard enough to be American overseas — filing endless amounts of paperwork with the IRS, paying taxes on worldwide income, disclosing foreign bank accounts and assets, and risking life-destroying penalties even for innocent mistakes. When the 2010 scheme became law, though, it was simply too much to bear.
Suddenly, Ruth, like millions of other everyday Americans overseas — missionaries, spouses, teachers, small-business owners, so-called accidental Americans who’ve never even stepped foot on U.S. soil, and countless others — were stuck in a Catch-22. Foreign banks were shutting down Americans’ accounts. Many businesses no longer wanted anything to do with “U.S. persons,” preferring to steer clear of the infamous IRS. Americans abroad were suddenly pariahs.
Ruth’s husband, who makes around $50,000 a year as a technician, drew the line at giving the Obama administration unfettered access to all of the family’s private financial information — and potentially even their meager savings if, for instance, the IRS claimed to uncover some minor mistake or oversight in the mountains of complex paperwork Americans abroad are forced to file every year. Moving to the United States was not an option either.
She cried a lot about it. “I’ll never be truly over the fact that I had to lose my citizenship but, it has happened,” Ruth said, adding that she is “horribly hurt” by all of it. “I still feel as if it must be some bad dream since it cannot be possible that the U.S., the country I loved with all my heart, has caused me to have to choose between my family here in Canada or my country of birth. And yet, it is real.”
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