The alarm rings. 7 AM. The room is still dark. I inch out of bed and make a morning smoothie. I don’t know what to expect, where I’m going today.
I take the metro to the other side of the river. I know I’ve found my destination by the small gathering of Americans outside. Once we’ve introduced ourselves (and realize that the door is open), we proceeded into the building.
I look up as we enter to see three clotheslines hanging above, all draped with red and pink clothing.
“Someone likes to wear a lot of red,” I said. I’m told it has a special significance.
We sign in and enter a room with a long table, crowded with chairs. I hang up my coat and hat by the door.
The room is filled with Americans. Americans living in Paris and elsewhere who have come to learn more about the issue we all have in common.
Senator Lee and lawyer James Bopp are introduced.
Why were we here? What is so important?
You may not be familiar with the plight of the expat, but once you leave the US, you certainly start learning quickly. Did you know that if you reside outside of the US, as a citizen you still must file your tax returns? Even if you didn’t make a dime on US soil. Even if you haven’t set foot there in years. Even if you have never set foot inside the US in your life. If you are a proud holder of a US passport and citizenship – you file. Not only that, but if you earn over a certain amount you will owe taxes on it. Sure, those double taxation treaties are handy – up to a point, and that point is around $99,000. Which is about 80,000€ I believe. Less, in pounds.
Not only that, but you must declare any bank accounts that you have if you hold over $10,000 (all together) in them, plus any assets. I’m sure there’s even more to it that I can’t remember at the moment. But if you don’t file those papers, you could be in for a fine of up to 50% of the highest value in your account.
This is why were here here. Senator Lee shared his thoughts on FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) and the FBAR form (which Mr. Bopp called the FUBAR form), and how they were planning on fighting it for us. The whole thing is just plain unconstitutional. Our own government is picking on a minority of people who don’t even live in the country (so it’s hard for us to fight back, I suppose), and costing not only us but the world more money than they even stand to take in. Americans are being denied bank accounts because of what the US government is demanding from banks. Accounts are being closed. Companies are being urged not to hire Americans. Lives are being destroyed.
I know not many people in America will care, because it’s not happening to them, and perhaps you’ll think it’s in the name of security, or catching tax cheats. OK, so the government is throwing a net into the ocean with the goal of catching one kind of fish, but in that dragnet they are also dragging in many, many other species… animals that they don’t care about, and toss aside. Maybe save them, you can get a little money from them too. Doesn’t matter, we caught our fish, right? (yeah, think about that when you eat fish – it happens).
But what’s next? If they are allowed to get away with destroying the lives of thousands, if not millions, of Americans living abroad… what’s to stop them from getting greedier and applying the same measures to everyone at home? Soon they will also know about where all of your money is, and how much you have. They’ll know everything about you. Although, they probably already do…. but then add to that the cruel and unusual punishment of excessive fines and fees for not “confessing” everything they “need” to know about you.
FATCA, FBAR, and the citizenship-based income tax are all horrible, horrible consequences of being an American who chooses to live in another part of the world. Many Americans are being forced to make the difficult decision to give up their citizenship, for no other reason but that the government is not allowing them to keep what is rightfully theirs – their money, and a reasonable expectation of privacy. FATCA violates not just one of our constitutional rights, but at least 3.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The French people I have talked to about these issues think it is absolutely insane, and they can’t conceive of the notion that a government would be so invasive and greedy, to tax and fine you even if you have never set foot on their soil. Why are we OK with this?
To top it off, bills like this get passed as add-ons to other long, unrelated bills. The Senator told us one bill got passed in the following manner: 1AM on New Year’s Day he received an email with a 150 page attachment of a bill he was to vote on. While printing out page 13, 6 minutes later, they were asked to vote on it. This is how our bills get passed. They don’t even get read. Something is wrong with the way our country is run. Bills aren’t being passed to help you, or me. Our government doesn’t care about us. Last year I earned about $15,000. And if you know what rent is like these days in large cities, you know that over half of what I earned went to rent. The rest to food and debt, basically. And yet, when the accountant tallied up my tax return, I owed the government a whopping $1800. I cried. It was everything I had managed to save. Which was a step better than the year before, when I had to put about the same amount on my credit card. But even that is part of the debt I’m paying off this year. Thank you, America.
But that’s another issue. I just wanted to make you aware of FATCA, and the challenges one faces when venturing out of the US. Those thousands of people who have renounced their citizenship? You know how they’re punished for that? They get a whole month every year to visit the US. One month. Oh, even if you don’t expatriate and you simply live in another country, if you spend over 5 weeks out of the year in the US, you have to have ObamaCare. Yes, you do. Giving up your citizenship also has had a sharp rise in the actual fee, as well. Before this summer, the fee was around $450. Now it’s been raised to nearly $2350 (Forbes). If you are considered “wealthy,” there is also a hefty exit tax. So you basically have to be financially secure enough to afford the $2350 fee, but not too financially secure as to avoid the government deciding to just steal a chunk of your money on the way out. And forget about visiting family or friends for any length of time. Though your foreign spouse can spend several months in the US, if they so desire.
We can’t just sit back and allow our government to discriminate against a minority (though 6 million+ is not a small number!) of our citizens because it’s not a problem that we all face. As human beings, we have the right to live and work and enjoy the fruits of our labour, the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the right to not be punished by a government simply because you happened to have been born in a certain part of the world. Nobody can control where they’re born, any more than they can control the colour of their skin, or their sexual orientation (I know we debate that one, stick with me). So why do we allow this? Why do we allow our government to punish people simply because they happened to be born in a place other than where they want to live? You may not believe in God, but I do, and I believe as human beings, we have no borders. Nationalities are just ideas in the minds of men, and we subscribe to it because we were told we had to. There is no America, no France, no Mexico, no Canada. There’s earth. There are people. I don’t belong to a land mass with an invisible (or barbed) fence around it. Nobody has the right to know where my money is, how much I have, what I spend it on, who I talk to, what I’m doing…. anything. And anybody who wants those rights does not have my best interest at heart.
The government does not see us as people, as individuals. Simply other fish caught in the net. We are little ATMs, little money-making machines that they can use and discard. Because they don’t care if we can pay our rent, or eat. They don’t care. And they are going to keep testing the limits, pushing the boundaries, until we say enough, and push back hard enough.
So push back with me. Stand up for our rights. If you’re an American living abroad, look up AARO (The Association of American Residents Overseas) for starters. Look up Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Write to your senators and congressmen. Vote for the ones who support the Constitution, and our rights.
Don’t wait until they come for you…
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.