PARIS, JULY 7 -- When American lawyer Benjamin Davis and his wife adopted a baby in Paris in January, they expected that their daughter would automatically share their nationality. But because the couple lives outside the United States, 2-year-old Anne-Laure will have to visit her grandparents in New York this summer with a French passport.
Davis, 34, spoke emotionally of his frustration over his daughter's status at the first world conference for American expatriates this week in Paris. Eleven members of Congress and representatives of the State Department came to hear Americans from around the world air long-held gripes over citizenship, taxation, voting, Medicare and education problems.
"My wife and I have made our careers in Paris. I love my job," said Davis, who works at the International Chamber of Commerce. "I do not think that reproductive luck of parents should have any bearing on our adopted daughter Anne-Laure's nationality."
The conference was a sign that Washington officials may be waking up to the concerns of the estimated 2.5 million Americans who live outside the country. A number of these Americans have begun demanding changes in outdated and arcane laws -- like the one governing adopted children abroad -- and are rallying around the slogan, "No taxation without representation."
Organizers of the conference said they received hundreds of letters from Americans with cases similar to Davis's, frustrated by the lack of response from Washington.
Andrew Sundberg, an American economist who lives in Geneva, has been trying for more than a decade to get Congress to consider a non-voting representative in the House of Representatives for American expatriates. Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.) has introduced legislation on the issue, but it has never been considered in committee. Sundberg, married to a Frenchwoman, had problems gaining American citizenship for his two daughters.
"The attitude is one of auto-xenophobia: We don't like ourselves when we move overseas," said Sundberg, noting that many Americans think of expatriates as spoiled employees of multinational corporations. "It's 95 percent ignorance and 5 percent envy, and there's nothing positive to override the envy."
Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.), who led the congressional delegation and helped organize the conference, said part of the problem is that expatriates are not in Washington to lobby for their cause, and few members of Congress spend time on the problems of individuals who are not their constituents.
Also, he said, the issues of concern are diverse and come under the jurisdiction of half a dozen congressional committees. "There is this problem of turf," said Dymally, who heads a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. "You need to bring these problems to their respective committees. I am powerless to do anything on the taxation issue."
The expatriates had several specific demands, including:
Changes in laws that make it difficult for the children of expatriates to become American. One law requires an American who is married to a foreigner to have lived in the United States for five years -- with at least two of those years after age 14 -- for his or her children to become citizens.
An increase in the tax exemption of $70,000 for income earned abroad. U.S. expatriates usually pay taxes in their host countries and claim that expatriates of other countries do not pay taxes at home.
Increased funding and support for American schools abroad.
Changes in laws that make it more difficult for Americans abroad to qualify for full Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The Americans at the conference, many of them heads of overseas organizations in the Persian Gulf, Asia and Europe, said they hoped the presence of Elizabeth Tamposi, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, meant the White House has started paying them notice. Tamposi left after speaking at the opening of the conference on Thursday, saying her priority was the physical protection of Americans overseas. She read a welcoming letter from President Bush.
At least one congressman said he thought the expatriates would have a hard time making progress in Congress. Rep. George W. Crockett Jr. (D-Mich.), whose Detroit district includes many poor neighborhoods, said his constituents would have little sympathy for expatriates' complaints.
"I think if I went back and told people that you had a tax exemption of $70,000 . . . Congress would be compelled to reduce it," he said.