New Trump Rule: Service Members’ Children Born Abroad Won’t Be Considered U.S. Citizens

flickr / Selbe.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services just dropped an absolute bombshell, declaring that children of government and military employees who are living abroad are not considered to be “residing in the United States” for purposes of acquiring American citizenship.

What this means is that when government or military employees are residing abroad and have a child born abroad, that child is not automatically a citizen. Just in case the dry language of the policy guidance was a bit too opaque, a USCIS spokesperson provided clarification to Task and Purpose, a military- and veteran-focused digital media company:

The policy change explains that we will not consider children who live abroad with their parents to be residing in the United States even if their parents are U.S. government employees or U.S. service members stationed outside of the United States, and as a result, these children will no longer be considered to have acquired citizenship automatically.

That’s pretty clear.

Of course, this hits service members — who cannot generally control how long they are stationed abroad or where — especially hard. Worse still, it dishonors their service. Those people that sacrifice to serve their nation now have significantly fewer citizenship rights for their children than those who do not. Common Defense, a grassroots group of military veterans and their families, said they were “speechless” at the “horrific, utterly unconstitutional attack on military families.”

Several Democratic members of Congress took to Twitter to denounce the move.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who was born in Europe while his father was stationed there, asked if Republicans would speak out against Trump and “his gross disrespect for our troops and government workers.”

“This stands as yet another attack against career civil servants, military service members, and so many other Americans who devote their lives to work overseas,” noted Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA).

“This move by the administration will make it harder for Americans serving our country overseas to have families,” Rep. Val Demmings (D-FL) said.

Ur Jaddou, the past chief counsel of USCIS under President Obama, also took USCIS to task: “This is an attack on US citizens who patriotically serve their country abroad through military or other government service by limiting their ability to automatically transfer US citizenship to their children born abroad during their service.”

Other policy changes were announced today, some of them more confusing than others, but all seem to be inevitably leading to the same place: The Trump administration is going to make it much harder for some people to become citizens.

For example, the new policy guidance offers a hypothetical of a person who automatically acquires citizenship because they are born here but then do not ever reside in the country. Under the current rules, if that person were to marry another citizen abroad, their children would have automatically acquired citizenship at birth. Now, that won’t be the case. Instead, those parents will have to apply for naturalization for that child because the parents will not have “resided” in the United States under the new policy

Under these new rules, it is not clear whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) would have automatically been a citizen. He was born abroad to a United States citizen — his mother — and a non-citizen — his father. His mother and father had been living in Canada for several years prior to Cruz’s birth and resided there for several years after. It doesn’t appear that Cruz would be a citizen, as he did not reside in the U.S. at birth. He would have had the opportunity to become a naturalized citizen, but naturalized citizens cannot run for president.

But for a special law just for children born in the Panama Canal Zone, Sen. John McCain might have faced the same problem. He was born in Panama to two citizens living there, but under the rule announced today, it appears that McCain, too, could only have been a naturalized citizen and could never have run for president.

In some supreme bit of irony, this change would not at all affect the hypothetical citizenship of President Barack Obama, as his mother gave birth to him while in the United States.

In the end, the goal here is to consistently narrow a pathway to citizenship. That’s what is happening on the immigration front, the asylum front, and now the automatic citizenship front. You can expect a lot more of this from this administration.

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