From the 2020 campaign trail to the halls of Congress, Democrats condemned a State Department policy that withholds American citizenship from some children of U.S. citizens who are born abroad.
Their reactions came after a story by The Daily Beast highlighted the damage the policy has done to the families of same-sex couples.
The policy deems children born abroad via assisted reproductive technologies as having been born “out of wedlock,” even if their parents are legally married, creating legal hurdles to obtaining birthright citizenship that threaten to keep parents permanently separated from their infant children.
On Thursday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a statement aggressively condemning the policy, which she called “unconscionable attack on American families” that “violates our Constitution.”
“Once again, the Trump Administration is demonstrating just how far they are willing to go to undermine our core values and advance their hateful agenda,” Pelosi said. “The State Department must uphold our laws, end this cruel and inhumane policy and treat every family with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”
Leading Democratic presidential candidates, too, called for the State Department to reverse the policy.
“If you are born to U.S. parents, you are entitled to U.S. citizenship, full stop,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “This is just another example of the Trump administration's shameful attacks on LGBTQ+ families.”
Posting on Facebook, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called the policy “completely outrageous.”
“The Trump administration’s bigotry seems to have no limit,” Sanders said. “When we are in the White House this kind of discrimination will have no place in our government.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who counts both the Kivitis and the Dvash-Bankses as constituents, tweeted that the policy is “a cruel attack on LGBTQ* families.”
Two same-sex couples are currently fighting the policy in federal court, with the State Department putting up a spirited defense of its interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which stipulates that all children of married U.S. citizens born abroad are entitled to birthright citizenship, with no mention of a biological relationship.
In February, a federal judge ruled that Ethan Dvash-Banks, the son of one Israeli father and one American father, was entitled to the same birthright citizenship held by his twin brother Aiden, the State Department’s imposition of a biological requirement for citizenship based on a “strained interpretation” of immigration law. On Wednesday, another judge refused a motion by the State Department to dismiss a suit filed by Allison Blixt and Stefania Zaccari on behalf of their son Lucas, whose application for a U.S. passport was refused on the grounds that he was not genetically related to Allison, a U.S. citizen, despite her name on his birth certificate and her legal marriage to his birth mother.
Although Judge Emmet Sullivan did not rule on the merits of the Zaccari-Blixt’s case, he did note that the circumstances of having two children of the same couple, one with U.S. citizenship and one without, was “outrageous.”
“The judge’s decision to hear this case is an important step forward for the Zaccari-Blixt family and all families who are currently being denied equal treatment under the law,” said Aaron C. Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality and the couple’s attorney. “The government should change its policy, and we will keep fighting until they do.”
State Department spokespersons have declined to comment on the reasons behind the policy change, saying that the department “does not comment on pending litigation.”
Democratic presidential candidates have been swift to condemn the policy.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first Democratic presidential candidate to be in a same-sex marriage himself, shared The Daily Beast’s story on Facebook, calling it “a sober reminder that we must continue to fight for equality.”
“Children born abroad to same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights, including U.S. citizenship, as children born to opposite-sex couples,” Buttigieg said, in a statement provided by his campaign. Chasten Buttigieg, the mayor’s husband and a popular figure on the campaign trail, also shared the story, adding: “We have so far to go.”
Roee Kiviti, whose two-month-old daughter Kessem has been refused a U.S. passport because she is the biological daughter of his Israeli-born American husband Adiel, had pointed to Buttigieg’s rise as evidence of the “one step forward, two steps back” nature of the LGBT equality movement.
“All of this was happening—and talk about chutzpah—as Time magazine is putting Pete Buttigieg and his husband on the cover, sending this message that married gay Americans are as American as apple pie,” Kiviti told The Daily Beast.
Other Democratic candidates have also come out firmly against the policy, calling it cruel and discriminatory.
“Senator Gillibrand is vehemently opposed to the Trump administration’s efforts to remove birthright citizenship from this child and any others simply because they are the children of gay parents,” said Meredith Kelly, Gillibrand’s communications director. “Trump’s actions here are cowardly and wrong. Kirsten has long fought for gay parents to be able to adopt and for their equal treatment under domestic law, and she would do the same as president.”
“The idea that anyone would try to take that away is unpatriotic and wrong,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) told The Daily Beast. “As a new dad and proud American, I can’t imagine the government trying to tell me that my child isn’t American... This anti-family plan serves no purpose other than cruelty.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has introduced legislation to expand access to assisted reproductive technology in the past, views holding same-sex parents to a different set of standards “wrong, plain and simple,” according to national press secretary Sabrina Singh. “Once again this administration is ignoring the rights of same-sex couples.”
Other candidates also tied in the department’s fight to restrict access to birthright citizenship to the Trump administration’s continued attacks on LGBT Americans, despite a campaign promise to “to do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens” from Islamic terrorism.
“I believe President Trump’s continued attacks on LGBTQ Americans is reprehensible,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who said that if elected, he will sign the Equality Act—a bill that would add LGBT protections to the Civil Rights Act—into law. “This most recent attempt to undermine marriage equality, which is the law of the land, is antithetical to the values of our country.”
Julián Castro, a former cabinet secretary and mayor of San Antonio, called the policy “discriminatory,” and “part of this administration’s broader efforts to undermine the fundamental American principle of birthright citizenship.”
Beyond the campaign trail, high-ranking members of Congress have also condemned the policy, including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who called the department’s actions a “cruel and mean-spirited attack on children and families, and Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat and chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who labeled the policy “shameful discrimination.”
“I’m outraged by the State Department’s denial of U.S. citizenship to some children of American citizens born abroad, primarily those of same-sex couples and those who have sought medical assistance to conceive children,” Engel said in a statement citing The Daily Beast’s reporting on Thursday, calling the department’s re-interpretation of a decades-old immigration law “unconscionable”—and potentially illegal.
“I call on the State Department to immediately end this shameful discrimination and treat all families with dignity and equality,” Engel added.
— with additional reporting by Hanna Trudo