Some children born to U.S. service members serving abroad will no longer be considered American citizens at birth, according to a policy alert released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Wednesday afternoon, the latest effort by the Trump administration to further restrict access to citizenship.
“USCIS no longer considers children of U.S. government employees and U.S. armed forces members residing outside the United States as ‘residing in the United States’ for purposes of acquiring citizenship” under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the alert states. Effective on Oct. 29, 2019, all non-citizen children residing abroad with U.S. citizen parents who are either employed by the U.S. government or are members of the military stationed abroad “are not considered to be residing in the United States for acquisition of citizenship.”
The rule clarifies that it only affects children not entitled to U.S. citizenship by birth—meaning that if a child is born abroad on a military base to parents who were citizens at the time of its birth, the child would still be recognized as a birthright citizen (although not always). The policy would also not affect a child born to a U.S. citizen parent who has had residence in the United States before the child’s birth.
But if the child’s parents only became citizens after their child was born, parents will be required to apply on their kids’ behalf before they reach age 18 in order to obtain citizenship—and will usually be required to have obtained five years’ residence in the United States beforehand. Under the new policy, their time serving the U.S. government won’t count towards that time.
“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,” USCIS spokesperson Meredith Parker told Task & Purpose. “As a result, these children will no longer be considered to have acquired citizenship automatically.”
The alert, titled “Defining ‘Residence’ in Statutory Provisions Related to Citizenship,” outlines several new interpretations of longstanding immigration laws regarding eligibility for naturalization and green card status, primarily affecting the children of U.S. citizens who have never resided in the country. But USCIS’s new interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act to exclude some children born abroad in U.S. military hospitals from the rights of citizenship echoes other attempts by the Trump administration to curb the flow of “immigration” to the United States through all avenues—even by those historically eligible for citizenship.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of USCIS, has been a longtime opponent of birthright citizenship, and once called for a constitutional convention “to clarify specifically that a person born to a parent who is a U. S. citizen is also a citizen of the United States.” More recently, Cuccinelli announced that the agency would consider an immigrant’s past reliance on public benefits—from prescription drug subsidies and Medicaid to food stamps and housing vouchers—as a “heavily weighted negative factor” against those pursuing a green card or U.S. citizenship.
Following public outrage upon initial reports that USCIS was denying citizenship to all children born to service members abroad, Cuccinelli released a statement clarifying that the policy “doesn't deny citizenship to the children of US gov employees or members of the military born abroad,” and
But attempts to limit access to American citizenship stretch beyond Cuccinelli’s agency. In May, The Daily Beast reported on a State Department policy that effectively de-recognizes the marriage of some parents of children born abroad via gestational surrogacy, stripping young children of American birthright citizenship even if both parents hold U.S. passports.
That policy is facing multiple legal challenges—and judging by the reaction to USCIS’s military rule change, it may soon have some company.
“I was born in Europe while my father was stationed there during his Army service,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “Denying citizenship to children of the people who serve around the world to keep us safe is a heartless betrayal of our military and government workers and of American values. This is unacceptable.”