Monday, March 14, 2011

This Land Is Your Land (Maybe)

Today was Day 2 of consular training, where I will be spending the next seven weeks. I'm loving it already. Today we talked about U.S. citizenship and how to determine if someone is born a citizen or not, which is much more complicated than you might expect. Most of the confusion arises from children born to U.S. citizens abroad - the law is very complex and has changed several times - but even determining the status for children born the United States can be tricky.

As with all things legal, it all comes down to definitions. What is "The United States," exactly? Are you a citizen through jus soli if you're born in Guam? (Yes) American Samoa? (No) An airplane in U.S. airspace? (Yes) Guantanamo Bay? (No) A ship in U.S. territorial waters? (Yes unless it's a foreign government vessel, in which case no) A U.S. embassy or military base abroad? (No)

One case that came up in class that no one had an answer for was the citizenship status of children born to Haitian women on the USNS Comfort, a naval medical vessel moored in Haitian waters after last year's earthquake. Naval vessels are considered little floating pieces of sovereign soil in some other contexts, but how about citizenship? I did some research this afternoon and found a precedent: another Haitian woman gave birth to a child on a U.S. Coast Guard vessel in the Bahamas in 1988. The child got U.S. citizenship, so that sounds like a yes to me.

[EDIT 3/15 - After getting to a library, I was able to find a comment on the case including a copy of a memo written the day after the article linked above in which the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) determined that the child in question was NOT eligible for citizenship, despite their earlier statements. The INS decision was upheld in the mother's asylum hearing in 1989.]

We also talked about citizenship issues related to both 2008 presidential candidates and learned the rules relating to sperm donation, IVF, surrogate pregnancies and all that sort of thing - for citizenship transfer purposes the "parents" are the people the egg and sperm came from. Isn't this fascinating? I'm going to rock at this.


  1. I am confused. I have known a number of people born on US bases abroad (including several cousins), and I always heard they were considered natural born citizens. Is this incorrect? If so, how can this be? The parents were American citizens and they were born while their parent was serving on a US post and in an American hospital. WS

  2. There are two ways to be a born citizen of the U.S. - to be born "in the United States" as discussed above or to be born not in the United States to at least one U.S. citizen parent, with certain qualifications. Your acquaintances probably were born citizens but their citizenship was transferred through their parents rather than their place of birth. If a foreign national not married to a U.S. citizen were to give birth at a U.S. military base abroad her child would not be entitled to citizenship.