Bipartisan bills proposed on Capitol Hill to help children of service members overseas acquire citizenship automatically
By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 23, 2019
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill is underway to make the children of service members stationed overseas automatically Americans, responding to a new federal policy that forces some parents to apply for their child's U.S. citizenship.
In August, Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a new policy addressing the definition of “residence” in the Immigration and Nationality Act. It affects children of service members and civilians living abroad who did not acquire citizenship at birth or while they were living in the United States.
Under section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a child born outside the United States can automatically become a citizen if they are physically living in the United States with their parent who is a citizen. With the new policy that goes into effect Tuesday, these children will no longer be considered “residing in the United States” as they had been in the past and a parent will have to apply for their child’s citizenship before the child turns 18 years old.
When the policy was announced, President Donald Trump's administration was criticized for its immigration policies and how the change would negatively impact military families. There was also widespread confusion about what the change actually meant and who was affected, with some initial reporting interpreting the policy to mean that military children were being denied citizenship.
On Wednesday, Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., announced they have introduced a bill called the Citizenship for Children of Military Members & Civil Servants Act that would modify section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act so children of service members who are stationed overseas can automatically acquire U.S. citizenship.
“Children of Americans serving their nation abroad are just as worthy of automatic citizenship as any other children,” Duckworth said in a prepared statement. “Forcing military families to jump through bureaucratic hoops and spend hundreds of dollars applying for citizenship on behalf of their children is not right.”
The USCIS policy change would force families to pay an application fee of $1,170 per child, according to the senators’ statement.
The policy change was estimated to affect between 20 and 25 people annually, based on data compiled by the USCIS during the last five years from overseas applications with Army or Air Force Post Office and Fleet Post Office mailing addresses, according to a USCIS official in August who spoke about the issue on the condition of anonymity.
Isakson called the bill “commonsense legislation” to help military families that is overdue.
“We should be doing all we can to ease the lives of our all-volunteer force, not add needless hurdles for them and their families,” he said in the prepared statement.
A bipartisan companion bill was also introduced in the House by Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Doug Collins, R-Ga., according to the statement.