Trump administration sows chaos by wrongly implying kids born overseas might not be citizens

For obvious reasons, the policy change seemed like an attack on birthright citizenship.

Ken Cuccinelli. (Photo credit: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images)
Ken Cuccinelli. (Photo credit: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been frantically trying to correct reports about a new policy change announced Wednesday. The policy seemed to suggest that children born to U.S. citizens in other countries would no longer be considered citizens themselves, but that’s not exactly what USCIS meant to convey.

The policy announced Wednesday only impacts the children of those working for the U.S. government or military who are not citizens themselves. That clarification was missing from the 11-page memo the agency originally released, causing many to believe that even American citizens would have to apply for their children to receive citizenship. USCIS put out an additional statement later on Wednesday assuring that citizens were mostly not impacted.

USCIS acting director Ken Cuccinelli also tweeted out his own clarification that “no changes have been made to citizenship”:

It’s not hard to see, however, why some people were “freaking out” about the policy as it was originally announced.


Earlier this summer, immigration attorneys reported hearing that the Trump administration wanted to end the policy that lets the family members of non-citizen service members apply for a green card and stay in the country. In other words, that would mean that somebody could be serving in the U.S. military abroad while their family back home is being deported.

The policy also came just a week after Trump said he is seriously considering ending birthright citizenship, the constitutional guarantee that anybody born within the borders of the United States is a U.S. citizen. Taking away citizenship from the children of U.S. citizens simply for being born abroad would be a step toward dismantling that protection.

Moreover, the policy may still have consequences for U.S. couples adopting children from overseas. Several cases involving same-sex couples who’ve had children abroad speak to how the administration is using homophobia as an excuse to similarly undermine citizenship expectations. Two different same-sex couples are currently in legal fights with the State Department because their children born abroad haven’t been recognized as citizens.

In one case, a married same-sex couple from Georgia had a child via a surrogate in England. They are both U.S. citizens and both listed as the parents on the birth certificate. But because they’re a same-sex couple and their daughter is not biologically related to either of them, the child was considered “born out of wedlock,” and the State Department refused to grant her U.S. citizenship.

In another case earlier this year, a married same-sex couple tried to bring their newborn twins into the country after they were born to a surrogate in Canada, but only one of them was granted citizenship. That’s because only one of the men in the couple is a U.S. citizen, and the twins were conceived using both of their sperm, so the child of the Israeli citizen was not considered a U.S. citizen because he wasn’t related by blood to his U.S.-citizen father. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that both children should have been recognized as citizens, but the administration is still appealing this case in court.


Nothing in the law requires that children of married U.S. citizens have a biological connection to their parents, but the administration has seemingly chosen to apply that rule of its own accord — erasing the validity of same-sex marriages in the process. The new rule speaks to another arbitrary attempt to limit citizenship to those born abroad.

This week’s policy may not have had as big an impact as was first believed, but it nevertheless is a reminder that the administration is looking for every possible opportunity to limit access to anybody it might perceive as a foreigner.