Bill would reverse change in citizenship rules for overseas personnel

The top members of the House Judiciary Committee leadership introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday that would reverse a policy by the Trump administration that changed how children of some federal employees and members of the US armed forces gain citizenship.

In August, US Citizenship and Immigration Services released policy guidance that appeared to make it more difficult for the children of some US service members and US government employees living abroad to become US citizens. It didn’t make anyone ineligible for citizenship or impact anyone born in the United States.

The agency said at the time that it expected around 20 to 25 people a year would be affected by the new rule.

“We tried to emphasize that this really is a small population. Our records that we ran reflected possibly 20-25 people over the past five years, per year,” an official told reporters.

Still, the policy alert sparked confusion among military and diplomatic groups, and was widely criticized by lawmakers. The legislation announced Wednesday seeks to revert to the previous process.

“This small but important change is the least we can do for the men and women who serve our country in the U.S. armed forces and in federal government positions overseas, and I am glad we could work together to introduce this legislation that provides greater flexibility and support to those who have dedicated their careers to serving our nation,” said committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, in a statement.

Ranking member Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, echoed Nadler, saying: “American citizens who are deployed members of our military or government officials working abroad should have confidence their children will receive U.S. citizenship. The Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act would ensure children born abroad who do not currently satisfy the residency requirements for acquiring automatic citizenship because their parents are deployed will now satisfy those requirements.”

USCIS had cited conflicts with the definition of “residence” in immigration law, as well as conflicts with State Department guidance, as reasons for the change, according to the guidance.

The policy update said children living abroad with a parent who is a US government employee or US service member will not be considered to be ” ‘residing in the United States’ for purposes of acquiring citizenship” under a section of immigration law. Previously, their children would be considered to be both living in and outside of the US for purposes of eventually gaining citizenship.

The distinction created a different process for some children to gain citizenship.

“Forcing (service members) to go though (sic) bureaucratic hurdles for no apparent reason, just to get their children naturalized as American citizens, does a great disservice to people who have dedicated their lives to serving their country,” American Foreign Service Association President Eric Rubin said in August.

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat, and ranking member Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, also co-sponsored the bill, along with Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Ken Buck, R-Colo., Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif.