That new citizenship rule put out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services hurt a lot of feelings this week, especially considering it did little more than change the paperwork process of some 20 to 30 people per year.
This wasn’t some major policy shift by the Trump administration executed just for a laugh. It was a matter of agency lawyers tweaking the words in a manual to conform with State Department interpretation of existing laws.
It will amount to a change in paperwork for the few U.S. citizens whose children, by longstanding law, don’t get citizenship upon birth.
USCIS officials said Thursday on a phone call with reporters that they estimate the rule might affect up to 25 U.S. residents or citizens each year. They got to that estimation by looking at the number of similar applications received over the last five years.
When the rule change was announced Tuesday, the news media went hysterical, under the impression that the administration was actually removing automatic citizenship rights from the children born abroad to some U.S. citizens. That’s not what happened, officials said.
They said that the purpose of the rule change was to bring USCIS policies in line with State Department rules and federal statute. USCIS was previously interpreting the statute differently from State, meaning some foreign-born children got citizenship from USCIS but were told by State that they hadn’t gone through the proper process to get a passport.
Who’s affected? Like one of those 20-minute Rachel Maddow monologues, the details are really complicated and very dry.
Here’s one example: If a U.S. citizen is living in Germany and has a child, under federal law, there are two ways to get the child citizenship. The first and more automatic process, covered by Section 320 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, is to simply move to the U.S. and set up residency here.
The second process, Section 322, applies if the parent can’t or doesn’t want to move to the U.S. with their child. The parent would need to apply for citizenship and the child would have to at least touch foot in the U.S.
The rule change clarifies that federal employees working for the federal government overseas and thus living overseas must go through Section 322 rather than Section 320.
The one thing the USCIS officials wouldn’t tell me is any kind of scenario under which a Section 322 application would be denied.
But the bottom line is that children who under current law aren’t granted automatic citizenship will have different process rules by which they gain citizenship. In a very few cases — for instance, if the parent is a citizen who has lived less than five years in the U.S. — this rule change will require the parent to move back to the U.S. and reside here in order to gain citizenship for the child.
For all the hysteria it caused, that’s a very boring rule change.