House Democrats unveil bill to ensure citizenship for children of service members

House Democrats unveil bill to ensure citizenship for children of service members
© Greg Nash

A trio of House Democrats unveiled legislation on Tuesday that would reverse a new Trump administration policy that changes how some Americans serving abroad in the military or other postings pass U.S. citizenship to their children.

The new policy issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) last week rescinds in certain cases guidance stating that children of U.S. service members and other federal workers abroad are automatically granted citizenship.

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The new rule will affect children of non-U.S. citizens adopted by U.S. citizen government employees or service members, noncitizen government employees or service members naturalized after the child's birth, and citizens who do not meet residency requirements.

The legislation offered by Democratic Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoDonald Trump Jr. writes about Trump family 'sacrifices' during trip to Arlington National Cemetery: book Overnight Energy: Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest| Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records| Trump's plan to boost ethanol miffs corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest MORE (Ariz.), Ted LieuTed W. LieuWyden urges FCC to secure 5G networks against cyber threats Democrat hits White House spokeswoman after Trump appointee changes testimony PETA asks DOJ to stop conducting training that harms animals MORE (Calif.) and Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaFBI chief says racist extremists fueling one another, making connections overseas Hillicon Valley: Amazon poised to escalate Pentagon 'war cloud' fight | FCC's move to target Huawei garners early praise | Facebook sues Israeli firm over alleged WhatsApp hack | Blue Dog Dems push election security funding Blue Dog Democrats push Congress to fund state election security MORE (Calif.) would preserve the citizenship rights of the children affected by the policy, which is set to take effect on Oct. 29.

Gallego, a Marine combat veteran, warned that the policy change, which officials say will affect 20 to 25 people annually, could lead to a slippery slope.

"The people who sacrifice so much to serve our nation at home and overseas deserve certainty that their children’s citizenship will not be in doubt. The Trump administration’s cruel new policy is the first step in President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE’s crusade to eliminate birthright citizenship and serves no purpose other than to play to his most xenophobic supporters," Gallego said in a statement. 

The new policy will not affect children who acquire citizenship at birth or were born abroad to U.S. citizens who have resided in the U.S. for at least five years. 

Some children of U.S. citizens abroad who previously could acquire citizenship by virtue of a parent's nationality would have to seek citizenship through naturalization under the new rule. But experts say that the naturalization process would result in a complicated and expensive process for service members and federal workers stationed abroad.

Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli defended the change, arguing it doesn't prevent the affected children from gaining U.S. citizenship.

“The only thing that has changed here is the forms they have to fill out, the process they have to go through, to get that child to be a U.S. citizen. That is it,” Cuccinelli told "PBS NewsHour."

But Cuccinelli acknowledged that the policy could have been communicated more clearly after initially sparking widespread confusion.  

“We obviously could have communicated this a lot better,” Cuccinelli said. “But it is almost nothing. It affects, in paperwork only, about 20 to 25 people a year.”