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 GallegoHouse panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? Latino man's death in Tucson fuels debate over police brutality on Hispanics MORE (Ariz.), Ted LieuTed W. LieuMilley confirms soldiers deployed to DC amid unrest were given bayonets Trump campaign touts 4M online viewers for Tulsa rally Trump mocked for low attendance at rally MORE (Calif.) and Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaCriminalization that never should have been: Cannabis Man arrested, charged with threatening to attack Muslims in Germany Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California 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 TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address 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.”