Overnight Defense: Trump officials say children of some overseas service members won't get automatic citizenship | Defense chief, top general hold first on-camera briefing in a year | Mattis warns against shunning US allies

Overnight Defense: Trump officials say children of some overseas service members won't get automatic citizenship | Defense chief, top general hold first on-camera briefing in a year | Mattis warns against shunning US allies
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION RESTRICTS SOME AUTOMATIC CITIZENSHIP: The children of some U.S. military members and government employees working overseas will no longer automatically be considered United States citizens, the Trump administration said Wednesday.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy rescinding previous guidance stating that children of U.S. service members and other government officials abroad are considered "residing in the United States" and automatically given citizenship under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

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USCIS issued a clarification to the rule later Wednesday, explaining that the new rule would only affect three categories of people: Children of non-U.S. citizens adopted by U.S. citizen government employees or service members; children of non-U.S. citizen government employees or service members who were naturalized after the child's birth; and children of U.S. citizens who do not meet residency requirements.

Acting director of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli wrote on Twitter that people were "freaking out over nothing," describing the document as a "highly technical policy memo" used by career employees at the agency.

The new policy will take effect Oct. 29, according to the USCIS notice.

Sorting through the legalese: The memo's issuance sparked widespread confusion, leading some to believe that many more individuals would be affected than in actuality.

"This kind of memo is the sort of thing that you don't put out to the general public without a very bold-faced letter executive summary saying 'here's what this does not do,'" said Bradley Moss, a lawyer with expertise in national security.

"This changes nothing if you are a child born overseas to two U.S. citizens on a military base or just overseas in general – you are fine as a matter of law ... you are still considered a U.S. citizen so long as one of your parents had been a physical resident within the United States," he said.

Pentagon statement: A Pentagon spokeswoman said in a statement to The Hill that the estimated impact of the change is "small" but that the Defense Department is working to provide further clarity for military families.

"DoD has been working closely with our colleagues as DHS/USCIS regarding recent policy changes and understands the estimated impact of this particular change is small. However, we are committed to ensuring affected families are provided the appropriate information, resources, and support during this transition," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason said.

"Further information is available at the USCIS Military Resource Page, Military One Source, and via Service Legal Assistance branches as needed."

 

ESPER'S FIRST PRESS BRIEFING...: The Pentagon briefing room was dusted off Wednesday as top officials stood at the podium for the first time in a year.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperFury over Trump Syria decision grows Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Pentagon announces official withdrawal of US troops from Syria MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford were peppered with questions from a packed room of reporters.

The last time such an event occurred was exactly one year ago back when James MattisJames Norman MattisUS leaves dozens of 'high value' ISIS detainees behind amid Syria retreat: report White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions MORE was Defense secretary.

Esper kicked off the briefing by promising there was more to come.

"While we have many avenues to engage with the media in today's world, moving forward I intend to do these briefings to maintain an open dialogue about the department's activities," Esper said. "Our head of public affairs and a representative from the Joint Staff will also begin hold regular press briefings."

The pair were also pressed on a slew of global hotspots. Here's a taste of they said:

On Afghanistan: Dunford endorsed an approach to Afghanistan that would result in a "disruption to the status quo" as the Trump administration works to finalize a peace deal with the Taliban.

"I believe that what is needed is some type of disruption to the status quo," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said. "I think an agreement that can initiate inter-Afghan dialogue and potentially leading to a reduction of violence associated with the insurgency is something that's worth trying."

Dunford also said it was premature to answer questions about a troop withdrawal.

"We have tailored our counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan to reflect the operational environment. The operational environment would clearly change in the wake of a negotiation, but I think we'd have to make assessments," Dunford said.

When asked about President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE's recent comments that he could win the war in Afghanistan in a week but that doing so would mean killing millions of Afghans, Esper said the United States reserves "the right to keep all options on the table," while stressing the diplomatic effort.

On North Korea: Esper reiterated his belief that the United States should not "overreact" to North Korea's recent spate of missile tests.

"Obviously, we are concerned about their short-range ballistic missile tests," Esper said. "But on the other hand, we're not going to overreact. We want to take a measured response and make sure that we don't close the door to diplomacy."

Dunford, meanwhile, would not comment on open source reporting about North Korea building a submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles.

On Iran: "So far so good" is how Esper described efforts to dial down tensions with Iran.

"I'm not sure I'm ready to call the crisis over yet, but so far so good and we hope the trend lines continue that way," Esper said.

Esper also reiterated Trump's willingness to meet with the Iranians.

"We are not seeking conflict with Iran. We want to engage with them diplomatically," Esper said.

On Turkey: Esper stressed Turkey has to completely rid itself of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system if it wants back in on the F-35 fighter jet program.

"I have been very clear in both my public comments and privately with my Turkish counterpart it's either the F-35 or the S400. It's not both. It's not park one in the garage and roll the other one out. It's one or the other. So, we are where we are and it's regrettable," Esper said.

Pressed on if Turkey could rejoin the F-35 program if it sends back the S-400, Esper said "we could consider that."

 

MATTIS REEMERGES: Former Defense Secretary James Mattis has a book coming out next week. That means it's time for him to come out of post-resignation hibernation and address the public.

And that's exactly what he did Wednesday with an essay in the Wall Street Journal that implicitly criticized his former boss Trump.

The essay, which was adapted from the forthcoming book, warned against shunning allies and America breaking down into "tribalism."

"Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither," Mattis wrote. "Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist's role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed."

Mattis also defended his tenure as secretary, saying, "I did as well as I could for as long as I could."

"When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution," he wrote.

Mattis did not mention President Trump by name in those sections of the essay. But when Mattis resigned as Defense secretary in December, his resignation letter to Trump stressed his differences with the president on the importance of allies.

For your calendars: Mattis' book tour is taking him to the Council on Foreign Relations next week.

The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at CFR's New York offices.

Mattis is unlikely to say anything earth shattering about Trump, but he could take a tact similar to his essay with some implicit criticism. 

 

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