On Wednesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, issued a memo that led many military families and lawmakers to think that the United States was potentially denying citizenship to all children born abroad to U.S. military members.
But Meghann Myers, Pentagon bureau chief for Military Times, says that wasn’t exactly the case. Instead, she says it was a policy update to comply with State Department standards.
“USCIS considered serving abroad on government orders as being ‘In Residence’ in the United States … for the purposes of being able to initiate citizenship or give birthright citizenship to these children,” Myers says. “But the State Department didn’t.”
That means that now, those in the military serving abroad will have to apply to establish residency in the U.S. if they want a passport for their child born in a foreign country.
But that will be more complicated for those without citizenship – service members with green cards, for example.
“If you had a green card, or if you’re a citizen and you adopted a child abroad while you were serving … it’s just a little more complex when you’re not in the U.S.,” Myers says.
She says while the policy update affects relatively few service members, it was the way the government communicated it that was problematic for some.
“The first one that came out was pretty vague, it didn’t say anything about green cards, it didn’t say anything about adoption,” Myers says. “All it really said was ‘birthright citizenship … your child is not entitled to birthright citizenship.’”
She says that shocked some people.
“People get really sensitive about people serving our country and having any of their rights or privileges revoked in that way,” Myers says.
She says the assumptions and confusion came about because of the Trump administration’s stance on immigration and citizenship.
“Especially with veterans recently, stuff coming out of the Trump administration restricting, not necessarily who’s a citizen, but who may be deported,” Myers says. “But also, President Trump coming right out and saying he thinks, maybe, birthright citizenship shouldn’t exist anymore.”
To be clear, Myers says, this policy update does not do away with birthright citizenship for children born abroad to U.S. citizens.
“It’s only in a very small number of cases where the child’s parents were not U.S. citizens,” she says.
Written by Caroline Covington.