Children of U.S. Citizen Living Abroad Denied Citizenship on Technological Grounds

A disconnect between modern technology and American immigration and nationality law has emerged in Israel, where an American citizen living in Tel Aviv has abandoned her efforts to obtain U.S. citizenship for her twin daughters. The U.S. Department of State denied her application because of a law that applies to children born to a U.S. citizen “out of wedlock.” The case illustrates the often chaotic set of laws that determining who may become a United States citizen by virtue of birth.

Ellie Lavi, a Chicago native, conceived her two-and-a-half-year-old daughters through in vitro fertilization at a clinic in Israel, using both a donor sperm and egg. The clinic implanted her with the fertilized egg, and she carried the twins to term. She does not know who the donors are, and therefore she cannot prove if either of them are, or were, United States citizens. The State Department has therefore refused to grant U.S. citizenship to the twins, viewing the sperm and egg donors as the “parents.” Based on that perceived biological relationship, the twins have no legal link to the United States.

The basic nationality law of the United States holds that anyone born on U.S. soil is a natural-born citizen, regardless of the immigration status of the child’s parents. This includes not only children born in U.S. hospitals, but children born in airplanes flying over U.S. territory. Children born abroad who are adopted by U.S. citizens can obtain citizenship through the adoption. Children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents can also obtain citizenship, but the laws can be complicated, and they depend greatly on the parents’ immigration and marital status.

The laws governing U.S. citizenship for children born outside the U.S. to at least one U.S. citizen require the U.S. citizen parent to have some specific period of residence in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth. This length of time ranges from one to five years, depending on the circumstances. The period of time is shorter for children born “in wedlock.” For children born “out of wedlock” to a U.S. citizen and an “alien,” the law is different depending on whether the child’s U.S. citizen parent is the mother or father. A U.S. citizen mother only needs one year of continuous residence in the U.S. prior to the birth, while a U.S. citizen father must have five years.

Lavi could still obtain citizenship for the girls by living with them in the United States for at least six months and applying there, but for now that is apparently not an option. She describes it as a situation where the law has not kept up with the technology.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the constantly-changing politics and technological considerations of our immigration laws. Contact us today through our website or at (800) 625-3404 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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