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The Puzzle of Acquiring U.S. Citizenship

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitutions tells us who is a U.S. citizen: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

This looks and sounds straightforward, but like nearly all things immigration-related, there is a lot of room for interpretation.

Becoming a U.S. citizen can happen through a variety of ways such as birth in the United States, the process of naturalizing, deriving citizenship when you are a minor child of a parent that naturalizes or acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth despite being born outside of the United States.

Today, I want to talk about the last option – frequently called “Acquired U.S. Citizenship.” These cases are at the intersection of genealogy and immigration law, and I find them to be absolutely fascinating.

Here’s how the cases come to light: Someone believes they’ve been a U.S. citizen their entire life, despite being born in another country – perhaps their parents were born in the U.S. or naturalized while they were still a child. One day, they go to get their driver’s license renewed and instead of a routine visit, they’re denied because there’s no proof of U.S. citizenship in the record. What do they do? How do they prove something that they’ve just known to be true?

Proving Acquired U.S. Citizenship is like solving a puzzle. You have to first look at the law that was in place at the time the person was born. You then have to look at whether the birth occurred in or out of wedlock because the law may be different based on legitimacy.

The rules are also different depending on which parent you’re trying to acquire U.S. citizenship through. For example, there are generally more rules on acquiring citizenship through fathers than through mothers. There may also be U.S. residency requirements on both the parents and the person trying to show their U.S. citizenship.

If the pieces fit and you are indeed a U.S. citizen, you still have to get a document that demonstrates what you have always known to be true.

There are two options: applying for a U.S. passport or applying for an N-600.

Applying for a U.S. passport is quicker and cheaper than an N-600 application, but the Department of State has shown that it struggles with the acquisition laws. The N-600, on the other hand, is decided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is taking over a year to have these cases adjudicated in Atlanta, but USCIS does a great job of reviewing the facts and making the right determination.

Citizenship is a core area of our identities. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have it called into question after decades of belief.

– Tracie

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