Not born in the USA

Patricia Gregori’s dream lives in a binder thick with birth certificates, school records, and faded photos.  She hopes that these bits of family history will eventually win her American citizenship.

“This is my father,” she says, holding a picture of a brown-haired man with a mustache and a big smile. “Come on, you can just look at him and tell he’s American!”

Gregori, 46, born to an American father and a Mexican mother, has spent years documenting her father’s life in the US and his family background, all so she can offer an American life to her 10 year old son, Andrés.
Most people are aware of the premise of jus soli (“right of the soil”), which confers citizenship on those born on American land, regardless of their parents’ origins. Jus sanguinis (“right of the blood”) is less clear, and transmission of American citizenship to people born outside of US territory is determined by a matrix
involving geography, bloodlines, gender, and time. It is so complicated that even US Consular officials need a chart to determine eligibility.

To receive citizenship, a child born abroad must have at least one American parent who can prove that they lived in the US for a minimum of five years, two of them after the age of 14.  In order to receive a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) documenting the child’s American citizenship, parents must bring the child to the American Embassy and present the birth certificate, parents passport(s) and US residency information, and photos of the mother during pregnancy and of the child from birth.

However, the parent’s immigration and marital status and the date of the child's birth can affect the qualifications needed and the eventual outcome. Additionally, citizenship laws may change to reflect changing realities, but are not retroactive.

Edward McKeon, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs at the US Embassy in Mexico City, says the intent is to foster US citizenship. “We think American citizenship’s pretty great,” he says. “We do what we can to encourage it, and to make it as expansive as possible.”

Some expat groups, though, want to change laws they feel are unfair to overseas citizens. “Citizenship transmission rights have been at the core of the work of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO) since its inception almost 35 years ago,” says AARO President Kathleen de Carbuccia. “Today the
US is in the paradoxical position of having taken away some fundamental human rights from its overseas citizens…. not all US citizen parents are now equal.”

Patricia Gregori must prove that her father lived in the US for at least ten years, five after the age of 14 (the qualification for children born before November 14, 1986). Unfortunately,her father led a tumbleweed life, and some of his records were destroyed in a fire. Relatives who could vouch for his whereabouts have died.  However, the fact that she received SocialSecurity payments after her father’s death in 1965 may providethe paper trail.

McKeon allows that many situations require sophisticatedsleuthing skills: “Cases [like Gregori’s] can be like solving amurder mystery.”

Jimm Budd’s story reads like a history of immigration law.Budd, 73, came to Mexico in 1958, married Victoria, a Mexicancitizen, and together they had three daughters. He registeredeach birth at the American Embassy, and the girls’ CRBAsdocumented their citizenship and also functioned as a passport.When they turned 18, the laws of the time required them tochoose between Mexican and American passports.

“We were born and raised here, and went to school here,”says Jessica Budd, 44, Jimm’s middle daughter. “Of course wedecided to be Mexican.” In 2000, when Mexico changed its lawsto allow dual citizenship, Jessica and her sisters reclaimedtheir American status.However, since she had never lived in the US, Jessica wasn’table to transmit citizenship to her daughter Isabela, now 10.Enter Grandpa Budd. 

Under current immigration law, American grandparentswho meet the residency requirements can transmit citizenshipto their foreign born grandchildren. As a result, Jimm andVictoria, along with Jessica, sister Alexis, and their childrenwent to the US naturalization center in Phoenix, Arizona in2002 to pass the torch of citizenship. The process, says Jimm,was straightforward.

“I got [the records] and delivered them and that was it -- alldone! We got the passports and went to Disneyworld,”he says. 

A recent Wall Street Journal article (“Citizenship via Grandparents:Israeli Parents Make Use Of U.S. Clause That LetsKids Become Americans”, October 16, 2007) highlights thetrend of citizenship transmission through grandparents, particularlyamong Americans who migrated to Israel in the 1960sand 70s. According to the article, there were almost 4,000 suchcases from October 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007, an increase of about 100% from the entire fiscal year 2003-2004.

Jimm, like many parents and grandparents of allnationalities, sees American citizenship as a way toguarantee a bright future for his progeny. “It was moreof a practical thing, he says, “knowing what people gothrough in other parts of the world.”Patricia Gregori, for one, vows that she won’t be deterredfrom her quest: “I’m the daughter of an American,”she says. “I have a right to be an American.”

Next month: The deal on dual citizenship.Got questions about how the US citizenship rules applyto you? Call the US Embassy at (55) 5080 2000 or go tohttp://www.travel.state.gov/law/info/info_609.html.