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Immigration Law Under Review: Family-Based Waivers Favoring Children of American Mothers Over Fathers

Yesterday the nation's highest court heard arguments about a U.S. citizenship law that treats mothers and fathers differently.

Citizenship for children often depends on where they were born and the nationality of their parents. To illustrate:

  • Children born in the United States are U.S. citizens regardless of their parents' nationality.
  • Children born aboard with two American parents (at least one of which has lived in the U.S.), are automatically U.S. citizens.

Children born outside of the U.S. with only one American parent are not automatically granted citizenship. Whether the American parent is the mother or the father can make all the difference:

  • Children born outside the U.S. with an American father are automatically granted citizenship only if their father lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years before the child was born, and five of those years were after the age of 14. The law changed in 1986 so that the father was only required to live in the U.S. for five years before passing on citizenship (two years must have been after age 14).
  • Children born outside of the U.S. with an American mother are granted citizenship as long as their mother lived in the U.S. continuously for a year before the baby was born.

That's a big difference.

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