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Trump administration policy change on children's citizenship causes widespread confusion

The change makes it harder for a small group of foreign-born children to acquire citizenship.

The Trump administration appears to be making it tougher for some foreign-born children of members of the military and U.S. government employees to get U.S. citizenship.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service quietly issued changes Wednesday to the way a group of these children acquire citizenship. The new rules apply to children who were not born as citizens — such as those who were born to noncitizens and later adopted by U.S. citizens serving abroad, or in cases where parents who were not citizens at the time of the child's birth but were later naturalized.

In such cases, the agency will not automatically grant the residency status these children need for citizenship. Instead, those parents will have to apply for their children's citizenship and prove that they meet the legal requirements. Children of U.S. citizens who do not meet technical residency requirements would also be affected.

The changes do not apply to the majority of children born to two citizens serving abroad.

Nonetheless, because the wording of the changes was not easy to grasp, the new guidance, which came in different stages through the day and had to be clarified by the agency Wednesday afternoon, caused widespread confusion and criticism as word of the change spread through social media.

“My question is No. 1, are we in a new era where basic laws of politics don’t matter?” asked Doug Rand, a former Obama White House immigration policy adviser. “In what possible universe does it make sense to make it harder for our service members overseas to do this and who want to serve overseas?"

Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the change on a page on its website, declaring it a USCIS Policy Manual Update. It also issued a fact sheet with some explanation.

In a summary of the change on its web site, the agency said it is trying to bring rules regarding how a child derives citizenship from a U.S. citizen parent in alignment with the Immigration and Naturalization Act and State Department guidance in regards to how citizenship is defined.

Christian Penichet-Paul, policy and advocacy manager for the National Immigration Forum, said his office still was reviewing the change late Wednesday. USCIS did not warn advocates of the change or provide any explainer before issuing it, he said.

“At the moment, it does look like this makes the process for certifying citizenship more onerous and a little more bureaucratic,” he said. He said his office was trying to determine what additional steps families may have to take and which form they fill out and what process they use to apply.

He said it appears the new process will require more evidence from parents on the length of their residence in the United States and will no longer be able to count time spent abroad while serving in the military or working for the U.S. government as time in the United States.

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