Why is it so hard to provide proof that someone is a citizen?

Sunday, December 17th, 2017
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

A recent Los Angeles Times story reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) often arrests and tries to deport United States citizens. Proving that a person is a citizen is tricky business. On one way American immigration and nationality law is easy is when it comes to citizenship – be born here and you are a citizen (except for exceptions, like diplomats). But what about people not born in the United States? Imagine a U.S. citizen couple on a vacation to Canada and having their baby born in Calgary. As one would expect, though born abroad, the child would be a United States citizen. What about an illegitimate child? What if the parent or parents were U.S. citizens but only lived in the United States for a short period after birth or never lived in the United States? What if the baby’s father was a soldier who does not even know he is a father? What if only one parent is a citizen? Is it different if the one parent is the mother or the father? The United States has complicated laws about acquiring or deriving citizenship if you are not born in the United States, as partially reflected here.

This is different from countries without birth citizenship which have relatively simple derivation rules, often as simple as having a grandparent from the country. Thus, many Brazilians and Argentinans have Italian passports and lots of Americans have Irish passports.

So, to whom do you prove you are a United States citizen? Typically, you can get the proof by applying for a United States passport or by applying for a Certificate of Citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. There are several rubs. The first rub is talking a complicated application through the post office clerk accepting applications in the first place. Another rube rub is that in a complex case, the State Department might not issue a passport and instead insist that an applicant first get a certificate of citizenship.

Another rub is that for USCIS, they are taking more than a year in some cities, like New York and Los Angeles to adjudicate the application form, Form N-600. Yet another rub is that it costs a fortune to get the government to issue the Certificate of Citizenship that the government requires for one to prove he or she is a citizen. How much of a fortune? $1,170. So, suppose ICE is breathing down your neck and wants proof you are a citizen? You gather up the forms, the documentary proof (like, say, that your father lived in the United States for the five or ten years before you were born), the photos, and the $1,170. Pop it in the mail and wait a year and then get an interview and maybe, a certificate of citizenship. Don’t have the documents, the money, or the year – be prepared for ICE to arrest you.

These people are not only United States citizens, but like John McCain, Ted Cruz, and George Romney (and Barack Obama), likely eligible to become President. They are certainly eligible to vote. One would think that as a duty to its citizens, N-600’s would be a top priority and quickly adjudicated and the application fee would be a nominal one. I can’t imagine that in countries where “mere” birth there does not render one a citizen,  every citizen must wait a year and pay a small fortune to be declared one? Why is it that way in America? What about Americans first? Posted December 17, 2017.


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