Derivative Citizenship: How to prove your U.S. Citizenship through your ancestors

Anthony Price, age 55, was born in Mexico and has lived in the United States almost all his life.  Although Anthony was born outside the U.S., he always believed he was a U.S. citizen because he had lived in the U.S. since his very early childhood.  His parents, spouse and all the other members of his family always assumed that he was a U.S. citizen.  In fact, Anthony registered for the draft when he was of age as all his friends did at the same time.  Later, he took part and voted in local and national elections like any U.S. citizen has the privilege to do.  Anthony and all his friends and family members knew that Anthony was a U.S. citizen.  Anthony never imagined that his U.S. citizenship would one day be challenged by an agency of the U.S government and that he actually would have to provide evidence that he really was a U.S. citizen.

Anthony’s wife was planning a trip to Europe for their wedding anniversary.  Although he made regular trips to and from Mexico in the past, without difficulty, he had never needed a passport for these trips.  That was before the law changed.  Now, any U.S. citizen leaving the country needed to have a U.S. passport.  So he submitted an application to the U.S. Passport Agency.  The Agency’s response was startling to Anthony—it claimed that he did not provide proper evidence to show that he was a U.S. citizen.  The agency provided Anthony with a list of documents that were acceptable evidence of U.S. citizenship.  Anthony did not have any of the listed documents in his possession.  Anthony wondered how he could prove his citizenship without a U.S. birth certificate.  Unsure about how to approach the situation, he contacted an experienced immigration attorney for legal advice.

To his shock, Anthony discovered that much more was at stake here than just getting a passport or a visit to Europe.  Under U.S. immigration law, a person who falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen – even if he honestly believed himself to be a U.S. citizen – has committed a very serious offense.  Not only could he be deported – but (with one very narrow exception) there is no waiver or other relief for such a transgression.  The penalty is to be permanently barred from entering the United States!

Fortunately, Anthony’s attorney was experienced and knowledgeable.  The attorney explained to him that, under specific circumstances, U.S. citizenship could be obtained through one’s parents or ancestors’ citizenship and residential status in the United States.  To find out whether this applied to Anthony, the attorneys helped Anthony gather relevant information and documentary evidence (including pictures, genealogy documents, ancestors’ correspondence, school diplomas, etc.) relating to his family.  They had to gather information starting with Anthony’s grandparents in order to obtain the necessary evidence that proved that Anthony was actually a U.S citizen at the time of his birth.

Anthony’s parents were also both born in Mexico and did not have U.S. birth certificates to prove that they were U.S. citizen at birth.  They were both deceased at the time Anthony was applying for his U.S. passport and neither of them had ever applied for a U.S. passport or any other proof of U.S. citizenship (i.e. a certificate of citizenship for example) while they were alive because they never needed any.

Although he was born in Mexico, Anthony’s father lived in the United States for most of his life and for some time before Anthony’s birth.  The attorney learned through family tree records that the father’s parents (Anthony’s paternal grandparents) were both born in the U.S. and resided here before his father was born, which by law made his father a U.S. citizen at birth.

Anthony’s mother was also born in Mexico to a U.S.-born mother (Anthony’s maternal grandmother), but her father was born in England.  However, because of the laws in effect at the time of Anthony’s mother’s birth, her birth from one U.S. citizen parent was enough for her to be a U.S. citizen at the time she was born.

Thus, both of Anthony’s parents were U.S. citizens at the time of his birth. More importantly, because they had resided in the U.S. for a sufficient amount of time before he was born, they legally transmited their U.S. citizenship to Anthony – even though he was born outside the U.S.

Anthony’s immigration attorney sent a very detailed and well-documented letter to the U.S. Passport Agency showing that Anthony was, in fact, a U.S. citizen based on his ancestry.  The letter included a carefully written explanation, showing how each item of documentary evidence supported Anthony’s claim to U.S. citizenship, and citing the old laws and statutes that were in effect when each of his parents and grandparents were born.  As a result, the Agency granted Anthony’s request just in time for him to travel abroad to enjoy his well-deserved vacation.

Does Anthony’s story sound like fun?  It is not!  But if many current U.S. legislators have their way, we could all end up being required to document our ancestry, in order to claim our U.S. citizenship!A small but very vocal minority of anti-immigrant activists seek to overturn our long-established and Constitutionally-based law of citizenship through birth on U.S. soil.  Citing emotionally weighty but logically light arguments about “anchor babies,” they would have us abandon a system which is simple, efficient and effective in favor of one that would not only be cumbersome and expensive to administer, but would also lead to a growing population of “stateless” persons, unable to claim a home in any country.

Fortunately, efforts to rescind or drastically undercut the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution have abated, for now.  But it is doubtful that the proponents have actually gone away.  More likely they are merely licking their wounds while planning a new assault.  Who knows, they may eventually succeed.

If that happens, your U.S. birth certificate may become only “circumstantial” evidence towards your claim to be a true American – despite the fact you were “born in the USA!”

The Arizona immigration attorneys at Gunderson, Denton & Peterson, P.C. are qualified to assist you or to answer any immigration related questions you may have.< –>

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Gunderson, Denton & Peterson, P.C.
1930 N. Arboleda, Suite 201
Mesa, Arizona 85213
Office: 480-655-7440
Fax: 480-655-7099

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