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ACA's Position on Children's Citizenship

Your children may not be as American as you think. If they are born overseas, there are special requirements they and their parents must satisfy in order for them to be recognized as US citizens. ACA holds a clear position on the transmission of one’s American nationality to children.

All Americans should enjoy the same right to transmit U.S. citizenship to all of their children at birth, including all children born to or adopted by a U.S. citizen abroad.

The Problem

Every year about 60,000 children are born overseas to a U.S. citizen parent. Of these, 90% acquire U.S. citizenship at birth while 10% do not. Since the right to a nationality at birth is the most fundamental human right of all, as it opens the door to membership in our society and all of other related rights, it is obvious that 6,000 children each year deserve better treatment.

It Wasn't Supposed to Happen Anymore

The United States inspired and helped draft several UN human rights instruments which give detailed descriptions of the basic rights that all individuals are supposed to share without discrimination of any kind. This includes the right of every child to acquire at birth a name and a nationality. Why, if the United States supported these international conventions, does it not implement them?


Despite careful drafting, these UN instruments have a major lacuna. There was no clear definition of which government is supposed to assume the responsibility for its citizens who live away from home. It was nowhere stated whether it should it be the country where the person came from, the country where the person was living, or perhaps both. If a citizen's home country and its overseas host country both refuse to protect this human right, there can be a legislative vacuum in which children are ignored by everyone and may find themselves to be stateless.


Missing Leadership

The U.S. Government should have taken the initiative long ago to address and resolve this ambiguity. This would have had an impact not only on Americans overseas but on other expatriate communities who could have used the American example to show to their home governments that they too should be fulfilling the promise that at birth all children have the right to a name and nationality. If human rights have any fundamental virtue they surely should be universal and not just valid up to a country's territorial limits.

Why the Problem Arises

In general, the right to acquire citizenship at birth derives from two distinct legal traditions. The first is "jus soli", an Anglo-Saxon concept that is used by Great Britain, the United States, and others. The second is "jus sanguinis", a fundamentally different concept, which dates at least to Roman times and is used by most of the other countries of the world. The two are not congruent and therefore do not cover all of the same individuals in every circumstance. Care must be taken to ensure that no one is left out.

Jus Sanguinis

Under "jus sanguinis" the nexus that is recognized by the law is the link between the parent and the child. A birth brings an automatic continuity of the citizenship of the parent to the child by virtue of this blood (sanguinis) tie. The place of birth, therefore, does not create any legal problem in the continuity of citizenship. No principle, other than "jus sanguinis", needs to be invoked for human rights to be transmitted equally and ubiquitously, unless, of course, a government chooses to endow only expatriates of one sex with this "jus sanguinis" right.

Jus Soli

In "jus soli" countries the nexus recognized by the law is that between the child and the location of birth. The place of birth alone qualifies the child to automatically receive that country's citizenship, normally irrespective of the citizenship or nationality of the parents when the child is born.


Those Left Behind

Overseas citizens from countries with "jus soli" legislation can face difficulties when they reside and have children in countries with "jus sanguinis" laws. Unless the laws of their home country also offer "jus sanguinis" provisions to protect them while they are away from home, some of their children can find themselves stateless. How liberally a "jus soli" country extends "jus sanguinis" provisions to its overseas citizens will determine how much human rights deprivation, if any, they will have to suffer.


Last Updated July 22, 2014