Saturday, February 09, 2008

Back with a Vengeance

Sorry for the hiatus. It appears that many of us took a winter break from our chronicles (while some have gotten back on the wagon, others haven't), but I'm jumping back on the update train. I've done some interesting training since December, and all sorts of interesting things have been happening in the realm of politics and foreign affairs. I'll start by talking about some aspects of the consular training I received, which ought to take a few days. There is a lot of interesting material to cover, including playing with a Kalashnikov and driving a retired police cruiser while mortars flew overhead.

First of all, I'll say that I enjoyed my consular training, which ran from 30 November to 23 January. (It didn't actually consume that many days of training; most people were gone for all or part of the winter holidays.) I'm sure things will be quite a bit more tedious in the field, but the instructors tried hard to keep the class interesting.

Our first module discussed US citizenship and how most people get it (other than through immigration, which is a different story for later on). The easiest way is to be born in the United States, although there are some reasonable exceptions. For example, children born to members of hostile armies occupying the United States don't count. This one is more theoretical than anything else these days, but it does make sense. What amuses me is that being born in our airspace also counts for citizenship purposes - our training manuals specifically note this, as well as the fact that orbital births in US airspace were not considered in the law and that we have no guidance right now as to how we would handle such a case. While I suppose it's not urgent at the moment, one can imagine a point when the exact distance our airspace extends into space needs to be determined. Otherwise there's this cone of American citizenship extending who knows how far into space. Actually, that sounds really cool. There might be Martian Americans!

However, for some strange reasons Americans like to spawn when they're overseas, so there's this issue to consider. There's a host of laws that cover giving these kids citizenship, and (of course) no one bothered to coordinate the newer laws with the older ones. As a result, whether or not a kid gets his parent's or parents' citizenship varies based on when the kid was born, how long the parents have been citizens, how long the parents have lived in the United States, whether the parents are married, the father's financial support for the child, and whether or not the kid is legitimate by the laws of the country where s/he was born. It's ridiculously complicated.

What annoys me most about that is not the complication but the fact that our own decisions - namely, determining someone's claim to US citizenship - are in a few cases predicated on the laws of foreign countries. A child born out of wedlock to an American father in Iceland could be a US citizen very easily, but a child in the same situation in Bolivia might not be entitled to US citizenship under any circumstances short of immigration. It's patently unfair.

Also? Passport lithography and security design is really, really cool. I have always loved looking at dollar bills to read the tiny security text, and it's even more fun to play with confiscated fake passports and see how they were faked. US passports are the most valuable travel document on the market, and good ones can go for upwards of $40,000 in some places. Some of the fake ones we got to see were really obvious - like holepunching through the decade on the DOB information and gluing a sheet of paper with a new number on it underneath the hole. There were others that were indistinguishable from legit documents without consulting the system to see if that was a valid passport number. I don't know if I'll get to do much work in the Fraud Office when I'm in Saudi, but it's something I could really enjoy. It's a puzzle with some very serious inplications.

Up next, in a few days: the other way to acquire US citizenship, by immigration! It's a fun-filled ride through drug usage, communist apparatchiks, and Nazis on the run.


  1. I'm amazed I warranted a reference on the blog of the famed hannah draper. I'm extremely flattered. :D

    Yeah, birth-ruled citizenship kind of weirds me out. There's a girl here who's got both Japanese and American citizenship through birth, but one nation is requiring that she decides which she wants to be now that she's over 21. She's been letting the matter stay on the dl, as she doesn't want to have to decide, but it seems silly to give someone dual citizenship for most of their life only to take it away later.

  2. Wow, what a coincidence....I made my first Xanga post since December two days ago. I swear I had not checked this before I did. February must be a good month for posting - which makes sense because of the awful weather.

    I was beginning to get worried that my invitation had expired or something. I found your reactions in this post very interesting. Coincidentally again, one of the classes I'm taking this semester is Conflicts of Laws - what happens (or should happen) when a legal question arises that involves two different jurisdictions and applying the laws of those jurisdictions would result in different outcomes.

    You illustrated a great example of a Conflicts situation in your post:

    "What annoys me most about that is not the complication but the fact that our own decisions - namely, determining someone's claim to US citizenship - are in a few cases predicated on the laws of foreign countries. A child born out of wedlock to an American father in Iceland could be a US citizen very easily, but a child in the same situation in Bolivia might not be entitled to US citizenship under any circumstances short of immigration."

    Interestingly, you characterized the results that stemmed from the application of foreign law by our domestic courts as "patently unfair."

    I would assume - without knowing - that the cases to which you are referring turn on the status of child (Ex: husband/wife, father/mother/son/daughter, minor, adult, etc.). I would also assume that the domestic court that rendered the decision chose to defer to the law of the foreign country in deciding that status. I'm curious as to why you think that was unfair. Are you upset by the fact that our domestic courts deferred to the foreign law or are you upset that the substantive laws of Iceland and Bolivia differ in respect to the issue?

    I was really delighted to see you talking about so many legal issues in this entry - especially the Conflicts issues. Hearing about this stuff from you really makes the things I learned in class this morning come to life for me. : )

  3. Japan's making her decide that? Laame. There are crazier laws, though: Turkey does not recognize dual citizenship, and it considers a Turkish citizen to have renounced Turkish citizenship upon receiving another passport. The kicker is that only Turkish citizens can inherit from other Turkish citizens. In other words, tough toenails if your branch of the family has been in Germany for four generations; if you want a share of Grandpa's farm when he dies, you can't become German. At the other end of the scale, Jamaican citizens can never renounce their citizenship. One of my classmates was assigned there, and because she immigrated here from Jamaica as a child and thus still has her Jamaican citizenship, the island's government refused to issue her a diplomatic visa on the grounds that she's already a local.

    Interesting stuff, Ben. I can send you more information offline on this if you'd like - I didn't want to be too specific and risk boring/confusing everyone else.

    There's one particular case that bothers me, the instance of a child born to an unwed American father and a non-citizen mother. The child can claim US citizenship on all three conditions that A) the father must acknowledge paternity* B) the father affirm that he will provide "financial support" for the child until s/he turns 18 and C) the child is legitimated by the laws of the country of birth. (*Some exceptions were made for the children fathered by US soldiers in Vietnam, but that case is pretty much theoretical at this point, since hardly any of these cases are adjudicated anymore.)

    What bothers me is that this third condition varies greatly from country to country, and it is the only instance I have seen where the physical location of a birth abroad can determine whether or not a child is a US citizen. In every other instance we covered, the child's ability to "inherit" US citizenship is entirely predicated on the parents' conditions (eg, US citizen vs. legal permanent resident, lived in the US for X years, in older cases parents' military service, biological and marriage relationship to the child, etc,). The exact same set of parental circumstances, save the mother's location at birth, can produce an American citizen or an alien.

    There are also numerous conflicts in the various immigration and citizenship laws that create radically different conditions for passing on citizenship. For example, an unwed American mother may have an easier time passing on citizenship to her child than if she were married to the alien father of the child. It's insanity - both in terms of a legal code and in terms of figuring out what the hell to do. I suspect other laws have a similar pattern of development, though... so glad I didn't go to law school!

    Reading back over your comment, I noticed something interesting. My problem has nothing to do with US courts - they have no role in this decision. Commissioned consular officers are the ones who make this determination of citizenship eligibility for children born abroad, and - like our visa adjudications - these decisions are shielded from judicial review. It's a little scary how much power this gives me! I imagine that if someone tried hard enough they could get that principle overturned, but as far as I know no one has.

    So yeah, that's the word. I'll probably write more about the laws governing my role as a consular officer in a few posts; it's an interesting little hunk of legislation. It'll probably make more sense, though, once I've talked about immigrant visas.

  4. Hi Hannah,
    Yes, I will be glad to see you Monday. Thanks for your note. RLC

  5. So what you're telling me is that U.S. consulars make immigration decisions according to their interpretation/application of federal law with NO judicial review?

    What a sweet job. You are basically like your own Supreme Court! I can definitely see the practicalilty in that, too.

    So what Congress has done in citizenship law is defer to the law of another country on its own through a choice of law provision, rather than leaving it up to the courts to decide which law to apply (which couldn't happen anyway because Congress has apparently restricted their power of judicial review on the matter).

    The third condition of the test for citizenship in your example is a choice of law provision. Congress could just as easily have enumerated some conditions that must be met for a child to be deemed legitimate based on whatever purpose lies behind having legitimacy a condition of citizenship in the first place. It chose instead to defer to the law of the country of birth.

    You find the results generated by this provision unfair.

    But I'm still curious about what you find unfair about either the legislative decision to defer to foreign law or the results of applying foreign law to the citizenship determination. I think I know why you feel that way, but I don't want to make any suggestions because you might have some novel reasons I haven't thought of.

    I apologize if this is boring everyone. The question of which law applies is fundamental to all legal issues, but its so damn hard to figure out. And we will never resolve the unfairness that hannah speaks of if we can't come up with a principled basis for resolving that question. So I don't think this is a waste of our time.

  6. My problem is that an aspect of our citizenship-acquisition law is based on the laws of other countries. To me this seems to be a big departure from the way any other person acquires US citizenship at birth. Had that child been born to the same parents in third country, US citizenship might be easily attained. The argument can be made that the child would have easily been a US citizen had he or she been born on US soil, but that dodges the point, I think.

    I'm quite sure this issue rarely comes up. I'm not even sure if there are any countries in the world that do not have some sort of framework for eventually conferring legitimacy onto a child born out of wedlock. The fact remains, however, that all else being equal, the law makes one aspect of determining a child's right to US citizenship dependent on a foreign law, and I don't think that is right, because it will cause variance in situations where every other factor is the same.

    I don't mind so much basing parts of our law on other nations' laws. I do mind when it produces varying results in something so crucial as citizenship. Does that make sense?

  7. Correct me if I'm wrong, hannah, but regarding the case Leslie mentioned, I don't believe the Japanese girl would lose her American citizenship unless she actually wanted to and voluntarily renounced. Just because Japan might not consider her a dual citizen doesn't give them the right to take her U.S. citizenship away.

    There was a similar situation in Mexico. In the 1970s, Mexico began demanding that dual U.S.-Mexican citizens choose one nationality over the other, and many duals were "forced" to come to the embassy to renounce their citizenship. Later, however, Mexico changed the law and many Mexicans who had been dual citizens wanted their U.S. citizenship back. Basically, if the U.S./Mexican could say that "I only renounced my citizenship under duress," the U.S. government would once again recognize them as citizens.

  8. And you're right, hannah, citizenship law is a confusing hodge-podge of laws. The problem is that Congress has periodically imposed new laws on nationality without making them retroactive, so the law in question depends on when someone was born!