by Elizabeth R. Blandon

Foreign-born children are able to obtain U.S. citizenship much faster than their parents. This article discusses several laws that expedite that process and concludes that no child’s citizenship opportunity should be overlooked.

Because a child becomes a citizen automatically when her parent (mother or father) becomes a U.S. citizen, parents should try to naturalize as soon as possible. Naturalization is the process by which a legal permanent resident applies to become a U.S. citizen. A child, defined as someone under the age of 18 years of age, is automatically a citizen when the last of two conditions is met: her parent becomes a U.S. citizen and the child becomes a legal permanent resident. Although the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) does issue a Certificate of Citizenship, the minor should apply directly for a United States passport instead.

This automatic benefit – provided by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 – does not apply to children whose step-parent is a U.S. citizen. When a step-parent is a US citizen, that person petitions the child; after the interview, the child becomes a legal permanent resident. Residency allows the child to live legally in the United States, but does not grant other rights such as voting.

Importantly, the Child Citizenship Act does apply to children whose adoptive parents are U.S. citizens. When another family member (such as a grandparent or aunt) has raised a child and that person is now a U.S. citizen, the family member can petition the child. This happens even if the family member obtains an adoption certificate many years after the adult decided to become the guardian for the child. CIS will recognize foreign adoptions and foreign birth certificates obtained as a result of those adoption decrees. Again, in this case, the child becomes a U.S. citizen as soon as the guardian becomes a naturalized citizen.

One of the most memorable cases that came through the office doors was an amazing athlete who wanted travel permission so he could accompany his soccer team for international competitions. Because he was raised by his U.S. citizen grandmother, he was eligible to apply for his U.S. passport directly and – in the not too distant future – may be playing for the U.S. Olympic team.

Under another law, known as the Child Status Protection Act, the minor is still eligible to apply for legal permanent residence even if she is now over 21 years of age. That law safeguards the child from suffering because of delays caused by CIS in the processing of cases. Because the former-child (now an adult over 21) obtains a “green card” faster, she can apply for naturalization faster.

Last, but certainly not least, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) will help over 100,000 minors become legal permanent residents. This bill gives persons who were brought into the U.S. when they were children the possibility of living in the country legally. The children will have to either attend college or join the military as a requirement for this benefit; many would do so willingly but are forbidden because of their illegal status.

Obviously, the immigration laws and regulations used to enforce them are complex. This article is not legal advice.