Democratic lawmakers are pressing administration officials to reverse their planned change in citizenship rules for some children of military personnel born overseas, calling it a confusing and unnecessary move that could demoralize troops.
In a letter to Citizenship and Immigration Services acting Director Ken Cuccinelli this week, more than 50 House Democrats called for scrapping the new residency definitions, which said children born to or adopted by some American service members overseas would no longer automatically qualify as U.S. residents.
“We are deeply concerned that this policy change will have a significant impact on the many individuals who are already under great pressure serving our country overseas,” the message states. “We should support our troops and federal workers, not hinder the ability of their children to obtain citizenship.”
The move comes a few days after several House members introduced legislation to block the new policy, a measure which chamber leaders could consider in coming weeks.
USCIS officials said the policy, which goes into effect Oct. 29, will likely affect only about two dozen military families a year. Children whose parents are both U.S. citizens will not see any changes. Children of non-citizens serving in the military, and children born in another country and later adopted by military members may be affected.
The agency has said in many cases, those minors have other avenues to apply for citizenship, and changing the military policies helps simplify the process.
Critics disagree with that reasoning.
“The release of this policy guidance has created significant and unnecessary confusion for all service members and government employees living abroad,” the congressional letter states. “The misinformation surrounding this guidance was so significant that it necessitated an immediate statement clarifying (the intent) …
“Given the complexity of immigration law, as well as the extremely personal nature of the impact of these policies, we hope you would take greater care to appropriately educate affected persons and the public on the intent and effect of these policies in the future.”
Lawmakers are also asking for better estimates on how many individuals might be affected by the change, saying they question the estimates that USCIS has released.
Congress returns from its five-week summer recess on Sept. 9.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.