What Do New Citizenship Rules For Kids Of U.S. Military, Workers Abroad Mean? Trump officials say a new policy on citizenship for children born abroad affects only a small fraction of U.S. service members and government workers. But the change touched off a major backlash.

What Do New Citizenship Rules For Kids Of U.S. Military, Workers Abroad Mean?

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The children of some U.S. military members and government workers overseas will have a harder time getting citizenship under a new Trump administration policy. The changes will affect a relatively small number of people. But the announcement has touched off widespread confusion, even outrage, including from veterans groups, who say this hurts people who are serving their country.

NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration. He is here with us now. Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Explain this new policy to the extent that we understand it because there was all kinds of confusion when it dropped yesterday.

ROSE: For sure and it's understandable because this one is complicated. But let's start with what it doesn't do. It doesn't take away automatic citizenship from the children of most U.S. citizens overseas. So the vast majority of children born abroad to citizens in the military or working for the government will still get citizenship. Let me give you a real-life example. If this had been in place when John McCain was born on a naval base in the Panama Canal Zone, he would still have gotten citizenship automatically.

KELLY: All right. Who knew?

ROSE: But there are some groups for whom that will no longer be the case. And they include parents who adopted children while serving abroad and immigrants who are recently naturalized citizens but have not yet met the residency requirements for U.S. residency in order to transmit citizenship onto their children automatically. Those parents can still get citizenship for their kids, but it won't be automatic. They will have to go through a more lengthy application process.

KELLY: All right. To the pushback already emerging against this rule, I described outrage. Who is outraged and why?

ROSE: Well, there are a couple of reasons for this. I mean, one, we're talking about the active-duty military, and anything that negatively impacts service members is going to touch a nerve. This is also about immigration and citizenship - also touchy subjects.

And you know, another reason is there was a lot of confusion, as you noted. I mean, at first when this rule came out, many people thought that President Trump was ending automatic citizenship for all babies born on U.S. military bases. That storyline was shared on social media quite a lot last night. And it seems plausible if you remember that President Trump has been talking about taking away birthright citizenship so that the children of immigrants who are here in the U.S. illegally are not automatic citizens. And people wondered if this was like a first step toward that goal.

Administration officials tried to explain that is not what is happening here. But in fact, they had helped create this confusion in the first place by putting out guidance about the policy that was itself pretty confusing and sometimes contradictory.

KELLY: Well, why does the administration think this is a good idea?

ROSE: Well, this policy came from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That's the agency in charge of legal immigration. Officials there insist this is just a technical change. It's about aligning USCIS policy with State Department guidance. The acting director of USCIS, Ken Cuccinelli, tried to do some damage control and put out a statement and tweeted trying to downplay the impact of this change before it takes effect in October.

KELLY: And we said this will affect a relatively small number of people. How small? How many?

ROSE: We don't know exactly how many. But immigration experts tell me it's a hundred - maybe hundreds of kids per year. But immigrant advocates say that this policy is still a big deal if you're one of those families to. Ur Jaddou was the chief counsel at USCIS under President Obama. She is now the director of DHS Watch, an immigrant advocacy group. Here's what she told me.

UR JADDOU: Why? Why are we doing this? What problem are we trying to solve except create concern and fear in this population of people who are abroad?

ROSE: Jaddou thinks this is just another in a long line of Trump administration policies aimed at immigrants, trying to limit who can come into the country and who can become a citizen.

KELLY: Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Joel Rose.

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