Mainstream media, Democrats, and Resistance Twitter have united to eviscerate a change to citizenship policy regarding children of overseas-deployed military members. The only problem? They’re all reading the policy wrong.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services released an update to its policies on how citizenship is assigned to children of American citizens born overseas on Wednesday. The admittedly confusing document centered on the definition of the term “residence” and how it figures in the transmission of citizenship from parents to child – a potentially thorny subject, given the Trump administration’s occasional threat to do away with birthright citizenship.
Commentators pounced on the document, interpreting it to mean that children born to members of the US military stationed overseas would no longer receive automatic citizenship at birth. An avalanche of accusations followed – this was “gross disrespect for our troops and government workers,” who would surely abandon their posts en masse at being so ill-treated.
Except…that wasn’t what the policy said. NBC’s Ken Dilanian, one of the first reporters to come out with a story, deleted his original tweet – after it had been reposted dozens of times – and posted a correction.
But the original, wrong story was too good to drop. Despite some reporters issuing similar corrections, it proliferated through the ranks of Congress, attracting Democrats eager to be seen as sticking up for members of the military. “Congress needs to act to stop this,” declared an Arizona congressman. “We won’t let this stand,” a California congressman pledged.
A twilight-zone narrative which saw Trump axing automatic citizenship for children of servicemembers stationed overseas because his dead nemesis John McCain had been born in Panama even started trending. “Had new Trump policy denying citizenship to children of troops (and diplomats) born overseas been in effect in 1936 Sen John McCain could not have run for POTUS,” one person tweeted, warning that the administration could “expect court challenges.”
USCIS director Ken Cuccinelli took to Twitter Wednesday night to try to clear things up, but by then the damage had been done. People were “freaking out over nothing,” he complained, noting that the policy update was merely an attempt to reconcile the State Department definition of “residence” with the term’s definition in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
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“This policy update does not deny citizenship to the children of US government employees or members of the military born abroad,” he said in a statement tweeted by USCIS. “This does NOT impact birthright citizenship.”