For American-Israeli women like me, having a baby means a trip to the U.S. Embassy. Once you are home from the hospital, and once your newborn’s Israeli birth certificate is granted and health care benefits are in order, you head to the embassy to apply for U.S. citizenship on behalf of your infant.
With the U.S. passport (replete with a funny-looking newborn passport pic) in hand, you can relax knowing you won’t face visa headaches when it’s time to take your bundle of joy to America so the grandparents can kvell.
Convenience is, of course, only one of the reasons that American parents anywhere in the world want to quickly establish the automatic U.S. citizenship granted to kids with at least one parent who is a citizen. In a post-9/11 world, American citizenship and the ability to travel freely in and out of the U.S. is not something to be taken for granted.
When I went through the process for my three Israeli-born children, my biggest worries were getting the diaper bag through embassy security and filling out the forms coherently on very little sleep. But mothers who had their babies using assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, are now facing a much bigger and more serious problem: Many of these children are being denied citizenship altogether.
As Michele Chabin reports in USA Today, the U.S. government is actively enforcing a regulation that forces parents to prove that either the egg or the sperm used to create the embryo that resulted in their child was the biological material of a U.S. citizen. The fact that an American woman carried that embryo in her womb, gave birth, and is raising the child is not enough to qualify the baby for citizenship.
The regulation states: “A child born outside the USA to an American cannot receive citizenship until a biological link with at least one parent is established.” Children who are legally adopted are specifically exempt from the rule, but IVF babies from donor eggs are not.
Ellie Lavi, who lives in Israel but is originally from Chicago, was quoted in the USA Today article as being “humiliated and horrified,” when an embassy clerk told her that her twin girls could not become citizens unless Lavi could prove that they came from her eggs.
Lavi, like other women who were grilled regarding their children’s biological origins, believes she was ‘profiled’ for questioning, since she was a single woman in her 40s with twins. Such profiling is clearly unfair and discriminatory; such questions invasive, and show little respect for privacy.
And “proving” biological heritage is no easy task. If these rules remain in place, pre-warned parents will begin lying, and then what? As a matter of course, paternity and maternity tests could potentially become necessary for making a baby a U.S. citizen.
These rules are simply bizarre. What counts is the biological material, not the actual parent. Presumably, a non-American citizen of any nationality — British, French, Israeli, Saudi Arabian — could give birth to a baby, and if she was able to prove that either its donor eggs or sperm came from a U.S. citizen, the child would get American citizenship.
The loophole has the potential for creating a new hi-tech ‘anchor baby.’ Foreign women could fly to the U.S., get pregnant by an American sperm and/or donor eggs, fly back home, and give birth to a little U.S. citizen without any real American parent. This is exactly the kind of fraud that the rules were set up to prevent.
The one ray of hope in the USA Today article is the fact that the State Department “is studying whether it can interpret the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow U.S. citizen parents to “transmit American citizenship to their children born abroad through artificial reproductive technology in a broader range of circumstances.”
I hope they study hard. And quick. And draw the necessary conclusions, and change the rules accordingly. Clearly, this situation has the potential to affect thousands of parents and children. It is a particular problem in Israel, where many Americans live, and which has a statistically large number of people who take advantage of state-subsidized fertility treatments. So it is no surprise that Israel is where the issue has come to light. But with so many new ways to make a baby, a decision by the U.S. government to bring the rules up to date will help Americans everywhere.