When I was a young immigration lawyer my boss, who was really a good teacher, told me the very first thing to do with a new client was to determine whether that person might be a U.S. Citizen. It may sound simple, but acquisition of U.S. citizenship at birth for a person who was born abroad has complicated rules that depend on many factors–including whether the individual is acquiring U.S. citizenship from their mother or their father, the year the individual was born, and the number of years the parent was physically present in the U.S. Today someone asked me about the status of his mother who believes her father was a U.S. Citizen, but has no record of his birth or his citizenship. She also doesn’t have her own birth certificate. Meanwhile, she has been living in the U.S. since she was a small child without any proof of her legal status. This is a tricky case, but not that unusual. In some cases it is so hard to find the proof of the individual’s acquired citizenship that it becomes advisable for them to seek permanent residency if they can do so, and leave citizenship for later. Planning ahead is the best approach. The birth of a child to a U.S. citizen parent should be reported as soon as possible so that a Consular Report of Birth Abroad can be issued as an official record of the child’s claim to U.S. citizenship. Unfortunately most cases have not been handled this way and have to be unraveled carefully by a good immigration attorney.

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