Sunday, January 12, 2020
Throughout the history of Europe and its new world colonies, families have been a central unit for defining legal rights and duties, including those related to citizenship and immigration. Less than a century ago, a woman and her children automatically gained or lost citizenship in the U.S. and many other countries upon her marriage to a citizen or noncitizen. The family was treated as one unit reflecting the legal identity of the father-husband as “head of family.”
Fortunately, the U.S. and other governments have increasingly recognized women – and, to a lesser extent, children – as independent persons with separate identities under the law. Women no longer lose their U.S. citizenship when they marry foreign men, and children born out of wedlock now may inherit their parents’ citizenship. However, the move away from a patriarchal legal definition of family has coincided with decreasing respect for family unity as a basis for citizenship and immigration rights.
This paper identifies three important forces that help explain some of the developments described above: (1) recurring popular desire to restrict immigration, (2) continuing popular desire to provide immigrant family unity, and (3) administrative desire for clarity and efficiency. It uses three “snapshots” of jus sanguinis citizenship acquisition in 1865, 1920, and 2018 to illustrate a paradigm shift from a view of the immigrant family as a single unit to a focus on each individual family member’s case for immigration and citizenship.