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ALLAN WERNICK: Children of naturalized citizens can become US citizens if they are under 18


Q. I recently became a naturalized US citizen. If my child becomes a permanent resident, will he also automatically become a US citizen? My son is 16 years old and her application to adjust status to permanent resident is pending with US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Jean Pierre Maissa, Long Island City

A. If you were married to the mother of your child, or he was born in a country that treats a child born out of wedlock as “legitimate,” or your child is legitimated under the law of the place where you live, you must become a Citizen once USCIS grants you permanent residence. That is true as long as your child has not turned 18 years old.

When your child becomes a US citizen, we say that he or she “got” citizenship. You can get a US passport and, if you want, a Certificate of Citizenship. Even without a passport or certificate, the law considers you a US citizen.

Let’s review the rules for derivative citizenship. Permanent residents who have not yet reached the age of 18 on February 27, 2001, obtain US citizenship if at least one parent is a US citizen by birth or naturalization; the child is not married and has not yet reached the age of 18; and the child resides in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the US citizen parent.

The order of events does not make any difference. If a child is a permanent resident and under the age of 18, and the parent(s) later naturalize, the child obtains automatic derivative citizenship. If the parent(s) naturalize and the child later obtains permanent residence before turning 18, the child becomes a US citizen at the time she becomes a permanent resident.

The rules are slightly more restrictive for children who were already 18 years old on February 27, 2001. Readers can find an excellent table on derivative citizenship prepared by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, at ilrc.org/acquisition-derivation-quick-reference-charts.

Q. My girlfriend is from Puerto Rico. If we get married, can she sponsor me for permanent residence? I’m from Honduras

Juan Munoz

A. Yes. People born in Puerto Rico are US citizens at birth. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, sometimes called an unincorporated territory. Puerto Ricans have the same rights as other US citizens to petition for a spouse or other relative.

Allan Wernick is an attorney and Senior Legal Counsel for Citizenship Now! from the City University of New York. project. Questions and comments by email to @allanwernick.com. Follow him on Twitter @awernick

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