U.S. Couple Sues State Dept. Over Policy Denying Their Baby Citizenship

This summer, James Derek Mize and his husband, Jonathan Gregg, celebrated their daughter’s first birthday at home in Atlanta with a party that coincided with WorldPride. Dressed in a rainbow outfit, the birthday girl, Simone, did what toddlers are bound to do: Took a fleeting glance at her presents and instead found delight in her favorite “toy,” an outdoor water hose.

It was a memorable day for the parents. It was also a respite from the looming reality that Simone, who was born abroad with the help of a surrogate, would soon be at risk of being removed from the country that is her home.

“I try not to think about ICE coming to our door and deporting our baby,” Mr. Mize said in an interview last week. “That is a pretty hard thing to think about.”

On Tuesday, the couple filed a discrimination lawsuit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the department’s decision to deny citizenship to Simone, even though both Mr. Mize and Mr. Gregg are American.

Their case, highlighted in a New York Times article in May, has drawn renewed attention to a State Department policy for children born abroad through assisted reproductive technology, which has come under scrutiny in recent months for its effect on same-sex couples. In June, nearly 100 Democratic members of Congress called on Mr. Pompeo to reverse the policy, which they called “cruel” and “deeply disturbing.”

Mr. Mize was born and raised in the United States. Mr. Gregg was born in Britain to an American mother, making him an American citizen as well. The couple, who married in 2015 in the United States, decided to start a family with the help of a close British friend, who offered to be their surrogate. Simone was born in Britain last year, using a donor egg and the sperm of her British-born father.

But when the family returned to their home in the Atlanta area and later applied for Simone’s American passport, they were denied.

The family was subject to a State Department policy that places an emphasis on biology when considering citizenship at birth. If the source of the sperm and egg do not match her married parents, the case can be treated as “out of wedlock,” which comes with a higher bar to citizenship.

In their case, Mr. Gregg, who moved to the United States to be with his husband, did not meet a five-year residency requirement. His lawyers say that requirement would not have applied if the case had rightfully been treated as in wedlock.

The State Department is fighting similar lawsuits from two other same-sex couples.

“Marriage is so fundamental to how you define a family,” said Aaron Morris, the executive director of Immigration Equality, which has worked on all three cases. “To disenfranchise a little girl of citizenship because she has two dads is invidious discrimination that has been struck down time and time again.”

The State Department declined to comment on Tuesday, citing pending litigation. In court documents, the department has argued that the policy does not discriminate and applies to opposite-sex and same-sex couples alike.

Same-sex couples, however, cannot conceive on their own, and advocates believe they are far more likely to be questioned when applying for citizenship.

The State Department’s policy on assisted reproductive technology is based on an interpretation of immigration law, which includes language that children are “born” of their parents and mentions a “blood relationship” in certain cases. The rules for passing down citizenship for children born abroad are meant to prevent fraud and ensure that children born abroad have a sufficient connection to the United States.

Karen Loewy, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, said that the State Department is “reading a biology requirement into the words of the statute that don’t exist.”

“What the State Department is doing is applying a provision of the law that only comes into play if you are considering them a nonmarital couple,” said Ms. Loewy, who worked with Immigration Equality on the case.

It is unclear how many people the policy affects.

While the policy has existed for years, the issue took on new urgency after the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriages in 2015. Mr. Morris said that Immigration Equality had heard from at least three dozen families in similar situations since mid-2017.

In another case, a married Israeli-American gay couple had twin sons in Canada using sperm from each of the fathers. The biological son of the American received citizenship, but his brother, the biological son of the Israeli, did not. In a ruling this year, a federal judge sided with the couple, calling the department’s interpretation of the immigration law “strained.” The State Department is appealing.

The government is also fighting a similar suit from a lesbian couple in London. One woman is American and the other is Italian. The women took turns conceiving and carrying their two children. Only the child born to the American mother was granted citizenship.

Mr. Mize and Mr. Gregg said they were wary of adding their names to the legal fight. But “we just kept returning to how we would be telling this story to Simone later in life,” Mr. Mize said. “We never want her to think we didn’t fight for her.”

There were also practical considerations.

Simone’s tourist visa will expire at the end of July, according to the family and their lawyers.

She will not be permitted to go outside the country, leaving her unable to travel to her grandparents and relatives abroad. “We cannot visit them,” Mr. Gregg said. “She is land locked.”

She does not have a Social Security number, her family said, and her parents were not able to claim her as a dependent on their tax returns.

And without citizenship at birth, she would not have certain rights in the future, such as the ability to run for president one day.

“We are very conscious that this first year of Simone’s life is very special and precious, and we will never get it back,” Mr. Mize said. “We are trying every day to live in the moment and to enjoy this time despite what is happening.”

He said there had been plenty of parenting moments to treasure in recent weeks: Simone learning to walk. Simone bouncing in the living room to her favorite song, “Baby Shark.” Simone saying her first words.

“She points at us,” he said, “and says, ‘Dada.’”


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