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April 2015


the foreign Service journal

When Families Divide

The case I find myself thinking about

most was a woman who came in to the

consulate with a newborn. She had been

born and raised in San Diego, had gone

to school, to college, and had a career,

a life partner and two other children

born in California. She was visiting her

grandmother in Ensenada when she had

complications that led to an unexpected

emergency cesarean section in Mexico.

During her interview, she candidly men-

tioned that she has visited her grand-

mother every few months all her life.

With that on the table, I had no choice

but to deny her application. Had she

been married, or a man, she would have

been able to transmit citizenship, but as

an unwed mother she didn’t meet the

legal requirement. It was

as simple as that.

She was devastated

to learn that she would

not be taking her tiny

baby home to California

anytime soon. Through

tears she said, “But why?

I don’t understand. You

are breaking up my fam-


My assurances that she

could obtain citizenship

for her child via the Child

Citizenship Act offered

little consolation. It’s hard

for parents in this situa-

tion to find comfort in a

backup plan that costs far

Take AFSAWith You! Change your address online, visit us at Or Send changes to: AFSAMembership Department 2101 E Street NW Washington, DC 20037 Moving?

For unwed mothers on the border, transmitting citizenship

can be a nerve-wracking exercise to prove that they didn’t

set foot in Mexico for an entire 12-month period.

Vera Zdravkova