Citizenship, Then and Now

An article this week in The New York Times discussed a recent Supreme Court decision, that of children born overseas when one parent is a United States citizen and one is not. For a number of years the rules governing the children’s citizenship when the parents are not married have been different for children depending on whether their mother or father was the US citizen.

The specifics are different, but the general issue of citizenship for children born overseas is one that I recently came across in the European Personnel files from the 1960s.

Nearly 100 small boxes labeled as “European Personnel” files were sent from the HIAS European headquarters, then in Geneva, in 1995. These files were included with the other administrative files that became part of our HIAS archives project last year. The files range in date from about 1954, the year HIAS merged with United Service for New Americans (USNA) and with the Migration Department of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to the mid-1980s.

Many are personnel files for staff from HIAS and JDC offices in Europe and North Africa which will not become part of the archives. The remaining files are predominantly those of Irving Haber, the Director of Administration and Finance in the Geneva office which had moved from Paris during his tenure. Haber’s files contain three kinds of records: general administrative matters including policies, manuals and correspondence; files of correspondence and administrative documents relating to senior professional staff in all of the European and North African offices, titled by employee name; and country files containing general business issues in specific countries and cities.

At different times the HIAS offices supervised through headquarters in Paris and, by 1962 Geneva, included Munich, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Tunis, Casablanca, Algiers and others. As the number of emigrants and refugees grew and shrank in specific locations, HIAS opened and closed offices, and dealt with administrative issues to be expected in the European headquarters of an immigration organization. Sprinkled through the files are documents that give a brief look at the actual migration work that the staff was doing; because few other files from the European offices are specifically those of the people actually doing migration work, these files should prove of great interest to researchers.

One of the many issues HIAS helped its overseas personnel deal with was the status of the United States citizenship of children born to staff while stationed overseas – in many cases for their entire lives until leaving for college. Irving Haber was worried in 1971, for example, about a recent Supreme Court ruling that might affect his children if they weren’t able to live in the United States for 5 consecutive years before they were 28.

Concern about residence requirement for US Citizens board abroad, 1971

Other documents discuss possible outcomes to the 1971 ruling, including bills pending in Congress with shorter lengths of time to live in the United States, and involve not only leadership from the HIAS office in New York but other HIAS and JDC staff living overseas with the same worries about their children’s citizenship status.

Clearly this is a situation that has existed for decades and that is still being clarified and adjusted based on changing global situations. It is startling to learn that children of a US citizen devoted to aiding those in need of resettlement might find themselves without the option of inheriting the citizenship of their parent.

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