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Heymatt:

If an American on vacation in another country gives birth, is the kid automatically a US citizen? Is the kid also a citizen of the birth country? Also, will the newborn require a passport to get back into the US?

-- Baby talk, baby talk, it's a wonder you can walk, Little Italy

Doc-u-ments, doc-u-ments, the only way you'll cross the fence. Does the bambino need paperwork? You bet. No fair smuggling infants, even your own freshly born ones, into the U.S. So say you're touring your way through east Greece or middle Bolivia and out pops the kid. Let the midwives see to the boiling water. If you yourself are not busy giving birth, I'd recommend you get right on the bureaucratic trail. First, birth certificate from the authorities in east Greece or middle Bolivia. Then gather up all your proof of U.S. citizenship, mom's proof of U.S. citizenship, and speed to the closest U.S. consulate or embassy. There you present yourself, mom, kid, paperwork, and a form officially known as an application for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States. If you all pass the smell test, Kiddo will be issued the report, which is infant's ticket back into the States.

As for citizenship, if Mom and Dad are of the U.S. variety, so's the kid, wherever it's born. Automatically. Whether baby also picks up a bonus citizenship depends on where you are. Very few countries grant citizenship to children born to aliens just because those aliens happened to be visiting or living temporarily in those countries at the time of birth. Canada will. Brazil. Mexico. (And the U.S., of course.) A few others. And if years down the road, bambino wants to take advantage of that second citizenship, he may find out it's not exactly what it's cracked up to be. Hard to predict exactly what protections those citizenships will confer. But recently several enterprising tropical countries are more than happy to extend a form of limited citizenship to Americans and others who can deposit substantial amounts of money in the local banking system, a relatively new version of the nationality game.

The 14th Amendment to our Constitution has traditionally welcomed all children born on U.S. soil, regardless of the nationality or legal-residence status of the parents. So until the Patriot Act crowd can figure a way to undo these rights, here are some very clever ways kids of aliens can become U.S citizens: Be born in an airplane in U.S. air space or airport; born on a ship (of whatever registry) that is in a U.S. port or within the 12-miile coastal limit of the U.S. (a U.S.-registry ship is not considered U.S. territory, so if you're 13 miles out, then not even a U.S. ship is your citizenship); be born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Samoa, Guam, and some other U.S. protectorates.

On the other hand, if you're a non-U.S. citizen, you can't run to a U.S. military installation on foreign soil or to a U.S. consulate to give birth and expect your babe to be Uncle Sam's newest nephew. If you could, well, each consulate would probably need its own OB/GYN wing. Reciprocally, kids of foreign diplomats and foreign heads of state residing or visiting in the U.S. can't claim U.S. citizenship just because they were born here during the family's tenure.

One last caveat on this citizenship thing. Say Mom, Dad, and Baby come illegally into the U.S., and Mom and Dad become naturalized citizens. That does not automatically confer U.S. citizenship on Kid, as many families have found out. There are many stories of non-naturalized kids of naturalized parents who've essentially grown up in the U.S. but were deported back to their birth country by the INS based on the kid's history of criminal activity in the U.S. Mom and Dad can stay here, while the little felon is returned to a country he doesn't know and where he might have no family ties.

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