How You Can Be Born in the US and Not Be a Natural Born US Citizen

Hailing from the US and traveling the world, everyone has something to say about America. Lately it has been Trump.

Here’s a bit of trivia I learned today.

I was waiting through a 2-hour delay for my 20-minute flight from Togo to Benin when I started chatting with a Ghanaian who works in the oil industry, returning from a stint in Equatorial Guinea.

His English was impeccable and he said he was born in the US. He had earlier asked about honeymoon destinations, so I said, “With a US passport, you can…”

He said, “No. I am not a US citizen. My parents were diplomats at the Ghana Embassy in Washington.”

It turns out that children born of accredited diplomats in the US are not US citizens and have no track to naturalize. A quirk of diplomatic immunity.

Each US visa he gets shows place of birth, “Washington, DC,” and when he enters the US he is invariably asked to show his US passport, as even CPB officers are not familiar with this.

That’s my trivia of the day and surprised I retain it as I thought my brain fully melted from the 2-hour drive in Togo dodging motorcycles, and from the heat of the wait and arrival to steamy Benin. I walked to the Best Western Plus Nobila Airport Hotel, had a double cheeseburger at the attached Steers (hey, it’s what the locals eat!) and collapsed in bed for the afternoon.

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  • Michael

    “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

    Courts generally read “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” to exempt diplomatic children.

  • GUWonder

    Those born in the US to then-foreign diplomats in the US at the time of birth, as with those born in the US to then-foreign military forces occupying the US (in the sense of foreign military occupation of US territory) would not be natural born citizens of the US.

    In the meanwhile US Senators McCain and Cruz are natural born US citizens despite being born abroad. Not sure if McCain ever was/is a dual US-Panamian citizen, since he was born to foreign occupying military in Panama and I’m not sure how Panama handles that; however, I’m sure Cruz was a dual US-Canadian citizen.

    By the way, there are some US born children of foreig diplomats who did manage to get US passports by way of their state birth certificates and US state driving licenses at least. But there has been some purging of that which does take place.

  • One more way: if you’re born in the territory of American Samoa, you’re a US “National” but not a US citizen.

  • john

    Interesting quirk. So no land borders than other than Gambia/Senegal?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @john – Guinea-Bissau-Senegal-Gambia-Senegal, otheriwse because did not get Nigeria visa and found an ACC-LFW-COO-DLA with 24 hour stops in each for $260 I flew instead of land and with all the delays, flying was slower.

  • andy

    RTC — Same thing with the King of Thailand — born in the USA, never never a US Citizen.

    GUW — “…Cruz are natural born US citizens despite being born abroad. …, I’m sure Cruz was a dual US-Canadian citizen.”

    Except that Canada didn’t allow dual citizenship when Cruz was born. He had to have been naturalized. His only response to the “birther” requests have been birth certificates, which provide no indication of his citizenship at birth or how he obtained his citizenship(s) — given that he’s a lawyer, his omission leads me to believe that the birther charges are accurate this time around. Not that it will ever matter… the only reason he’s done well in the primaries is Trump. Normally he’d have no shot in a GOP primary outside the South, and he has less than a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being President.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @andy – I wonder if you mention that in Thailand if they can send you to jail, is his birthplace widely known?

  • Shonuffharlem

    http://www.equalrightsnow.org/federal_judge_no_right_to_citizenship_in_u_s_territories

    And by the way it’s a reasonable argument that illegal aliens born in the USA are only citizens via Statute and that lacking such statute or if the opposite was passed they couldn’t get citizens.

  • andy

    @RTC — I think it’s common knowledge and discussing that wouldn’t subject you to the lesse majeste laws. The Thai king was born when his father was studying @Harvard, and spent most of his younger life overseas. He was studying in Europe when his older brother (the prior king) killed himself — soon after he returned to Thailand and hasn’t left since. (that’s from memory — as always, verify if you want accuracy)

    If you were to ask, “why did a king kill himself by rifle shot to the gut, while laying in bed, and why were his servants executed nearly immediately after,” you might run into problems — especially if you used the word “forensics.” When I lived there, I thought it best just to avoid topics of royalty.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @andy – indeed, a subject I avoid entirely when there.