Ask an Immigration Lawyer: Is a US Passport Enough to Prove I am a Citizen?

Collage by Alan López for Remezcla

It’s a frightening time for immigrants. Although previous presidents have deported immigrants in large numbers, many – especially those without criminal records – felt a relative sense of normalcy. But with an administration that is outwardly hostile toward immigrant populations, any comfort previously felt is gone. As Donald Trump attempts to tighten immigration laws and cut down on even legal forms of migration into the United States, it can be difficult to keep up with the changing landscape.

That’s why we have launched the Ask an Immigration Lawyer column. Twice a month, Nubia Willman – a Chicago-based immigration attorney with nearly decade of experience – answers your questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and more. This column is not meant to be construed as legal advice. You should not act upon any information provided without seeking the advice of an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. 

Submit a question here and check out previous columns here.

Dear Nubia: I was born abroad and automatically acquired US citizenship through my mother, who was naturalized. I never acquired a certificate of citizenship. Do I need the certificate to prove that I’m a citizen even though I have a US passport? If so, should I apply for one now or wait until this administration blows over?

–Worried Immigrant

Dear Worried: I understand exactly how you feel because I also only have a passport as proof of citizenship. And in this political climate, sometimes I feel a dread that a passport may not be enough, but thankfully a passport is more than sufficient. There are a variety of situations where children of citizens can acquire citizenship without having to actually file a citizenship application. For example, in my case, I was a lawful permanent resident and my mother naturalized before I turned 16, which “magically” (i.e. through the power of our legal system) turned me into a citizen.

In cases where children acquire citizenship, most parents apply for a US passport for their kids as proof of status. That passport confers upon the person the same rights and responsibilities as someone who was born here and is really all you need. There is a certificate of citizenship one can apply for in addition to the passport. The benefit of the certificate is that it never expires (unlike a passport) and there may be some extremely limited circumstances where it is the better form of proof. But those situations are so limited that it is more likely than not that you will be able to travel, work, attend school, file taxes, apply for benefits, vote, etc. with just your passport.

Get the certificate if you really need the peace of mind, but you can also rest easy knowing your passport is enough.


Disclaimer: The information on this column is not legal advice. Legal information is not the same as legal advice, which is the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information provided in this column is not a substitute for and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. Although Remezcla goes to great lengths to make sure the information on the column is accurate and up to date, we make no claim as to the accuracy of this information and are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of this column.

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