Elizabeth Taylor: a lesson in transmission of US citizenship

March 23, 2011

Eliz Taylor.jpegWith today's passing in Los Angeles of Hollywood film star, Elizabeth Taylor, the sometimes-sentimental immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong want to examine the question of citizenship. Miss Taylor was born in London, England in 1932 to US citizen parents. So: was she a citizen of the US? or the UK? or was she a dual citizen?

Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, the general rule is that "all persons born ... in the United States [and in certain territories] are citizens of the United States." This rule has been a part of American law since 1868. This aspect of the fundamental rule of the Constitution is today under attack by radicals who do not want the children of undocumented aliens to become citizens. However, Elizabeth Taylor was born in England, so we do not yet have our answer.

Miss Taylor was born in 1932, the daughter of two US citizen parents who were living in England. As a general proposition, a child born in wedlock, outside the USA, to two US citizen parents, automatically acquires US citizenship at birth. Immigration and Nationality Act ยง301.

Although there is much in the storied history of Dame Elizabeth and her renunciations and reacquisitions of US citizenship which would not apply to most people, this general rule still applies. Because the UK uses essentially the same rule about place-of-birth as we do, Dame Elizabeth had both US and UK citizenship.

The rules are different, however, if say:
- only one parent was a US citizen at the time of the child's birth, or
- the child is born out of wedlock to a US citizen mother and foreign father, or
- the child is born out of wedlock to a US citizen father and foreign mother, or
- the child is born at a time when other technicalities of the rules had to be met first.

The rules of acquisition of citizenship are quite complex. For example, a child born out of wedlock in, say, Japan, on 1 January 1953, to a US citizen father and a foreign mother acquires US citizenship if: (a) the father was physically present in the US (or a US possession) for at least ten years prior to the child's birth, five of which were after the age of fourteen. Honorable US military service, employment with the US government or intergovernmental international organization, or as dependent unmarried son or daughter and member of a household of a parent in such service or employment, would be included, and (b) the child's paternity can be established before the child's 21st birth day, by the legitimation law of the father's or the child's residence or domicile.

Now: take another child, born in the same hospital, on the same day, but let's suppose that this other child was born out of wedlock to a US citizen mother and a foreign father. This child automatically acquires US citizenship if: the Mother is physically present in the USA (or a US possession) continuously twelve months at any point prior to the child's birth.

To make matters worse, the US Congress has periodically changed the rules that are in effect. Many of the rules about aqcuisition that were in effect for a child born in, say, 1940 are NOT the rules that were in effect in 1950. And other changes took effect in 1952, and again in 1986.

There are many people who are, or who can claim, US citizenship and may not even be aware of it. For those seeking more information about transmission and acquisition of US citizenship, the immigration and nationality attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong will be glad to answer your questions.

And to Miss Elizabeth Taylor: thanks for your contribution to film. You will be missed. --jcf