Flying the Friendly Skies...
May 30, 2007 12:00 PM   Subscribe

There was a story last week in the news about a woman who gave birth while on a Delta Airlines flight from Munich to Atlanta....

This article goes into the details, but it left out something that got me wondering.

It doesn't mention the mother's nationality, however it DOES mention that the baby was born somewhere over Washington, DC.

If the mother was a foreigner, can the baby claim US citizenship because he/she was born in American Airspace? After all, if a Cuban can make it to American soil, he's eligible for citizenship, right?

Would it make a difference if the baby was born on a foreign carrier in American airspace instead of being on a Delta flight? (e.g. the aircraft was Air-France).

If it did make a difference that the aircraft was of a foreign registry, would that difference be negated if the flight in question was a code-share with an American carrier? (e.g. you're physically flying on Lufthansa but your ticket is issued by Delta)

Crazy question, I know - but I can't stop wondering about it.
posted by matty to Law & Government (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Cubans are a special case, I think. It doesn't work that way for other nationalities.
posted by sutel at 12:07 PM on May 30, 2007

Also, from the UN's Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
Article 3

For the purpose of determining the obligations of Contracting States under this Convention, birth on a ship or in an aircraft shall be deemed to have taken place in the territory of the State whose flag the ship flies or in the territory of the State in which the aircraft is registered, as the case may be.
posted by MsMolly at 12:16 PM on May 30, 2007

Holy cow... guess I'd better make sure my pregnant wife doesn't fly Air Koryo.
posted by hodyoaten at 12:29 PM on May 30, 2007

According to an interview with the doctor, the mother was from Munich. The child will be German by birth, but by virtue of birth should also be eligible for US citizenship.

After all, if a Cuban can make it to American soil, he's eligible for citizenship, right?

That's the infamous wet foot dry foot policy. It's an exception to US immigration law, and it means eligibility for legal residency, not citizenship (a legal resident may apply for naturalized citizenship after a period of years).

There has also been a long practice of Latin American immigrants, legal or not, making every effort so that their children are born in the U.S., making them automatic citizens. Under prior immigration law this gave family members a leg up when applying, as there was a policy to try to keep families together, but the revisions being knocked about by Congress right now would severely curtail that loophole.

The foreign carrier issue wouldn't affect eligibility; US law holds that US airspace is part of its territory [pdf], so anyone born on a plane inside the US coastal borders (the 12 mile limit of international law) is eligible. Between the 12 mile limit and the 200 mile resource limit would require "adjudication".

So a German mother and a Danish father could have a child on a French airplane traveling in US airspace, and be eligible for four passports. Some countries, however, do not recognize dual citizenship.
posted by dhartung at 1:27 PM on May 30, 2007

another case
posted by krautland at 2:13 PM on May 30, 2007

I have a friend this happened to. His parents are German (from Munich, actually); he holds both German and American passports by sheer virtue of being bound for America when he was born.
posted by kdar at 3:49 PM on May 30, 2007

"For the location of the structure where the birth occurred (which is typically the city and county of a hospital), the county should be "In flight," and the city should be the name and flight number of the aircraft and the latitude and longitude coordinates of the point over which the child entered the world."

- Fascinating!

Excellent answers all - thanks MeFites! It looks like the answer is a little more convoluted than I thought it would be, especially in light of the howstuffworks article mentioning 'regardless of altitude'. Makes me wonder even more!

Thanks again.
posted by matty at 3:51 PM on May 30, 2007

Post-preview... kdar - that sounds interesting in and of itself. Care to share any more of the details?
posted by matty at 3:52 PM on May 30, 2007

he holds both German and American passports by sheer virtue of being bound for America when he was born.

no, he does not.
germany does not permit dual citizenship just because of sheer virtue. there are a few exceptions but they are based on need, not luck, location of birth and the likes, and are very tough to secure. if he neglected to mention his being awarded american citizenship and they catch him, he will lose his german citizenship and be prosecuted.
posted by krautland at 4:56 PM on May 30, 2007

I'm afraid you're wrong, krautland. Dual citizenship is permitted in certain circumstances, including that of kdar's friend.
posted by zamboni at 5:54 PM on May 30, 2007

I did mention there were exceptions. I myself am in the process of getting one [I am a german citizen with an offer of U.S. citizenship, thus the need to consult the german authorities]. but if he was offered and accepted any other citizenship based on location of birth, he renounced the german one. that one can only be kept if he proved to them a special need to have both. merely wishing to vote in both countries for example isn't enough of a reason.
posted by krautland at 6:34 PM on May 30, 2007

It's very simple - German restrictions on dual citizenship only apply if the second citizenship is voluntary. Kdar's friend involuntarily acquired both citizenships at birth, and doesn't need to renounce anything.
posted by zamboni at 7:00 PM on May 30, 2007

off topic, but I thought it wasn't advised for pregnant women that far along to be flying? my friend had to cancel a trip to Hawaii b/c she was five months preggo. maybe German docs are more flexible.
posted by killy willy at 7:19 PM on May 30, 2007

Krautland: this is what my family did (in fact, we were the first family in our consulate's area of responsibility to file for the Beibehaltungsgenehmigung). It wasn't too difficult, you just have to show that (a) you maintain close relations with Germany (family ties, bank accounts, frequent trips home) and (b) your lack of USian citizenship is negatively impacting your life significantly (not only can't vote, but have trouble pursuing your chosen profession (that doesn't include becoming Senator Krautland), like not being able to get a security clearance for a job.

But "an offer of US citizenship"? It's not like the government contacts you out of the blue and asks you to become a citizen. You have to apply and they get back to you. Once you're approved, you pretty much go through with it, and can't say "actually, no thanks, canada made a better offer".
posted by yggdrasil at 11:15 AM on May 31, 2007

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