Home Sweet Home

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hannah Bean
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Becoming a parent is not the easiest task; there are a slew of various checklists going through each parents’ mind with the primary concern set on the health and development of their child.

One of the last things a parent might have to think of is whether their home nation will give their child citizenship.

This struggle happened to one family living at Yokota Air Base. After nearly a year of fighting, an updated interpretation and application of a section in the Immigration and Nationality Act went through, and they were finally able to get their daughter, Emili, citizenship.

On May 18, 2021, the U.S. State Department changed the interpretation and application of Section 301 of the INA, which takes into account the realities of modern families and advances in reproductive medicine such as in vitro fertilization or surrogacy.

“She was the very first child to receive citizenship under the new law,” said Master Sgt. Haven Hostmeyer, 21st Special Operations Squadron aircrew flight equipment flight chief. “On the 18th, it became law and she gained her citizenship [the same day], because they were able to process the paperwork here.”

The update came after a series of cases for married couples with children born outside the U.S. struggled to get citizenship for their child if the U.S. citizen spouse was not the genetic parent.

The U.S. State Department's interpretation previously required that children born abroad have a genetic or gestational relationship to a U.S. citizen parent.

“When we had her, we asked many questions during that time and a lot of people said that it should be fine, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about,” Haven said. “We kind of just went with what all the doctors and people on the base said.”

Initially when a child is born on Yokota, the parents go through a process to obtain legal U.S. documents such as a passport, birth certificate, Social Security number and more. When Haven and her wife, Rikarda Hostmeyer, began that process for their daughter, they ran into trouble on base being redirected to the U.S. Embassy, where they once again hit a snag.

Since their daughter was not genetically nor gestationally related to Haven Hostmeyer, she was not considered a U.S. citizen under the previous interpretation.

“We were wondering what we could do?” Haven said. “We knew she needed a passport, especially if we have any medical or travel-related emergencies, but nobody would give us one.”

The couple had received a certificate of live birth for their daughter, which specifically denotes that it is “Not for Official Use” on the bottom. Though it sounds very similar to a birth certificate, they are two distinct documents that can mean a world of difference in the eyes of the government.

The certificate of live birth is completed shortly after a baby is born in a hospital as the medical field's way of documenting a human being has entered the world. A birth certificate is a government-issued form of identification created after a child is born for official recording purposes and will have the signature and date of a state official on the bottom.

“When we tried to get with the German government, because my wife is German, they told us this directly says not for official use, so you need to provide a birth certificate to us saying that she was actually born,” Haven said. “Japan doesn’t allow you to get a birth certificate and all that kind of stuff because we’re not Japanese and she was born on base. She didn’t have any kind of citizenship.”

Unsure what to do next, Haven and Rikarda turned to the 374th Airlift Wing and 353rd Special Operations Group Legal Offices for the next possible route they could take. One option they tried included adoption, however, because Haven was listed on the certificate of live birth, their daughter was considered legally hers.

“That was the only other way we could go about getting her American citizenship, so that we could go ahead and process,” Haven said. “They told us that they don’t specialize in immigration, so we were going to have to get a lawyer.”

Throughout the past year, they continued to fight for their daughter’s citizenship, along with other families who had also sued the U.S. government over the years in very similar situations regarding their own children’s citizenship and the old interpretation of the INA that had created complications.

Within 24 hours of the U.S. State Department officially announcing the INA change, their daughter was officially recognized as a U.S. citizen, upon which she received her emergency passport through the U.S. Embassy.

“She turns one next month, and we’ve fought pretty much the entire year for something that shouldn’t have been an issue,” Haven said. “I think this is a huge thing and I’m thankful for the new administration looking into those kind of issues.”

The INA policy update is one of many important changes that largely affects the LGBTQ community and is a step forward to a more inclusive world and a more inclusive military force.

“There’s a lot of military individuals who marry people from their host countries,” Haven said. “This doesn’t just affect the LGBTQ plus community. If an individual, military member or not, has fertility issues and they are married to a local national, they will be able to get citizenship for their child. Especially if they use IVF in that host country. That’s the biggest thing. I couldn’t provide DNA under the old law. If the American citizen is the one that has the issues with fertility, their child can now have citizenship, even though it wasn’t American DNA.”