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Looking at the "Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship by a Child Born Abroad" page, it seems that there are some combinations where the targeted baby may not be an American citizen by default. So, what happens when the American parent tries taking the baby with them to the U.S.? Does the baby get deported as an illegal immigrant? Possibly to an orphanage/foster-care if the other parent isn't there and/or the U.S. parent doesn't want to travel? Is there a way for the American parent have the baby converted to a (naturalized) citizen?

Oh, and that page doesn't seem to cover what happens if both parents are U.S. citizens, but not in wedlock. Does anyone know the policy in that case?

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  • For your second paragraph, two Americans have a child abroad who were not married would likely be the same as a mother and a legal alien for all intents and purposes.
    – hszmv
    Aug 31 '18 at 11:59
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    I expect it'd be just like anyone else who tried to enter the US without proper documents - the child would be refused boarding at the origin airport, or refused entry upon arrival. None of these makes them an illegal immigrant (because they didn't actually immigrate) or results in deportation. The parent would be obliged to go with the child, or find someone else to do so, because of their general responsibility to care for the child and not abandon them. The parent could come back on their own later. Aug 31 '18 at 13:49
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    Or are you asking what happens if a US citizen smuggles their alien child into the country and is then caught?
    – user6726
    Aug 31 '18 at 14:43
  • @hszmv an alien who is abroad is neither legal nor illegal with respect to US immigration status.
    – phoog
    Sep 2 '18 at 12:59
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    "Oh, and that page doesn't seem to cover what happens if both parents are U.S. citizens, but not in wedlock. Does anyone know the policy in that case?" 8 FAM 301.7-4(E)(1) covers that case
    – user102008
    Sep 11 '18 at 23:42
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So, what happens when the American parent tries taking the baby with them to the U.S.?

If the child has proper documents, the specifics of which depend on the child's citizenship and the purpose of entering the US, nothing will happen.

If the visit is temporary, the child needs the same documents as any temporary visitor with the same citizenship. If the parent intends to remain in the US indefinitely, the child should have an immigrant visa, in which case the child will become a US citizen on arrival.

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Is there a way for the American parent have the baby converted to a (naturalized) citizen?

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 lays out the requirements for non-citizen children of US citizens to be naturalized. It is the primary route by which children adopted from abroad gain US citizenship, but it applies to biological children as well. The basic requirements are that the child has at least one US citizen parent who has legal custody, the child is under 18, and the child is a legal permanent resident in the US. The child's permanent residency can be established by the parent filing a Petition for Alien Relative.

[T]hat page doesn't seem to cover what happens if both parents are U.S. citizens, but not in wedlock. Does anyone know the policy in that case?

As pointed out in the comments on the main question, this is covered by a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Essentially, paternity must be established and acknowledged by the father (these are the "requirements of INA 309(a)"); and at least one parent must have been resident in the United States at some point before the child's birth, just as is the case if the child was born in wedlock.

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In most jurisdictions, familiy reunification is a valid reason for immigration, including the US. So it should be straight-forward to get the neccessary paperwork allowing the child to live with their parents as a resident alien.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_reunification

Of course, naturalization is also an option.

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    The child will not be able to "live with their parents as a resident alien" because doing so will immediately cause the child to acquire US citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, as noted in Michael Seifert's answer. The way this actually would work is that the parents would sponsor the child for immigration, and the moment the child enters the US, the child becomes a US citizen under the act.
    – phoog
    Aug 12 '20 at 17:14

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