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Note: the story below is fictional, but the legal question posed is a serious hypothetical.


While attempting to sail across the Pacific I discovered I was pregnant. Eventually I ran aground on the Palmyra Atoll and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Obviously I have a lot to worry about, being stranded on a tiny uninhabited island with a newborn and all (yes I have Internet access don't think about it), but what really matters to me right now is that my daughter will be a U.S. citizen.

After all, I happen to know that the Atoll is the only incorporated, unorganized territory of the United States, and "incorporated" means that the Constitution applies in its entirety, so by the 14th amendment she should be granted citizenship by birth. I am not a U.S. citizen, so she cannot derive citizenship from me.

Now, how should I go about getting her stateside and proving to the U.S. authorities that she is entitled to citizenship? Should I sail to Kiribati and register her birth certificate with the authorities there, or make the longer trip to Hawaii and ruin my chances of ever crossing the Pacific?

You may assume that I have all the evidence necessary that she was born on the Palmyra Atoll. Before she was born, I had enough time to set up a camera and film myself measuring my latitude and longitude and then giving birth

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  • What relevance does Palmyra have here? In what way do you suspect the answer to this question would differ from if if you had, for instance, given birth in New York in secret? Are you asking whether asserting citizenship rights would be more difficult if you had ever moved the child into a foreign country? – Sneftel Jan 10 at 8:45
  • @Sneftel Palmyra has no local government or permanent population. It thus has no mechanism for registering births, and does not issue birth certificates. It is not part of any state, but is fully part of the US. A secret birth in a state could be registered later according to local or state procedures. – David Siegel Jan 10 at 17:12
  • In this hypothetical are you a U.S. citizen, is the father? – George White Jan 10 at 22:14
  • @Sneftel the interesting thing about the Palmyra Atoll is that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not include it in its definition of "United States" (8 USC 1101(a)(38): "The term “United States”, except as otherwise specifically herein provided, when used in a geographical sense, means the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.") So the citizenship is constitutional but not statutory. – phoog Jan 10 at 22:45
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Legally your daughter is a US citizen

How you go about demonstrating that is not a legal question, it’s a question about bureaucratic processes and off-limits for this site.

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    As far as I remember, the Palmyra Atoll is not included in the statutory definition of "United States" in US immigration law, so the legal wrinkle here is that the claim to citizenship would be based solely on the 14th amendment. Other births in the US are covered by the statute that reflects the 14th amendment but is subject to the explicit definition of "United States." – phoog Jan 10 at 18:33
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I don't know which federal government agency should be the first one to approach for a birth certificate or other evidence of citizenship. But any agency that agrees to entertain the request will want evidence. And if no executive branch agency is willing to entertain the request, one would have to sue in a federal court, asking than an agency be compelled to issue proof of citizenship. That court will apply the federal rules of evidence.

There are digital methods that operate without access to the internet that can produce fairly convincing evidence that a person signed a document. But, without the internet, these methods do not provide convincing evidence about when or where the document was signed.

Furthermore, I am not aware of any automated method to provide reliable evidence of where a video was filmed.

So it will come down to the word of the people who were present at the birth, plus some weaker evidence such as departure records and witnesses to the eventual rescue. Lets hope the mother is accompanied by some highly credible person.

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  • From the Wikipedia article it appears that the atoll is under the care of the department of the interior. – phoog Jan 10 at 18:34

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