International Fertility Law Group Blog: ART Sibling Denied US Citizenship Due to Genetics

Same-Sex Parents Sue State Department Over Genetics-Based Denial of Citizenship

The headlines have been full recently of the stories of two same-sex couples, one parents of twins, the other parents of sibling daughters, both suing the U.S. State Department in an attempt to secure citizenship denied to just one of their babies and granted to the other.

According to a Chicago Tribune report, Elad and Andrew Dvash-Banks met 10 years ago in Israel, where Elad grew up. Unable to legally marry either in the U.S. or Israel at that time, the couple moved to Canada, where they were legally married in 2010. Their sons were born via egg donation and surrogacy in 2016, and both fathers' names were listed on both their birth certificates. Although both fathers contributed sperm, and each was genetically related to one of the twin boys, they planned to keep the specifics secret.

But when the family took steps to move to Los Angeles, closer to Andrew’s family, they ran into a shocking obstacle at the U.S. Consulate: The dads were forced to undergo DNA testing in order to pursue U.S. citizenship for their boys. Aiden, who is genetically related to Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American citizen, was granted U.S. citizenship; Ethan, who is genetically related to Elan Dvash-Banks, an Israeli citizen, was forced to emigrate on a tourist visa—now expired. Two boys, born just a minute apart, from the same egg donor and surrogate, are viewed very differently by the U.S. government.

The second couple, Allison Blixt, a U.S. citizen, and her Italian wife, Stefania Zaccari, had two babies in London, England, where the moms also were legally married, according to a BBC report. Each woman conceived and gave birth using her own eggs and an anonymous sperm donor, with both moms’ names recorded on both babies’ birth certificates. When the family attempted to relocate to the United States, they were subjected to DNA testing. As in the Dvash-Banks case, the daughter who is genetically related to Blixt, the U.S. citizen, was granted citizenship; the daughter who is genetically related to Zaccari was denied citizenship.

The issue is not a new one for parents who have children via assisted reproduction abroad. The U.S. State Department’s long-standing policy is that “at least one biological parent must have been a U.S. citizen when the child was born” in order for a child to be automatically granted U.S. citizenship at birth. In fact, the Assisted Reproduction Committee of the American Bar Association and the ABA Commission on Immigration produced a policy memo, urging the State Department to expand its interpretations of its Family Affairs Manual, which provides guidelines for family immigration and citizenship rights. In February 2017 the ABA ratified the resulting Resolution 113 (read more here).

… To this end, the Resolution recommends that State base its definition of child not on genetic and gestational relationship alone, but also on demonstrated “parental intent” to establish the necessary relationship to transmit or acquire U.S. citizenship. This approach is consistent not only with accepted canons of statutory interpretation, but also with interpretations of family law in many American and foreign jurisdictions confronting the parentage of children conceived through ART. Such a policy expansion by State would permit U.S. citizen parents to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children born abroad but conceived through assisted reproductive technologies when their parent-child relationship is legally recognized by the country of the child’s birth.

Nothing has happened since the 2016 presidential election.

As both lawsuits allege, the most concerning thing about the denial of these two babies’ U.S. citizenship is that same-sex parents, even when legally married, are being treated differently than heterosexual married parents.

When a married heterosexual couple has children via ART abroad, State automatically considers them both to be parents of any children born during the relationship. In other words, they and their babies are not expected to undergo DNA testing to prove their genetic relationship to the parent who is a U.S. citizen.

This story hits home for me. My spouse, Tommy Woelfel, and I had twin boys via egg donation and surrogacy. Like the Dvack-Bankses, we each contributed sperm, but we have never had DNA testing. Together, we are a family, and it is not something we need to know. While our children were born here in California, where we reside, and immigration is not in our future plans, I can easily imagine the hurt and indignity and worry that would result were one of our boys to be considered a citizen, the other not, due merely to an accident of their genetic heritage. No child is more wanted nor cherished than the child whose parents underwent the arduous process of assisted reproduction to bring him or her into the world. No child should be forced to forfeit citizenship simply because his or her family doesn’t conform to antiquated notions of family building and national heritage.

 

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa
LUIS SOSA
Paralegal

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, thoughtful and compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law. He is immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, which develops model legislation governing assisted reproductive services, and is a popular presenter to law students, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo
ELIZABETH TAMAYO
Paralegal

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Tania Steele
TANIA STEELE
Legal Assistant

Tania Steele joined IFLG as a legal assistant in early 2016 and has since been immersed in the complexities of assisted reproductive technology law. Tania received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Chapman University in Orange, California, and a graduate degree from University of Leicester in England, where she pursued an interest in art. In 2013, she accepted a volunteer position at Legal Aid Society of Orange County, where she helped with the intake of new clients and was inspired to obtain a paralegal certificate from Fullerton College. As an undergraduate, Tania lived in Italy and studied the Italian language. She is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian and enjoys assisting as a translator for many of IFLG’s international clients. Outside of the office, Tania enjoys concerts, films, reading and travel.

Linda Garrett
LINDA GARRETT
Legal Assistant

Linda Garrett graduated in 2010 from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with a major in Sociology. Shortly after, she enrolled in a paralegal course at West Los Angeles College, where she fell in love with the field. In 2017, she earned her paralegal degree and joined International Fertility Law Group as a Legal Assistant. In her free time, Linda enjoys outdoor adventures and spending time with her nieces and nephews.

Sunny Chien
SUNNY CHIEN
Paralegal

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.