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U.S. expands citizenship eligibility for children of same-sex couples born overseas

The Biden administration on Thursday announced a change in its interpretation of U.S. immigration law that will allow children born abroad to parents who used assisted reproductive technology, like surrogacy, to qualify for U.S. citizenship and green cards.

According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy change shared with CBS News, babies born overseas to married couples that include a U.S. citizen will no longer be required to have a biological connection to the American parent in order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship and family-based immigration benefits.

As long as one parent is a U.S. citizen and one parent is genetically related or gave birth to the child, the baby will meet the eligibility requirements, according to the updated USCIS guidance. The parents must be married and recognized as the child's legal guardians in their locations of residence.

The new interpretation, which alters long-standing U.S. immigration policy, is a victory for same-sex couples and other parents living overseas who use surrogates and assisted reproductive technology procedures, including in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. 

USCIS said the updated guidance is designed to help modern families.

"USCIS is taking a crucial step towards ensuring fair access and support for all families and their loved ones," newly minted USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said in a statement. "We are committed to removing unnecessary barriers promoting policies for all people as they embark on their journey to citizenship and beyond."

The change in USCIS policy conforms with a similar announcement in May issued by the State Department, which oversees U.S. passports, visas and other consular processing.

Highlighting "advances" in assisted reproductive technology since the relevant immigration laws were enacted in 1952, the State Department said it would allow married couples with one U.S. citizen parent to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children, as long as one of them has a genetic link to the baby or gave birth to him or her.

"This change will allow increased numbers of married couples to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children born overseas, while continuing to follow the citizenship transmission requirements established" in immigration law, the department said at the time.

Children who will benefit from the Biden administration's policy changes could have been previously considered to have been born "out of wedlock" under the decades-long interpretation of U.S. law, rendering them ineligible for U.S. citizenship and other benefits.

That interpretation, which the Trump administration defended in federal court, garnered several lawsuits from same-sex couples who argued their babies were unjustly denied U.S. citizenship.

Under President Biden, USCIS has publicly touted efforts to dismantle Trump-era "barriers" that make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain the agency's benefits, which range from asylum and work permits, to green cards and naturalized U.S. citizenship.

Aaron Morris, the executive director of Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for LGBTQ immigrants, welcomed Thursday's announcement. 

"The recent change in USCIS policy is an important step in overcoming the federal government's previous archaic, narrow, and unlawful definition of what a family is," Morris said. "We look forward to working with the Biden administration going forward to ensure recognition for all queer families."  

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