On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 2002 law compelling the Department of State to allow U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to have their passport note their place of birth as Israel. Although President Bush had signed that bill into law, he refused to carry it out. President Obama continued that refusal.
The Constitution states (in Article II, Section 3) that the President “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.” From those words it has essentially evolved that it is not Congress – the legislative branch – that is mostly responsible for carrying out foreign affairs. The voice of the country diplomatically comes mostly from the President – meaning from the executive branch.
Sometimes presidents sign contentious bills into law simply to direct a matter into the courts for constitutional clarification. Apparently some 50,000 U.S. citizens have been born in Jerusalem. After that 2002 law was allowed on the books, birth there and the passport terminology for its location was almost certainly going to end up in court when the executive branch State Department, following the policy course set by both Bush and Obama, naturally declined an “Israel” request by someone who was also willing to sue over it.
U.S. policy has been that allowing “Israel” in U.S. passports for a Jerusalem birth would constitute de facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the city, which presidents have considered unacceptable while the final status of Jerusalem remains to be negotiated between Israel and its neighbors. (That is also why the U.S. has its embassy in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem which Israel considers its national capital.) Monday’s Supreme Court ruling affirms that the President does indeed have the right to take that position. So until a president eventually determines otherwise, U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem will have passports denoting “Jerusalem” as their place of birth.
The State Department has a publicly available .pdf displaying guidance on how U.S. passport officials denote birth anywhere, including even in U.S. states. Obviously this is not always a “straightforward” matter. Uh, happy reading: It’s 38 pages long.
Jerusalem is hardly the only thorny birth abroad issue. The guidance has others. For example, a U.S. citizen birth on the island of Taiwan may be “awkward”:
There’s lots more to that, of course, if you read all of 7 FAM 1340 Appendix D (6) (b-g).
If a U.S. citizen is born in the air, or at sea (in international air space, or in international waters), umm, he gets an “interesting” place of birth in his passport:
It seems that the State Department is also concerned that the U.S. state of Georgia might be confused with the Republic of Georgia that was part of the (now former) U.S.S.R. Thus the passport birthplace guidelines make sure the difference between the two is crystal clear:
Just in case anyone confuses Atlanta with Tbilisi.
Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂