Defining Family in Immigration Law: Accounting for Nontraditional Families in Citizenship by Descent

Degtyareva, Victoria
January 2011
Yale Law Journal;Jan2011, Vol. 120 Issue 4, p862
Academic Journal
Most immigrants who gain permanent residence or citizenship in the United States do so through familial relations. As a result, immigration authorities must constantly decide what constitutes a family. Unfortunately, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides little guidance. While the INA provides some definitions of what constitutes a family, the definitions generally assume a traditional view of the family in which all parental roles lie with only two individuals. This assumption creates substantial problems when applying the INA's provisions to nontraditional families in which parental roles may be split between three or more people. Because the INA does not account for such families, it is often unclear whether the families are entitled to the plethora of immigration and citizenship benefits available to those with familial relations in the United States. In response to the lack of clarity, this Note proposes the adoption of a unified definition of family that is based on interpersonal, rather than biological, relationships. The proposed solution is consistent with existing provisions of the INA, finds support in state family law, and provides an effective way of dealing with nontraditional families.


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