May 4, 2017 4:59 am
A delegation of more than 50 members of Congress is calling on the Trump administration to reverse a longstanding policy that prohibits Americans born in Jerusalem from listing Israel as their birthplace on official documents, according to a letter sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Congress has been working for more than 15 years to reverse the policy, which former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama followed, citing the possibility that a recognition of Jerusalem as being part of Israel would interfere with the United States’s ability to be an honest broker in the Middle East peace process.
With Trump just crossing his first 100 days in office, Congress is calling on him to reverse the contested policy, which was challenged in the Supreme Court in 2015 by an American family whose child was born in Jerusalem. At that time, the Obama State Department refused to comply with their request to list “Jerusalem, Israel” as the child’s birthplace.
Given Trump’s call to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a move that would see the United States formally recognizing the city as Israel’s capital city—Congress believes the president may nix the policy and comply with a 2002 congressional mandate on the issue.
“We write to urge you to revise the State Department’s policy regarding the birthplace designation on passports and consular reports of birth abroad for American citizens born in Jerusalem,” a delegation of 52 lawmakers led by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) wrote to Tillerson late Wednesday, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Beacon.
“Under the current policy, Americans born in Jerusalem have no country of birth listed on these documents; they are identified only as having been born in Jerusalem,” the lawmakers wrote. “We ask that you change the policy to permit Jerusalem-born Americans to have ‘Israel’ listed as their birthplace.”
The lawmakers argue that such a policy change would not interfere with U.S. efforts to foster Middle East peace and would restore a natural right that Americans born abroad should enjoy.
“The policy change would not only honor the personal preferences and convictions of many Americans, but would also effectuate the clear intent and will of the U.S. Congress,” the letter states.
While the Bush and Obama administrations maintained that such a move represented a de facto acknowledgment of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem—a move that contradicts U.S. policy on the matter—the lawmakers argue that this is not the case.
“If you institute the policy we are requesting, there will be no perceptible geopolitical impact, but such a policy will be meaningful to a number of our fellow citizens,” the lawmakers argue. “It would honor the individuals’ personal dignity and cherished personal identification with ‘Israel’ as his place of birth.”
However, in its 2015 decision, the Supreme Court struck down Congress’ 2002 law permitting Americans list “Jerusalem, Israel” as their birthplace, citing the possibility that it would interfere with a president’s exclusive power to dictate American foreign policy.
The lawmakers reject this argument.
“As you know, this law, passed in 2002, required the State Department to record ‘Israel’ as a Jerusalem-born citizen’s birthplace on his/her passport,” they write “The State Department, under the Bush and Obama administration, refused to comply with this congressional mandate.”
“Your decision to institute a policy permitting Americans born in Jerusalem to have ‘Israel’ listed as their birthplace on their passports and consular reports of birth abroad would not contravene the Supreme Court’s decision,” the letter states.
The members of Congress urge Trump and Tillerson to comply with Congress’ longstanding will, as well as that of many Americans.
“This is an important opportunity for the Executive to unite with Congress and speak with one voice regarding the birthplace designations on the passports of Americans born in Jerusalem,” the letter states. “We urge you to issue a new policy that will effectuate the will of Congress, as well as honor the personal preferences of thousands of Americans, with no threat to the president’s authority and power, or to our country’s foreign policy.”