Prior to 1996, one of the first acts undertaken by a U.S.-born Mexican male upon turning 18 was to renounce his U.S. citizenship. This was necessary to preserve the right to inherit property and assets in Mexico because that country didn’t recognize dual citizenship at the time, according to attorney Ed Matchett.
Renunciation of citizenship, which is also called affirmative relinquishment of nationality, was a routine process until 1996 when Mexico reversed course and allowed dual citizenship. But the new law didn’t void the earlier renunciations.
Since then, attorney Edward W. Matchett has become a specialist in helping men born before 1996 to Mexican mothers who were legally present in the United States to seek restoration of citizenship.
“For decades a lot of Mexicans, particularly those near the border, arranged to give birth in the United States due to better medical care,” Matchett said, noting that when a male child turned 18, “he was often taken by a family member to a consulate to give up his U.S. citizenship.”
From his office in Douglas, Matchett works with clients across southern Arizona who want to apply for a reversal of a loss of nationality, commonly known as restoration of citizenship. The process is handled by the U.S. Department of State under Section 1230 of the Foreign Affairs Manual.
“In these cases, the actions taken on or immediately after their eighteenth birthdays weren’t due to any dispute or displeasure with America,” Matchett said. “It was based on cultural and family pressure to remain eligible to inherit what their father, or their father’s father, worked years to achieve.”
Matchett said many of his restoration clients have legally resided in the U.S. for years as permanent residents. But he cautions that the process requires careful consideration because reversal is retroactive to the date nationality was originally given up. This can create legal, estate, or tax issues for the “new” citizen.
The process involves sending the State Department several documents, including a birth certificate and a statement about the client’s youthful decision. Support letters from family, friends, neighbors, clergy, and employers are also critical, because the decision is made by a government employee without benefit of a hearing.
Most requests are processed within a few months, Matchett said. One approved, the client is instructed to apply for a U.S. passport to show the updated citizenship status.
The men Matchett has helped are usually between 40 and 50 years old, but one had his citizenship restored at age 65.
“We got it done and he was so happy to be a citizen again,” the attorney said, noting another client told him, “I want to die an American. They truly value what it means to be an American.”