Pictured above: Allison Blixt (L), Stefania Zaccari (R), and their two sons.
Allison Blixt can’t remember what the hottest planet is. A former attorney who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, she should know this, Blixt says. It’s decided the answer must be Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. But a quick Google search reveals that its neighbor, Venus, peaks at 462 degrees Celsius, nearly three times the hottest recorded temperature on Earth.
These bits of trivia may appear mundane, but her son, Lucas, has reached the age where he has begun to ask questions about everything. The day Blixt spoke to NewNowNext over the phone, planetary climates were among his many inquiries. “Mommy, what’s this?” the 4-year-old asks of anything he lays eyes on. “What’s that?”
But there’s one question Blixt doesn’t know how to answer: why Lucas’ brother, Massi, is a U.S. citizen and he isn’t.
“At some point, I’m going to have to explain,” Blixt says. “Whenever he asks questions about anything, I always try to give him the real picture as much as possible where appropriate. But how do I explain this?”
This is the dilemma that Blixt and her wife, Stefania Zaccari, have been struggling with for four years, since the United States government first denied Lucas citizenship. Although Blixt was born in North Carolina, Zaccari is an Italian citizen. Because Zaccari was the parent who carried Lucas, the State Department considers the child, who lives in London with his family, born “out of wedlock.”
When Blixt gave birth to Massi—short for Massimiliano—in February 2017, the couple knew his application for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) would be accepted. The State Department’s website claims that a “child born abroad may acquire U.S. citizenship at birth” if the gestational or genetic parent is a citizen.
The couple decided to try again to secure Lucas’ citizenship, but his application was denied for a second time. Blixt says it’s an impossible situation for a child to comprehend.
“It’s not just that our child is being discriminated against,” she claims. “Our child is being treated differently from his brother. Take something else that one of your children have and say, ‘You can have it, but you can’t have it,’ but then take something as fundamental as citizenship and say to one of your children, ‘You can have it, but you can’t have it.’”
After they filed suit against the policy in January 2018, the couple is set to have their day in court. On May 15, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowed the case to proceed, with judges expected to set a trial date within the next six months.
In denying the government’s motion to dismiss the suit, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan did not weigh in on the merits of the case but did remark that the predicament is “horrible.” “It tugs at the heartstrings,” he said, in comments first reported by BuzzFeed News. “All they’re asking for is, treat this child the same as the sibling.”
Immigration Equality, a New York City-based legal advocacy group, will be representing Allison and Stefania in court. In a statement, communications director Kristen Thompson claims the “law is clear” on the subject. Following the 2013 repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage, children born to same-sex couples are “entitled to birthright citizenship, whether that person is biologically related to them or not,” Thompson says.
“However, the State Department insists on wrongly applying the policy, disproportionately harming same-sex couples,” she adds.
The Blixt-Zaccari clan isn’t the only same-sex family seeking to overturn the State Department guidelines. While Blixt and Zaccari are residents of the U.K., at least two set of plaintiffs are not: Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks, who live in Los Angeles with their sons, Ethan and Aiden; and Roee and Adiel Kiviti, who are based outside of Washington, D.C., with their son, Lev, and daughter, Kessem.
Because both families are currently in the U.S., Ethan and Kessem face deportation if the policy is not struck down. While Aiden is the biological son of Andrew, a U.S. citizen, Ethan’s father, Elad, was born in Israel.
But the Kivitis’ application to register Kessem for citizenship was flagged not because of a lack of blood relation but because she was born in Canada using an egg donor and a surrogate. The State Department claims that “a child born abroad to a surrogate, whose genetic parents are a U.S. citizen father and anonymous egg donor, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born out of wedlock,” as CNN reports.
Last week, Immigration Equality launched a petition calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to drop the policy, claiming that “failing to recognize their marriages and the birthright citizenship [of same-sex couples’ children] contradicts the clear intent of Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
“Nowhere in the law does it say that a married U.S. citizen must prove a biological connection to their child to pass on birthright citizenship,” the organization claims. “However, when a same-sex couple goes to a U.S. consulate abroad to apply for their child’s passport, they are subjected to invasive questioning and DNA testing to prove they are biologically related. This policy disproportionately impacts same-sex couples and their children.”
The Trump administration has yet to respond to that petition—and is not likely to. After Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of the Dvash-Banks family in February, the State Department elected to appeal. The case is now headed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; it could be over a year before oral arguments are heard.
While Elad told NewNowNext earlier this month he was “shocked and disappointed” the White House has continued to defend its discriminatory policy, Blixt says she’s “angry, hurt, upset, and frustrated.”
The range of emotions reminds her of the harsh reality that awaited the couple after Blixt and Zaccari first met at a Brooklyn bar in 2006. After Blixt spied Zaccari across the dance floor, the evening ended at 4am with the two exchanging numbers. Zaccari initially threw Blixt’s number—written on a napkin—out of the window of the taxi on the way back to her friend’s apartment, certain it could never work out.
Certainly, the odds were stacked against them. New York had yet to legalize same-sex marriage, and with the Defense of Marriage Act still on the books, she wouldn’t be able to apply for a green card if the two of them married.
After Blixt rang up Zaccari with a calling card she bought at a bodega, the two began their relationship long-distance while they figured out the details. Not wanting to study for her Master’s degree to secure a student visa, Zaccari threw her name in the green card lottery twice and didn’t win. However, the two finally got their winning ticket when Blixt’s law firm offered to transfer her to their London office.
While Blixt claims she was grateful and thankful for the opportunity, she was also “really, really angry that [she] had to leave the U.S. to be with the person that [she] loved.” Being turned away from the embassy four years ago brought all that back, and she still can’t think about it for too long without getting emotional.
“This time, it wasn’t directed just at me and at Stefania,” she says. “It was also directed at our child, and that was just too much.”
While Blixt claims she isn’t a fighter by nature, the U.S. government has never given her any other choice. She had to fight to marry her wife, and then they had to fight to stay together. Now she’s fighting for her children—her inquisitive, curious, energetic children who love dancing and going on adventures together. Her hope is that one day they no longer have to fight anymore.
“Every time we take steps forward,” she says, “we take more steps back.”