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Video: In-vitro twins caught in citizenship flap

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    >> in a lot of different ways these days but some say the laws are not keeping up with the science. and one american mother says that has placed her in a situation that's both frustrating and humiliating. here's nbc's martin fletcher .

    >> they're like perfect.

    >> reporter: like any mom, she adores her children.

    >> i wonder what i did to get such an amazing gift.

    >> reporter: what she did was in vitro fertilization in israel . using donor sperm and donor eggs to have a baby. in her case, twins maya and sheila, now 2 1/2 years old. because she's an american from chicago, she went to the u.s. embassy in israel to register her daughters as americans, and that's when joy turned to anger.

    >> i was embarrassed, humiliated, horrified, ashamed.

    >> reporter: to her last petition over a loudspeaker in a crowded room she asked her, a single mother , how she conceived the children.

    >> it's an outrageous question.

    >> reporter: and that was just the beginning. after more private questions asked in a public least, elise fled in tears. she said her children's request for u.s. citizenship , denied. why? because there's no proof that either the donors of the sperm or of the egg is american. everything's anonymous. secrecy guaranteed.

    >> they are my kids. i carried them for nine months.

    >> you can have a child that is a child without a country. they are not going to get u.s. citizenship because there's no biological connection. and the laws of that foreign country may say we don't recognize this child as our citizen, either. and the law really needs to address this.

    >> reporter: if maya and sheila were adopted there'd be no problem. but in vitro babies.

    >> u.s. policy is not keeping up with the technology. that's essentially what the issue is.

    >> reporter: there is a way for the girls to become americans. live in america for six months and do all the paperwork there. but the family lives in israel . and what elise thinks should be an automatic right, the children born to an american mother are american, well, it's harder for in vitro babies born outside the united states . for "today," martin fletcher , nbc news, tel aviv .

    >> we reached out to the state department , officials there tell us they are sympathetic to the family's situation, but they are following the law.

TODAY contributor
updated 4/17/2012 9:48:41 AM ET 2012-04-17T13:48:41

A pair of twin girls may have come from the womb of a Chicago native, but in the eyes of the government, they are children without a country.

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Ellie Lavi, an American citizen living in Israel, wanted her children to be American as well, despite the fact that they were born in Israel. But her twin daughters, Maya and Shira, now 2 ½ years old, are unable to gain status as U.S. citizens. Lavi, a single mother in her 40s, used a donor sperm and egg from a clinic in Israel to conceive her children through in-vitro fertilization. Now, the U.S. State Department is refusing to grant citizenship to her children because she is unable to prove that any of the donors are American citizens.

“I have been embarrassed, humiliated, horrified, ashamed,’’ Lavi told NBC News.

When Lavi went to the U.S. Embassy in Israel to register her children, she said she was asked over a loudspeaker in a crowded room by an embassy official how she conceived the children.

“It’s an outrageous question,’’ she said, recalling the experience. She later left the embassy in tears after more questioning.

Video: In-vitro twins caught in citizenship flap (on this page)

Children adopted by U.S. citizens or born to foreign citizens in the U.S. are granted status as Americans. However, as Lavi was informed, children born to Americans overseas through in-vitro fertilization are denied American citizenship unless a donor can be proved to be a U.S. citizen. The laws were created to prevent people from fraudulently attaining status as Americans.

“They are my kids, I carried them for nine months, but they can’t be American,’’ Lavi said. “U.S. policy is not keeping up with the technology. That’s essentially what the issue is.’’

Lavi does have one option to get citizenship for her daughters – by living in America for six months and completing the paperwork there. But Lavi and her children still live in Israel, and what she believes is an automatic right – that children born to an American should be considered American – is just more complicated for in-vitro babies.

“You can have a child that is a child without a country,’’ family law attorney Paul Talbert told NBC News. “They are not granted U.S. citizenship because there is no biological connection, and the laws of that foreign country may say [they] don’t recognize this child as [their] citizen, either, and the law really needs to address this.’’

There are 200,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel, many of whom have dual citizenship. Fertility treatments also are free in Israel, so they are used more frequently, according to a report by USA Today. Many pregnant Americans living overseas come back to the United States to give birth in order to ensure their children are Americans, or they lie to officials at overseas embassies, the founder of Parents Via Egg Donation told USA Today.

In a statement released to NBC News, U.S. State Department officials say they are sympathetic to the Lavi family’s situation but are following the law.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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