Oh what a fool I was. Turns out baby A can leave the country on her British passport, but she can’t come back in unless we get her an American one. The idea of leaving her behind in Mexico next month is quite tempting, especially when we have had a bad night, but that approach would probably involve even more bureaucracy and expense than applying for an American passport.
First I sent an email to the National Passport Information Office, to check whether baby A really needed a passport. They sent me an ominously worded standardised reply:
‘U.S. citizens who are also citizens of another nation are reminded that
U.S. law requires they enter and depart the United States carrying a
valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens who attempt to travel to the U.S.
from a foreign country on foreign passports risk being denied boarding
or re-entering pending acquisition of a valid U.S. passport.’
So on we went. The US passport form feels antiquated, asking you to give all your vital statistics and specify hair colour and eye colour. Anyone can change these, of course, but they seem especially uninformative for a baby. (Her eyes are baby blue, unsurprisingly. Her hair is – er – fair?) We measured her with a tape measure so we could give her height as 23″, which is what I decided it was before I even got the tape measure out. We had her photographed as glum as could be, and we copied her social security number onto the form, patting ourselves on the back for not having lost it yet.
And then we tramped off to the Post Office, where you pay them to process your form ($25). You also pay an application fee ($80) and, in our disorganised case, an expedited service fee ($60). All so we don’t leave her behind in Mexico. Hmm…
Of course, this was not the end of it.
We had baby A’s birth certificate, but US law requires that to apply for a passport for a minor both parents also present themselves in person, along with some valid photo ID, to convince the processing official that they are her real parents and are willing to contemplate her leaving the country. I suppose this is an anti-kidnapping measure, but it is nicer to see it as an example of American suspicion of the very idea of travel outside America. (As we all know, only 30% of Americans have a passport.)
So this was where it became comical. The Post Office worker took one look at our British passports and decided that they were not really good enough, on their own, to guarantee our identity. My US government issued employment authorization card was highly dubious too. Much better forms of ID ranked as follows: ideally, a driver’s license. We didn’t have them. OK, then a Northwestern Wildcard, in all its purple glory, issued by a sulky work-study student? Much better. A credit card, with no photo, just a name, issued by a British bank she’d never heard of? That would do nicely.
Our identities having been verified, we had to wave baby A (who was asleep in her buggy) at the official twice. She begrudgingly agreed that she could recognise A from the photo without getting her eyes open. The second time, we had to hold her up while M and I simultaneously held our right hands high in the air and swore that everything we had said on the form was true. I had a wobble about the hair colour, but I remained silent.
So there it is: baby A, dual passport holder, as soon as the documents come through.