I am a U.S. citizen. Eighteen years ago, I traveled to the Dominican Republic on business. Although I was there for only a few weeks, I became involved in a casual relationship with a local woman. We lost touch shortly after I returned to the United States. But I recently learned that she has died, leaving behind a boy who is now 17. I now believe that boy to be my son. Can I petition for him to come live in the U.S. so that we can begin to build a relationship?
Yes, potentially. You could petition for your son to immigrate to the United States and become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) in one of two ways, but only if you take a few crucial additional steps first.
Option 1: Legitimate your son. You could do this in any way provided either by the law of the state where you reside (if it has abolished any distinction between children born in wedlock and children born out of wedlock) or by the law of the Dominican Republic. In either case, you would have to do it before your son turns 18 — which appears to be very soon, so you would need to act extremely fast.
You could legitimate your son under the law of the Dominican Republic because the country has abolished any distinction between children born in wedlock and children born out of wedlock since 1995. However, the process might require that you travel there and submit a notarized acknowledgment of paternity to the Civil Registry Office (Oficialía del Estado Civil) of the area where your son was born.
Option 2: Begin building a personal relationship with your son before (not after) petitioning for him. You would need to do this before he turns 21, and make sure you keep records to show that you have taken a genuine interest in his life. For example: If you plan to visit him in the Dominican Republic (which would probably be a good idea), don’t forget to keep copies of your plane (or other transportation) ticket. You might also consider exchanging regular emails or letters with him, sending traceable money orders in his name (to help him support himself), and making him the beneficiary of one or more of your insurance policies (if any).
For more details, see Nolo’s article “How to Prove a Parent-Child Relationship for Citizenship or Immigration Purposes.”
Because your relationship with your son would begin only a few years before he turns 21, immigration officers might look upon your petition with a bit of suspicion. This is why it is important to support your petition with carefully selected evidence, especially if you choose Option 2. An immigration attorney’s assistance could be very useful in this regard.
What is more, regardless of which option you choose, you would still have to prove that you are the boy’s natural father. In your case, since you were absent at your son’s birth and during his childhood, you should not expect to see your name on his birth certificate, or to find any credible official record of your paternity.
If you remember anyone in the Dominican Republic who knew both you and the mother at the time of your relationship, and who might have known of your son’s birth — perhaps one of the mother’s friends or relatives — you might consider contacting them to obtain an affidavit affirming that you are the father. Ultimately, however, you should probably expect immigration authorities to strongly suggest that you and your son volunteer for a DNA test.