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Black Water


To be stateless is to stand at the edge of a void.
So much of what defines a modern human being is tied to the concept of nationality and citizenship. When one is stripped of that, a gulf opens up between you and the rest of the human race.

Ekaterina, United Stateless founding member

What is

​The international legal definition of a stateless person is set out in Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which defines a stateless person as "a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law". It means that a stateless person does not have nationality or citizenship in any country of the world.

Here, nationality refers to the legal bond between a person and a state. This bond can best be seen as a form of official membership which confers upon the national certain rights (like the right to live in the country or participate in elections) as well as duties (like the duty of military service, where this is still in place).

A person who is stateless lacks this membership and will be seen and treated as a foreigner by every country in the world.

What are some
Common Challenges
of Stateless People?

Stateless people frequently lack any and all identity documents like birth certificates or passports. Most importantly, stateless people have no way of getting documents.

You might have tried many times to get a passport, a birth certificate or an ID, or even to deport yourself, only to find yourself turned away again and again because you "don't qualify."​ Stateless people are deprived of basic human rights, and this often leads to:



  • NO Identification (NO ID, NO bank accounts, NO driver's license, etc.,)

  • NO Healthcare

  • NO Work

  • NO Travel

  • NO Education

  • Family separation

  • Detention

  • Homelessness

  • Poverty

  • Marginalization

  • Depression, Severe Anxiety and Mental Health Issues


Destitution, detention, lack of access to health care or education, the impossibility of marrying a loved one or registering the birth of a child. These are just some of the many problems faced by stateless people around the world, especially when their existence is ignored and their basic human rights are denied. It is vital that States formally identify stateless individuals, ensuring that they are able to enjoy the full range of human rights.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2014

What does the
U.S. Courts
say about Statelessness?

Image by Tingey Injury Law Firm

The United States Congress has never passed a law specifically on statelessness. In 2013, the US government came close to passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Reform would have included the following provisions on stateless people:

"(Sec. 3405) Authorizes: (1) the Secretary to designate specific groups of individuals as stateless persons, (2) the Secretary or the Attorney General to provide conditional lawful status to a qualifying stateless person who is otherwise inadmissible or deportable, and (3) the Secretary or the Attorney General to adjust such person to lawful permanent resident status after one year in conditional lawful status. Sets forth protections for stateless persons in the United States, including work and travel authorizations."

Despite the lack of a statute, stateless people are currently protected under US law in a number of ways. First, stateless people are assured basic human rights at all times while in the United States as guaranteed by international law. More on the human rights of stateless people under international law can be found here.

Like undocumented people, stateless people are also entitled to basic rights under the US Constitution. For example, you are entitled to due process of law, just like US citizens. These rights protect you from unlawful activity by the police and give you some access to the courts. You can read more about your rights at the ACLU site here.

​As well, there are many court cases that may be of assistance to stateless people. Trop v. Dulles, quoted above, held that denaturalization is cruel and unusual punishment, implying that the US Supreme Court considers statelessness to be a human rights violation. 

​In Zadvydas v. Davis, the Supreme Court held that stateless people who cannot be returned to any other country cannot be held in detention indefinitely.

​Some stateless people may be eligible for asylum, DACA, withholding of removal, or other programs. Read more from UNHCR here.


Statelessness is ... the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development.

U.S. Supreme Court in Trop v. Dulles, 1957
Earl Warren, 14th Chief Justice of the U.S.

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