Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Saturday, May 31, 2008
  Illegal? Immoral? What the immigration debate has wrought
I am currently researching a developing story about an 80-odd year woman who grew up, married, raised her children here in the Berkshires. It's a troubling tale about just how idiotic our immigration policy and the resulting bureaucracy has become in this age of jingoistic "who is really an American" scapegoating.

In the 1920s a Canadian family emigrated to Berkshire county. With them they had a 3 month old girl. Some time after their arrival, the girl's father died but the family did all the right things and held it together. Her mother, according to all the living descendants became U.S. citizen within a few years.

The young girl grew up and married a local returning WWII veteran and raised her family within miles of the home she grew up in. Eventually she and her husband retired to Florida where he passed away a few years ago.

Fast forward to 2008.

The young girl is now into her 80s and not doing so well. She is moving back to New England to live near her son. There is a nice assisted living complex nearby in Adams where she knows many of the residents and the government helps subsidize the cost. One of the requirements is that you have to show your actual Social Security card to prove your citizenship.

This is where things get tricky.

This woman had a card and can recite her Social Security number by heart. she receives Social Security checks for herself and as a surviving spouse. But sometime back she lost the actual three inch piece of paper. This would seem to be an easy fix - she should just go to the nearest office and have them issue her a new one.

But it is not that simple.

Social Security now wants a copy of her naturalization papers to prove she really, truly deserves that duplicate card, those checks and ultimately, that new assisted living apartment. The problem is that she does not have these papers. She was a child and became a citizen simply by being the minor child of a naturalized immigrant. So the race is on to find the long archived papers of her parents who likely filed them in the 1930s. So far, no luck.

In the mean time, this woman's family has called all of her federal elected representatives only to be told that there is not much they can do. John Olver's office supposedly looked into this and decided that this woman must probably be a Canadian citizen because they can find no record of her naturalization. But the fact remains that her family members insist that their mother's mother became a citizen shortly after moving from Canada.

So here she is, stuck without a home of her own, being told that she is not an American and that she has possibly been collecting benefits and voting illegally for years. Welcome back to Berkshire County!

All this because she lost a little piece of green paper. (Seriously. If she had not lost the original card, none of the subsequent events would have occurred.) Well, more accurately, this happened because she lost the card and we have become a nation full of paranoid anti-immigration xenophobes.

I would love to have someone like Lou Dobbs explain to this little old lady why our system has become so incredibly asinine that she is being put in jeopardy during her final years. Please Mr. Dobbs, tell her how you are protecting us.

Over the next couple of weeks the family will do a little more research on their grandmother's immigration status. I can only imagine how many tens of thousands of people are in this same immigration purgatory who don't have family members to fight for them. I can't exactly say I am proud of my government at this moment. Actually I am somewhat dismayed and pissed.

I will be writing more once I have have been given permission to put names and dates on the record. Hopefully I will have good news.

UPDATE: Lou Dobbs would probably like America to have a similar plan to Switzerland's.
One thing our bureaucracy does extremely well is keep records. The secrete is knowing just where? She does need proof of naturalization since she did come here as a child (and a Canadian citizen) and was not born here. (The statutes prior to the Act of October 14, 1940, made no provision for the naturalization of a minor child except under the special circumstances of a declarant father's death or insanity) and also ( Act of September 22, 1922 . Until 1922, married women were ineligible to judicial naturalization during coverture. Since the Act of September 22, 1922, the statutes have not only permitted such naturalization, but have provided for eligibility after a diminished period of residence in the United States, provided the petition for naturalization was based upon marriage to a United States citizen.)I know people that immigrated from Canada and their parents are naturalized citizens but the children are not (and choose not to be).
I am confused here because the SS number issued must have information attached to it that the SS Administration has records of? How was she able to get a card in the first place?
Her son believes that she thought she became a citizen by marrying a GI. He has since been told that this is not true.

But after doing a little digging (with some help) we came up with Social Security's definition of a citizen which can be found here. Item 9 is the relevant part.

As for how she got it in the first place, who the hell knows. Considering that she has spent all but the first 12 weeks of her life here and has never been considered an alien by anybody, there would be little need for her to have carried immigration papers for 80 years.
I would have to say that her situation is probably not unique in the respect that immigration back then was done legally and with the proper documentation. For her to be issued a SS# the paperwork would have to have been filled out and submitted to the proper authority and therefore does exist. They would have a record of her mothers paperwork requesting a SS# for her.
Welcome to the merry-go-round of "that ain't my job" or "I ain't got time for that right now" or "I'm new and don't have the foggiest notion where to start to look" bureaucratic office worker. :~) Good Luck!
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