A few months ago our firm helped an 87-year-old client—let’s call her “Sue”—with a most peculiar story.
Sue came to us because, following the death of her husband, the local Social Security office denied her “survivors benefits.” The reason: Sue could not provide evidence that she was a U.S. citizen.
Sue was born in France in 1929. At the time of her birth, neither of her parents were U.S. citizens. Things changed fast: when Sue was only two months old, her father naturalized (that is, became a U.S. citizen). In early 1930, when she was only six months old, Sue and her mother arrived at Ellis Island where Sue received an “Immigrant Identification Card” (containing her baby picture). She has been in the U.S. ever since, and still holds on to her card.
During her entire adult life, Sue carried herself as a U.S. citizen, including by voting in federal elections. So, after the Social Security office denied her benefits due to lack of documentation, Sue applied for a “Certificate of Citizenship” with the USCIS (the U.S. immigration agency). But she was denied.
Via letter, the officer explained that, under the citizenship law applicable to Sue, she never became a citizen of the United States. According to the U.S. government, for Sue to have acquired U.S. citizenship through her family, it was necessary for BOTH of Sue’s parents to have naturalized before she turned 18 years old (instead of only her father). The letter gave Sue 30 days to appeal the government’s decision.
That is when Sue came to our office. Her case seemed hopeless: both the Social Security office and the major U.S. immigration agency concluded that Sue was not a U.S. citizen.
Funny thing is: they were both wrong. After researching the matter, it became clear that the immigration officer was applying the wrong law. Under the correct statute – for our curious readers: the Expatriation Act of 1907 – Sue acquired U.S. citizenship through her father at the very moment she was admitted to reside in the United States. In other words, Sue had been a U.S. citizen since 1930.
We prepared a quick “appeal” letter to the immigration officer, pointing out the government’s error, and confirming that Sue has been a U.S. citizen for 86 years. Within a matter of days, Sue was invited to a citizenship ceremony, where she obtained her Certificate of Citizenship. She did not, however, receive an apology from the government for their costly mistake.