An American Born in Canada
It has become personal. The consequences of HB 1023, the anti-illegal immigration law that was passed last summer during a legislative special session has hit close to home for me. Perhaps the concept of HB 1023 was aimed at the thousands of Mexicans crossing the border, but many more unintended victims have been affected. They are all nameless to me except for one, my good friend, 77-year old Mrs. Smith.
Some American citizens in Colorado will be losing their benefits because of HB 1023. Many are poor, homeless or elderly who have lost their birth records and have no means to conduct a search or pay a lawyer to help them. What will happen to these unfortunate–but very legal–Americans when they are asked for their proof of citizenship for governmental services?
Other casualties of HB 1023 are people who have lived and worked in the U.S. most of their long lives, paid into Social Security, raised a family, but just never got around to making their status “legal.” That’s the situation Mrs. Smith is in.She was born in Canada to American parents who had hoped to prosper in farming Up North during WWI. She moved to the U.S. to stay with relatives when her mother died and she never returned to Canada. At 15, she started working and by her early twenties, she was married with two children. The family eventually grew to five kids while Mrs. Smith juggled a long career in food service.
One son fought in Vietnam and her husband, a strong union man, worked for a Ford plant in Michigan. About 10 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Smith followed their children to Colorado to retire. Recently, health problems have crept up and luckily Mrs. Smith has been covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
In seven decades, Mrs. Smith has rarely had to show her birth certificate and when she did, it was no big deal that she had been born in Canada.
Until now; here in Colorado.
Mrs. Smith cannot get her drivers license renewed. And although she paid into the Social Security system for decades, there is a possibility that her medical coverage could be in jeopardy. My imagination takes a flip: Will she have to leave Colorado or worse yet, could she be deported?
“How is it that after 60 years living in the country, you never got around to becoming a citizen?” I asked, somewhat bewildered of this oversight.
“Raising a family, working, the time goes by fast,” Mrs. Smith replied. “I had a Social Security card. That’s all you ever needed until recently.”
Months ago, Mrs. Smith sent in her documents to apply for naturalization to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. With her American parents, her citizenship approval was supposed to go smoothly.
Fortunately, Mrs. Smith has been meticulous about keeping important documents and can afford a lawyer. I think of the hundreds-if not thousands–of folks in Colorado who are not so blessed. How are they coping?
Then a couple of weeks ago, she received a letter from the government. She was asked to appear in person at the offices of Homeland Security located in Denver. The authorities needed more credentials. Regardless of health, regardless of her age, she now must travel from Grand Junction to Denver to get these documents verified.
Again, I wonder: How many people are falling through the cracks because they can’t come to Denver?
As the volunteer chauffeur, here I am in Denver with Mrs. Smith. In a couple of hours we will walk through the immigration maze designed by politicians. Will Mrs. Smith get her citizenship papers today or have to prevail over other obstacles?
Our story will be continued….