Augustan learns citizenship is in doubt

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Meet Ethel Davis: Wife. Grandmother. Churchgoer. Plant worker. Homeowner. Taxpayer.

But it turns out she's lacking a label she'd taken for granted: American. After a lifetime of believing she was a citizen, a bureaucratic runaround has Mrs. Davis, 64, worried she's an illegal immigrant.

She's legal, according to immigration law experts, just not entirely documented.

The trouble started when Mrs. Davis went to the Social Security office on Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway last year to apply for retirement benefits. She said a woman there told her she's not eligible because they have no record of her.

In fact, the woman said, she's not even a citizen.

"It floored me," Mrs. Davis said.

She was born in Sparta, Greece, but because her mother, Sofia Nicolopoulos, was born in Richmond, Va., she thought that made her an American, too, she said.

Mrs. Nicolopoulos left the U.S. with her father around age 6, after her mother died. For her to have transmitted citizenship to her children, she would have to have lived in America for at least five years after turning 16, according to Charles Kuck, the national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and an adjunct University of Georgia School of Law professor.

In 1948, Mrs. Nicolopoulos returned to the U.S. with her husband and four children, including Mrs. Davis, then 5. Mrs. Davis attended Augusta public schools, has a driver's license, has a Social Security card that she changed twice after two marriages, has been earning income since 1972 and votes regularly. She works as a packer at Covidien, a medical supply company on Marvin Griffin Road.

All along, it seems, she's been living here on a 59-year-old expired green card.

She said the Social Security representative told her there was no record of her account and that the number on her green card doesn't have enough digits to be valid. Making matters worse, the card -- a warped, laminated relic with a black-and-white picture of Mrs. Davis as a child -- has the wrong name on it, "Athanassia Stavros." That's her Greek first name followed by her father's first name.

"It's like I don't exist," Mrs. Davis said. "She said you need to apply for a Social Security card. I said, 'I've got my card right here! What more can I do?' "

The representative Mrs. Davis said she spoke with did not return a phone message Friday.

Mrs. Davis has been trying to straighten out the mess for eight months. She's simultaneously applying for citizenship and an updated green card, spending $400 so far in fees.

Through phone calls and letters, she's dealing with the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Social Security Administration and Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"It's really frustrating," Mrs. Davis said. "You run around in circles."

Mr. Kuck, a partner in the Atlanta immigration law firm Kuck Casablanca & Odom, said the problem might boil down to the wrong name on her card. That might be why Social Security couldn't find a record of her. Green cards are supposed to be renewed every 10 years, but even if her card is expired, her status as a permanent resident isn't affected, he said.

Her biggest problem might be that she's been voting, Augusta immigration attorney Paul Balducci said. Voting without citizenship is a deportable offense and could bring the naturalization process to a halt.

"All she can do is claim ignorance and hope they believe her," Mr. Balducci said. "It could be worse. I've got clients in jail trying to stay here. Hers is a bureaucratic problem, not a legal problem."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

NOT SURE YOU'RE AN AMERICAN?

If you have questions about your citizenship status, you can contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at (800) 375-5283 or set up an appointment online at infopass.uscis.gov.


However, Charles Kuck, the national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, recommends caution before calling.


You might want to first confer with an immigration attorney to explore other options for verifying citizenship, he said.

Comments (47) Add comment
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No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/01/08 - 09:58 am
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Legalese, but

Legalese, but http://www.fourmilab.ch/uscode/8usc/www/t8-12-III-I-1401.html states "a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years" So where did the comment that the mother "would have to have lived in America for at least five years after turning 16" come from?

YankeeTransplant
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YankeeTransplant 06/01/08 - 10:18 am
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My sister was not born in

My sister was not born in this country. She was brought here when she was 1 yr old. My father became a naturalized citizen, but my mother did not. Both my mother and sister filled out an alien registration card every year and mailed it in to immigration. My sister grew up here, went to school, got married, had children and grandchildren. Then decided to become a citizen. The first thing immigration told her was that they had no record of her even being in this country -- is the system flawed -- absolutely.

nightraider
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nightraider 06/01/08 - 10:46 am
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I smell a rat, but don't know

I smell a rat, but don't know where it's at!!!

WHATDIDIDO
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WHATDIDIDO 06/01/08 - 10:53 am
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I think the changes in cards

I think the changes in cards were due to marriages. My wife changed cards because she took my last name. It did not state that she changed numbers. I thought that since her Mother was an American citizen, she would automatically be one.

Rose
17
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Rose 06/01/08 - 11:18 am
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tech if a woman marries and

tech if a woman marries and changes her surname to her husband's, then she has to do a name change on her social security card.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/01/08 - 01:05 pm
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HYPO, not if she was born

HYPO, not if she was born outside the US; and pingputt, only if the mother met the requirements. That is what is wrong with our 'system' - anyone from any country can be born here and is automatically an American Citizen (that is one of the hang-ups about deporting a lot of the illegal aliens, they have had children here who are American Citizens). However, if an American Citizen has a child in another country there are a lot of conditions that must be met for the child to be considered an American Citizen.

jack
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jack 06/01/08 - 02:59 pm
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Just get the right

Just get the right documentation and give the lady her SS ceck which she has paid into under some name and the SS admin hasn't refused to take. Just goes to show how we need an automated immigration system to tell when a green card has expired and notify the owner.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/01/08 - 04:58 pm
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A green card proves legal

A green card proves legal residence and can be used for things like getting a SSN, drivers license, etc. Having worked since 1972 and filing taxes every year the SS number/account should be well established, so there should not be a problem linking the person with the SSN. There was apparently an assumption that since her mother was a citizen she must be a citizen, but previous discussions have shown that to not necessarily be true. However, how was it possible to register to vote without PROOF of citizenship? Like the immigration attorney said "Voting without citizenship is a deportable offense and could bring the naturalization process to a halt."

nightraider
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nightraider 06/01/08 - 05:03 pm
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Something just "ain't" as it

Something just "ain't" as it appears!

imdstuf
10
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imdstuf 06/01/08 - 06:40 pm
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Has she been paying taxes?

Has she been paying taxes?

Rose
17
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Rose 06/01/08 - 07:41 pm
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Apparently she has been

Apparently she has been paying taxes. She worked in a plant and thought she was a citizen.

sneaky pete
0
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sneaky pete 06/02/08 - 12:19 am
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I, for one, believe this lady

I, for one, believe this lady is a victim of guilt by association. If this had happened before all the towelheads went nuts on 9/11, I think it could be strightened up quickly. But now, with things so jumbled, who knows what will happen. I don't know, but I'd bet, she is a sweet, hard working woman with no ill intent of any kind. But that's the way it goes nowadays because of the terrorists that the dummycrats choose to ignore.

DMac_357
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DMac_357 06/02/08 - 10:52 am
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kathy, reading all your

kathy, reading all your comments makes me laugh. I never read where Ethel Davis or the story's author were trying to make the government look bad. Trust me, the government does a good job of looking bad all by themselves. The piece in the story that I found amazing was when the lawyer said her biggest problem might be that she's been voting because voting without citizenship is a deportable offense and could bring the naturalization process to a halt. It's not like this lady has been hiding. She obviously registered to vote, has had her SS card changed a few times, has a driver's license, etc. Fix the system so this lady doesn't suffer.

mgroothand
5
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mgroothand 06/02/08 - 01:18 pm
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After paying into the SS

After paying into the SS system for 43 years and recently applying for benefits, I had a somewhat similar problem. Among the documents that are required is a birth certificate. I was born in a private home during WWII in Western Europe without benefit of a physician, my aunt was the midwife. All medical people were deported to wherever Germany needed them in their war effort. I was never issued a birth certificate. This became a major sticking point with SS people and I was refused any benefits although they acknowledged my 43 years of paying into it. Finally, after a year of fighting with them, I won. Nothing retroactive was paid though.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/02/08 - 05:50 pm
0
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mgroothand: Surely you had a

mgroothand: Surely you had a passport when you came into the country, either a US or a foreign one that got the "admitted" stamp; or an alien registration (green) card issued when you got here if you were not American; or a naturalization certificate if you later became a US citizen. All of those would have given a date of birth.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/02/08 - 06:15 pm
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mgroothand: None of those

mgroothand: None of those documents, plus others like military ID, US Passport, etc. require a day and month. A year of birth is sufficient and for benefits like SS they consider the middle of the year, 30 June, to be the actual day and month. The only place that the year of birth alone was not acceptable was at the Georgia drivers license bureau.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/02/08 - 06:53 pm
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Please use this article as a

Please use this article as a wake-up call. Social Security will provide a record of the earnings on which you have paid Social Security taxes during your working years and a summary of the estimated benefits you and your family may receive as a result of those earnings. The Statement is supposed to be provided in automatic annual mailings to workers and former workers aged 25 and older. If you have not received yours you can request one at any time by Internet, download a paper version of the request form to mail in, or call the toll-free telephone number 1-800-772-1213 and ask to have a paper request form mailed to you. The forms are also available at the local Social Security office. See: http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/ssa.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_fa...

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