Reality check: This week, in America

This week I was assigned a reference request for a naturalization that took place in Miami in the 1980s. This is a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill request, where a person writes or calls the National Archives at Atlanta to request the Petition for Naturalization of a person, for whatever reason they need it. I've had people call looking for records for genealogy purposes, so they are seeking the papers of their parents or grandparents. I've had people request these records from courts or other government agencies during the hiring or legal processes in which citizenship must be proven. Other times the individual has lost their own documentation and are left with two options: they can request a new copy of their final certificate of naturalization from USCIS for a cool $350, or they can have us try to track down their Petition, which is the document completed that leads to the final certificate, that oftentimes proves citizenship and holds up in court of law just as well as the certificate--but we charge $22.50 for a certified copy. You can imagine people are pretty anxious to come to us first, to see if we might have this petition.

The request I had this week was a Miami case, which is one of our most-requested cities, and it has an excellent index to aid our search. I located Mrs. Rodriguez's petition and called her to get the form of payment.

Her story makes my heart hurt. She immigrated to this country, from Cuba, as a child, and has been here more than fifty years now. She was involved as a citizen on the ground here in the U.S. in the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, she told me. She has three younger sisters, and even though they are all in their fifties now, she has always felt like the example, that it is her duty to be a good person, and a good citizen. She naturalized and became an American in the mid 1980s.

She recently got her first ticket, which has precipitated the situation she is in now. Apparently, months or years ago (that detail was unclear), someone broke into her home in Miami and stole her entire filing cabinet, that contained all her documents--birth and marriage records, as well as immigration and naturalization papers. Now she cannot renew her license and the state is prepared to deport her back to Cuba.

Can I repeat, she has been living in the U.S. for fifty years, and has been a citizen for the last twenty-five. The problem is, since her papers are now missing, she has to request a new certificate, which is no problem, except that USCIS averages three to four months to process certificate requests. They are prepared to deport her in just a few weeks. So she called us for help, to see if the petition would serve as sufficient proof. It lists her final certificate number and everything on it. She has also been in contact with her congressman (who she said was not help at all), and her senator (who is now working to help her, on her side).

I am on her side. It makes me so sad that this person, who told me vehemently that she believes this country to be the greatest one on earth, despite its behavior to her at present, that she is now facing the risk of being sent to a "home" that is not really her home, based on stringent laws that stemmed from this ticket--for not paying a toll on a toll road once--something that is easy to do by mistake. The consequences for me versus her, who cannot prove her citizenship quickly enough, are starkly different. And she chose to come here, wants to be here, appreciates the land where you can "do anything" you can dream of.

We have high hopes to live up to. Great expectations. But she believes in them.

This is a real person, a victim of strict immigration laws that I often doubt the benefit of. The best I could do was represent my own government agency well, and to wish her the best in this process. I said I hope she succeeds, that this document helps to prove her right to be here. Without getting too political, I just cannot understand not allowing people who want to take part in a life in the United States the opportunity to try. I hope I played a small but crucial role in finding her citizenship record, certifying it, and offering my well-wishes.

It was a reality check, that there are real people, good citizens, suffering the brunt of laws that it's easy to forget about, me sitting over here on the "safe" side, a natural-born citizen. And the reality, her reality, made me very sad.