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Montana Teacher’s Citizenship Questioned After Decades of Living in the United States

Earlier this month, I was interviewed by the Great Falls Tribune regarding the case of Anke Davis, a school teacher who emigrated to the United States in 1951.  (You can find the full article here.) Of course, Ms. Davis was a young girl when she first came to this country.  Her parents naturalized before she was 18 years old, and she always assumed she was a U.S. citizen as well.  However, after applying for Medicare benefits, she was told for the first time that she was not a citizen.  Naturally, this was a huge shock to her.

On several occasions, I have dealt with similar issues.  On one occasion, the government sought to deport a client of mine despite the fact that he had obtained citizenship through his parents.  I recall that during the last legislative session, some lawmakers proposed harsh penalties on anyone who could not prove citizenship or lawful residency.  At the time, I had attempted to explain that immigration status can be extremely difficult to determine — and is outside of the expertise of local police.  This provides a perfect example.

Despite being told that she is not a citizen, she may very well have acquired citizenship through her parents when they naturalized.  It comes down to a complex set of laws and requirements.  As I state in the article:

Unfortunately, it’s a situation that is not that uncommon.

Shahid Haque-Hausrath is a Helena attorney whose firm, Border Crossing Law, specializes in immigration and naturalization. Haque-Hausrath said that it’s surprisingly common for people who have lived in the U.S. their whole lives to discover that their citizenship status is unsettled.

“Immigration laws are very complex,” he said. “I’ve dealt with several people of Canadian decent where one of their parents was an American citizen and one of their parents Canadian, and they always assumed they were U.S. citizens because they had grown up here. But there are specific conditions that need to be met to become a U.S. citizen — even when one of their parents was born in the U.S.”

Davis’ situation is made even more tangled by the amount of time that has elapsed since she entered the country.

“Since 1934, the laws regulating naturalization and immigration have changed five times, and each individual’s case is determined to some extent by the laws that were in place at the time they entered the country,” Haque-Hausrath said. “What the basic law would say regarding Mrs. Davis’ case is that she would have had to fulfill a series of conditions before she hit the age of 18 in order to get citizenship through her parents.”

Haque-Hausrath said that in addition to her parents becoming U.S. citizens, Davis would have had to receive “permanent resident” status prior to her 18th birthday. If, as a child, her parents registered her as a permanent resident, then her citizenship was assured. But if they failed to do that, then Davis’ path to citizenship would have become much more tortuous. She would have been required to leave the country, apply for and receive permanent resident status abroad, then re-enter the U.S., at which time she would immediately have become a U.S. citizen.

“If she was here as a child on some form of visitor’s visa and never left the country and came back in to establish a permanent residence, then she would never have acquired citizenship,” Haque-Hausrath said. “If those conditions were never fulfilled before she hit age 18, they might argue that she lost her window of opportunity and therefore never became a citizen. What really matters is, was she a permanent resident on the day and time that her parents were naturalized? It all hinges on her being a permanent resident.”

While not irrelevant, the fact that Davis has lived her whole life in the U.S., is married to a U.S. citizen and has long-established ties to the community in which she lives is subsidiary to the status she was assigned at the time she was a child.

“The way that the rules are written, there is no discretion to sympathize with her situation or age and just allow her to become a U.S. citizen,” Haque-Hausrath said. “If she doesn’t meet these specific requirements, they would deny her the U.S. citizenship despite any humanitarian factors that they should take into account. It’s a very rigid set of rules.”

So much of this Gordian knot of laws and regulation comes down to one, credit-card-sized document Davis was issued at age 4. One side lists her name, her age and her country of origin. The other side shows a 4-year-old Anke d’Hane, white bow in her hair, and an authorization from the Department of Immigration and Naturalization to admit her into the U.S. legally.

Haque-Hausrath could not immediately identify the document from a photograph, but he did say it was a strong likelihood that the card was Davis’ original permanent resident status card.

If that is the case, than all Davis should need to establish her U.S. citizenship is that card, her birth certificate and a copy of her father’s naturalization certification — all of which she currently has in her possession. If that card is merely a visitor’s visa, then the whole story changes.

Haque-Hausrath said that even in a worst-case scenario, it is unlikely that Davis would be deported. However, she could be required to obtain her permanent resident status, and would likely have to wait for up to five years before being eligible for citizenship. She also would lose her right to collect Medicare benefits or vote over that same period of time.

“If she wasn’t a permanent resident and hasn’t been all these years, then all her years of working they would consider to be illegal employment,” Haque-Hausrath said.

If there is one lesson to be taken from this story, it is that we should be a bit more careful when referring to someone as an “illegal alien” or other pejorative terms.  Immigration laws are complex, and this complexity is belied by such rudimentary and offense terms.  Indeed, if you use these terms, you might be referring to people like Ms. Davis.

Senior ICE Official in Montana Advocated Racial Profiling of Muslims, Was Suspended Pending Investigation

Towards the end of last year, things became very busy for the firm, and for me in particular.  Many things happened that I would have liked to share, but I couldn’t find the time for it.  I will attempt to go back and post some notable events from the past year, as well as update this blog more regularly.

Last October, I became involved in an effort to draw attention to serious abuses committed by Bruce Norum, who was the most senior official in Montana working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).  At that time, Bruce Norum was the Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer for the state. In that capacity, he made final decisions regarding who should be detained, whether or not an immigrant should be released pending court hearings, what bond amount should be set, and other important determinations regarding immigrants under ICE scrutiny.

On September 28, 2011, during working hours and from his ICE e-mail account, Mr. Norum forwarded an e-mail to another ICE agent and myself, recommending it as a “good read.”  The e-mail plainly advocated racial profiling of Muslims, and asked for a form of loyalty test to be administered before a Muslim should be afforded basic due process.

Some statements from the e-mail included:

I’ve been trying to say this since 911, but you worry me. I wish you didn’t. I wish when I walked down the streets of this country that I love, that your color and culture still blended with the beautiful human landscape we enjoy in this country. But you don’t blend in anymore.

. . .

It is not MY responsibility to determine which of you embraces our great country, with ALL of its religions, with ALL of its different citizens, with all of its faults. It is time for every Arab/Muslim in this country to determine it for me.

I want to know, I DEMAND to know and I have a right to know, whether or not you love America …. Do you pledge allegiance to its flag? Do you proudly display it in front of your house, or on your car?  Do you pray in your many daily prayers that Allah will bless this nation; that He will protect it and let it prosper? Or do you pray that Allah with destroy it in one of your Jihads?  Are you thankful for the freedom that this nation affords? A freedom that was paid for by the blood of hundreds of thousands of patriots who gave their lives for this country? Are you willing to preserve this freedom by also paying the ultimate sacrifice? Do you love America? ? If this is your commitment, then I need YOU to start letting ME know about it.

. . .

I want to see Arab-Muslims waving the AMERICAN flag in the streets. I want to hear you chanting ‘Allah Bless America’.. I want to see young Arab/Muslim men enlisting in the military. I want to see a commitment of money, time and emotion to the victims of this butchering and to this nation as a whole.

The FBI has a list of over 400 people they want to talk to regarding the WTC attack. Many of these people live and socialize right now in Muslim communities. You know them.

You know where they are. Hand them over to us, NOW!

. . .

We will NEVER allow the attacks of September 11, or any others for that matter, to take away that which is so precious to us — our rights under the greatest constitution in the world. I want to know where every Arab Muslim in this country stands and I think it is my right and the right of every true citizen of this country to DEMAND it.

It was shocking and appalling to receive this message from Mr. Norum for many reasons.

I am a Pakistani-American who was raised in a Muslim household.  Mr. Norum was well aware of my race and ethnicity, as we had met in person many times in an official capacity.  As I practice solely immigration law, I routinely represent immigrants (including Muslims) facing the threat of deportation in Mr. Norum’s jurisdiction.  By sending this message to me, it appeared that Mr. Norum may have been trying to question my loyalty to the United States, and use his position of authority to intimidate me.

Furthermore, the fact that Mr. Norum would forward this e-mail from his government account, during work hours, seriously called into question all decisions he has made in his official capacity.  The views he advocated run directly contrary to the Constitution he was sworn to uphold.  Indeed, the e-mail even implies that Muslims cannot be “true citizens” of the United States.

I immediately filed complaints with the civil rights and professional oversight divisions of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).  I also contacted reporter John S. Adams regarding this matter, and a story was printed in the Great Falls Tribune on October 9, 2011.  You can find the full story here.

Around the same time, I was contacted by Mr. Norum’s direct supervisor, who is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.  He informed me that he was taking the incident extremely seriously, and was taking immediate action.  Mr. Norum was quickly suspended from duties, pending an investigation.  I was grateful for the prompt attention that was given to this matter.

You can find a follow-up story from the Great Falls Tribune, containing more details, by clicking here.

Since then, I spoke with investigators from ICE “internal affairs” and I understand that their investigation finally concluded at the end of November 2011.  At this time, I am not aware of the results of the investigation.

After Mr. Norum was relieved of duties, he was replaced.  I have had very positive dealings with his replacement, as well as other Department of Homeland Security officials in Montana.  Thus far, I am pleased that I have not experienced any harassment or retaliation as a result of this matter.

Based on his clearly  bigoted views, I do not believe that Mr. Norum has any credibility to serve within the Department of Homeland Security, and certainly not in a supervisory role.  It is my sincere hope that Mr. Norum is permanently relieved of duties.  One thing is certain — if he returns to work, he will be met with fierce opposition.

I will keep you posted as more information comes to light.