First published on Mint Press News, 10/11/15.
Photo credit: Flickr / U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Felicito Rustique
Sally Anne is a US citizen. She came to the US as an 18-month-old when she was adopted from India by her American parents and became a naturalized US citizen. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lost her documentation during the switch-over from paper files to a digital system.
Sally Anne didn’t even know it until 2012, when she had to prove her citizenship status to renew her driver’s license as a result of a new law — the Real ID Act of 2005.
According to Sally Anne’s blog, Paperless Existence, her previous attorney. Tracie Klinke, told her that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “has only been using computerized databases as recently as the 1980s. I was adopted several years before then, and the switchover from hardcopy / paper files backed up by microfilm data to digitally uploaded records took place sometime in the early 80’s. It is altogether possible, she clarified, for the agency to have misplaced my hardcopy file during this procedure, in fact it has happened before with other immigrants.”
At first, sorting it out looked easy. Sally Anne’s attorney at the time made a demand for her file via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedure.
Sally Anne told MyMPN, “they made a formal declaration via a letter affirming that they have checked their ‘centralized index system’ and my name is not contained therein. However: this completely gainsays the reality that somewhere there exists a physical paper file. USCIS is required by law to maintain those paper files as backup, irrespective of whether the records are contained in their electronic database or not. But they flat out refuse to research any further into this.”
The A-no, or alien registration number, is the identifying serial number to track the records of every legal immigrant — other than those holding tourist visas — who has ever entered the United States. Because Sally Anne doesn’t know her alien registration number, they are refusing to research the matter any further and have stated she has no further grounds to file an appeal. Because she is permanently estranged from her adoptive parents due to childhood mistreatment, obtaining documentation from them isn’t possible.
Being undocumented affects every aspect of Sally Anne’s life. She can’t get a driver’s license — even for a scooter. For years she couldn’t even rent a property and stayed in motels until a landlord finally agreed to let out an apartment to her on the basis that she paid several months’ rent as a deposit and produced affidavits from friends. Without proof that she isn’t an illegal alien, she cannot find employment and is now self-employed as a sex worker. It even means she can’t collect medical prescriptions.
Some of her mental health prescriptions are classified as narcotics, so an ID is required to be presented when receiving them. As Sally Anne doesn’t have ID, no pharmacy would release them to her.
“I spent three days running around to different drugstores and, with the weather in the 90’s, I got heat exhaustion. I began having panic attacks from being off of my meds and also injured my foot walking.”
She finally got the medication by asking an acquaintance to accompany her to a pharmacy. “An acquaintance who would verify they knew me, present their own ID, and then the pharmacist released it to him, and told him he was free to turn around and give it to me.”
Sally Anne’s attorney, Kristy White, is now attempting to get a copy of her US passport or other consular paperwork from India from the Department of State by doing a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request and a Privacy Act request. White is also working with Sally Anne’s representative in Congress, trying to get them to work with the State Department. If the State Department does not produce documents, they will have to file a suit in a federal court and ask a U.S. district court judge to compel production of the records. This is when a court order is issued directing the agency to research their archive center or storage facility and search for the physical paper file.
An email from Klinke revealed that she believed Sally Anne’s physical files are located in Missouri.
White, said “The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services have thus far produced nothing in response to Sally’s requests … Sally’s case is very frustrating because it seems so “simple.” Just a get a copy of her ID from USCIS or from the Department of State. No one, citizen or non-citizen should have to live without an ID or any way to prove who they are. It is very dehumanizing, and I don’t understand people who just shrug their shoulders and walk away from the problem.”
Sally Anne says her Christian faith has become stronger during this travesty and she credits that with the will and determination to fight for her rights. She’s also grateful to all the fans of her blog for their support.
Once everything is behind her, Sally Anne wants to make a positive impact in the life of others. Specifically, she wishes to become an ambassador for foreign adoption, especially that of children from India & South Asia. She will also work to decriminalize sex work in the U.S. because she doesn’t want other women to be treated like a criminal, as she has been.
Sally Anne said, “All I need is for USCIS to dig into their repository where the physical paper files are stored … to get them to look and then they’ll find my file and I turn it over and I can then renew my ID — and life will be back to where it was.”