April 2014 Bar Bulletin
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April 2014 Bar Bulletin

Orwellian SSNightmare Haunts Repatriate

By David Mace and Alissa Baier


Let's be clear about one thing up front. Pedro1 is a citizen of the United States of America. His birth certificate reports that he was born in a hospital in California. He is a registered voter. Yet, Pedro can't work legally in the United States. He lives in his car and works occasional day-labor jobs with undocumented immigrants. This is the story of how he got there.

Pedro's parents were Mexican immigrants. Poor and uneducated, they didn't know that it was important to register him for a Social Security number. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved back to Mexico and Pedro grew up in a small rural town as an undocumented immigrant - an American illegally living in Mexico.

He went to school for only a few years. He didn't have legal documentation to enter Mexico's workforce legally, so, instead, he worked menial jobs and received payments in cash. He tried to get work authorization in Mexico, but could not navigate his way through the bureaucracy.

So, as a young man in his mid-20s, Pedro decided to move to the United States. Unfortunately, his problems with documentation only followed him here. He had his U.S. birth certificate, but when he tried to get a Washington State I.D. and a Social Security card, he was denied because he didn't have any other proof of his identity and residence in the United States. The State requires four pieces of identification before it will issue an official I.D. card.

That is when Pedro came to Open Door Legal Services for help. ODLS is the legal department of Seattle's Union Gospel Mission. Our job is to help homeless people clear up the legal issues that can keep them from getting back on their feet.

At first we thought that Pedro just needed a state identification, and with that he could get a Social Security card and be on his way. We helped him sign up for food stamps and register to vote - anything to help him get "on the grid." We even ordered Pedro's records from his tiny rural school in Mexico. The records were handwritten.

After nearly a year of gathering documents, we succeeded in getting Pedro an official Washington State identification card. However, that turned out to be just the beginning.

Last year we helped Pedro file an application for a Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA). We included all of the documents that we had used to help him get his I.D., along with his freshly minted I.D., voter registration, and also some declarations of family members and friends in Mexico to help verify why he had not requested a number before.

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