In the last year, I feel like I have had an unusually high amount of people come to talk with me about the very core of their identity – their citizenship. All of these stories begin the same – when they go to renew their license, they are told by an employee at the Georgia Department of Driver Services that they aren’t U.S. citizens despite believing for years that they are. They’re told this life-altering news because they don’t have a U.S. birth certificate or passport.

I remember meeting one woman who told me about her birth – her parents told her that the hospital in the small Vermont town where they lived was closed for renovations when she was due to be born, so when contractions started, they went to the nearest hospital, which happened to be in Canada. Was she a U.S. citizen? She assumed so, but that assumption came to an abrupt halt last year when she couldn’t renew her license. As immigration lawyers know, determining citizenship can be complicated – what year was she born? Were her parents married when she was born? Were both parents U.S. citizens?

There was another woman who was born in Canada to a U.S. citizen mother and Canadian father. As a young girl, she was allowed to cross into the U.S. without any issues. A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer even wrote in her (long since expired) Canadian passport that she was a “USC.” But when we looked more closely at the law, we realized she wasn’t. Thankfully she had a 21-year old son so we could look at adjustment of status, but can you imagine going from thinking you were a citizen to having no status at all?

Early last year, I met with a man who had been born in the United States, whose mother had used her Border Crossing Card to enter the U.S. to do some shopping. She went into early labor and had her son at a friend’s home. She returned to Mexico with her newborn and registered his birth there – thinking it would be easier for her to get him to the doctor and into school if he was Mexican. She did, eventually, get him a delayed U.S. birth certificate. However, the N-600 was denied for lack of evidence. USCIS wanted a U.S. birth certificate. Well, if we had that, there wouldn’t be a need for the N-600!

I’ve also met with clients who relied on their parents telling them that they were U.S. citizens throughout their youth, but suddenly found out in their 30s that they weren’t. They’ve spent their lives saying that they are – on work applications, on college applications, everywhere. How do you work around the false claim to citizenship bar? Can you?

States have become more and more involved in the immigration conversation. This often plays out in the driver’s license arena. In many cases, it’s simply more red tape to cut through – more documents to bring, more explanations needed. For some people a simple act like going to get their license renewed has turned their lives upside down.

It is possible to go from believing you have no status to finding out you are a U.S. citizen, just as it’s possible to go from thinking you’re a U.S. citizen to discovering that you are undocumented. As chair for the Family Track for AILA’s Annual Conference committee, I know that we spent time considering what questions we’d want to tackle, and designed sessions for the Annual Conference with that in mind. Join us in Orlando, June 19-22, 2019, to learn how to identify, document, and research these issues to help clients get their lives back in order.