Immigration Law: A Tale of Whimsy


Hooray! She’s a U.S. citizen! Until she isn’t.

Joey here.  Some housekeeping first:

Jeffrey and I leave for New England on May 23.  For daily updates, maps, etc., visit our blog at .  To donate to Human Rights First, click on the Donate button on the blog sidebar or at the bottom of the blog page, depending on your device; or go to .  For a 7-minute TV video about our 2012 Ride, and Human Rights First videos from 2014 (2 minutes) and 2015 (4 minutes, starring Nancy and introducing Renaz), visit .  You also can watch the 2015 video on the Donate page.

We’ve written before about how American immigration law doesn’t comport with human nature or common sense.  And about how, when thoughtless Americans brag that they or their ancestors came to the U.S. “legally,” it’s a foolish boast.  Because when it comes to immigration, “legal” isn’t “moral”; it’s just made up . . . as America’s first inhabitants learned when Europeans moved in.

Consider Jeffrey’s grandmother.

She arrived in the U.S. from Czarist Russia at age 7.  In 1914, she became a U.S. citizen.  Her father’s naturalization certificate (above) included her as minor child “Annie Dorothy”.

In 1942, Annie became a U.S. citizen a second time.  Borders had been redrawn; her birthplace is given as Lithuania.


Why did Annie naturalize twice?

Because of a stupid law.

In 1921, Annie married Hymon.


Like Annie, Hymon was born in Russia/Lithuania and lived in the USA.  Unlike Annie, Hymon had a green card.  Congress decreed that American women, like Annie, lost their U.S. citizenship when they married foreign men, like Hymon.

From 1906 until 1914, and again from 1921 to 1942, “alien” Annie had no Constitutional right to be in the United States.  Her lawful presence was a privilege revocable at the whim of Congress.   If she had committed a crime, or held unpopular political views, or for any reason Congress chose, as an “alien” she could have been banished from the U.S. for life.

This particular “distinction-without-a-difference” — taking U.S. citizenship away from American women who happened to marry foreigners — has been abolished.  But our law retains similar foolishness.  Our law divides people into categories not based on the reality of their suffering (refugees), community membership (long-resident unauthorized migrants), or economic value (taxpayers, workers, customers).  Congress makes stuff up.

You’re innocent and threatened with starvation or violent death?  Whether we give you refuge depends on whether Congress says the harm you fear is “persecution”.  You’re a beloved noncitizen member of your American family and community?  You’re deportable if Congress says so.  You’re a wonderful noncitizen worker needed by your employer?  Congress tells the boss whom she can and cannot hire.  Rules trump reality.

The fact of actual suffering, or belonging, or value, does not depend on a piece of paper.  Calling a person “alien” does not make her so.  If the law irrebuttably supposes that children who grew up here, or adults who have made their families’ lives here, or women like Annie, are not actually American . . . let us defer to David Copperfield.  “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.”