Magali Thomas has lived in the U.S. since she was 6 years old, and thought, since she was adopted by her stepfather at 13, she was a U.S. citizen as well.
So when she went to the DMV to renew her expired license, it came as a surprise to her to find out she was considered undocumented.
What was the reasoning behind this? Thomas had a social security card, adoption papers, a high school diploma, but she didn’t have a citizenship certificate, which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in El Paso said she needed.
So Thomas applied for her certificate, but to her surprise, her first application was denied. Apparently, she did not have enough information on her father’s citizenship, but Thomas said she was told she wouldn’t need that info during her first time applying.
Without a citizenship certification, Thomas couldn’t get a license, which means she couldn’t drive. Without a license, Thomas had to quit her job, and has been unemployed for the past two years.
Now she’s hiring a lawyer to ensure her citizenship is secured. The only problem for her is the method of paying for it, which is why she set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay her legal fees and allow her to work and live in the U.S. again.
“I’m scared, because where do I go if I get denied again?” Thomas said. “I’ve been here since I was 6. I don’t know anything else.”
Thomas was born in Montreal before immigrating to the U.S., but she doesn’t speak French anymore, and she doesn’t know anyone in Montreal outside of a few aunts.
Since Thomas was first denied a year ago, she’s spent her time gathering information, records and documents to help her case. She carries around a large pink bag filled to the brim with papers: Her father’s birth certificate, her parent’s work history, along with her adoption papers and old ID cards. Thomas even had to try to get her father’s high school diploma. He graduated in the ‘50s, she said.
The DPS website shows proof of U.S. citizenship, or evidence of lawful residence, is required to be given a driver’s license. So Thomas was confused as to why this problem had never come up before when she acquired driver’s licenses in Colorado, New Mexico and Georgia.
Kathryn Midkiff, a paralegal with Borland & Borland in Midland who is helping with the case, said the immigration office messed up when they denied her citizenship because they only considered one possibility of qualifying for citizenship: The Child Citizenship Act, which grants citizenship to all foreign-born, biological and adopted children of U.S. citizens. But because she was over 18 when it was passed in 2000, Thomas said she did not apply to that act.
However, at 42, using charts to see which immigration laws were in place when she was born, the law would just require that she prove her father was a U.S. citizen and had lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years before she was born, which her father was.
“Immigration doesn’t mess up that often,” Midkiff said. “I’m not sure why they only considered one way, because as far as Mr. Borland can tell, she is eligible the other way using the charts.”
The GoFundMe campaign for Thomas has been up since Feb. 12, and is seeking a goal of $2,500 to pay for her legal fees.
Thomas isn’t worried about being deported any time soon. Her lawyer told her as long as she stayed on the good side of the law she should be fine. But she said it’s frustrating for her to not be able to drive or work. She couldn’t even get a work permit granted while she tries to get a citizenship certificate or any form of identification, she said.
“So if I get in a car wreck right now, I’m just another Jane Doe?” Thomas said.
To see Thomas’ page, click here