The Day I Lost My Citizenship.
So, when I moved to Michigan from Tennessee I had to update my driver's license, of course.
I dutifully checked the requirements at the State of Michigan's DMV website for all the documentation I needed to prove legal residency in Michigan & my US citizenship. Paperwork in hand, I headed off for what I believed would be an uneventful trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Or whatever they call their equivalent office here in Michigan.
When I arrived, I was delighted to discover the Turn-O-Matic contained the answer to the ultimate question. "That's a keeper!" It seemed an auspicious omen.
When it was finally my turn to dequeue, I presented the official checklist of documentation plus my corresponding trophies.
» Legal ID: Check (Tennessee driver's license).
» Proof of residency: Check (utility bill delivered to a local address with canceled stamp).
» Proof of US citizenship: Check (my birth certificate).
I was set to pass muster with flying colors till the clerk behind the counter noted, "You have a problem here,"she tapped my birth certificate. I knew there couldn't be a problem: I'd just had this certificate mailed to me from my home state. It was a legal document, state certified—with official-looking seals and all. (We'll leave off any discussion of my suspicious and possibly illegal adoption for some other time…)
"This needs to be a U.S. birth certificate."
I looked again. Yep, my certificate. My home town. My home state. Everything looked fine. If it was counterfeit, at least it was a true counterfeit… "But it is. That's a United States certificate of live birth."
"No," she replied, "It's from New Mexico. It needs to be one of the United States."
"What?" I was stymied. "New Mexico *is* a state."
"No, it's not."
"Come again?" I was momentarily at sea... Finally I asked, "Do you have a phone book? I'll show you… it's one of the contiguous United States. It's west of Texas and east of Arizona but north of Mexico. It's the 505 area code. Have you seriously never heard of New Mexico?" I couldn't believe I actually had to say this… I thought it might be a joke. Was Ashton Kutcher lurking nearby? Allen Funt?
Sensing my verbal flood was about to reinitialize, she excused herself to exercise one of her life-lines, retreating into a back office, certificate in hand. I believe it was time to call in the big-guns and consult with a superior officer.
No joy. She returned only to reiterate: "You need a birth certificate from a valid U.S. state. If you have a passport, though…?"
"You're kidding me, right? Seriously, give me a phone book, I'll show you a map. Surely you have a map of the United States here?"
Exasperated, she exercised the second of her life-lines and turned to the clerk working one station over.
"Hey, Tammy ... 'New Mexico,' is that a state, or what?"
Tammy looked at her like maybe she'd just spoken in tongues and tentatively answered, "Yes…?"
"Well, I guess this will do, then…"
And just like that, I became a citizen once again.
Which leads me to wonder… what if I didn't have a valid birth certificate? Could I truly have bluffed my way through?
In our effort to deny aid and comfort to the terrorists and Martians lurking among us, no matter the checks and balances we put into place at our state departmental licensing bureaus, it all falls apart when confronted by the all-too fallible judgment of the occasionally undertrained and undereducated people behind the counter.
And the lack of a good map.