Zofia Dubicka, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Poland when she was three years old, suffered a devastating shock when she tried to register for her Social Security benefits. She was told that she was not a U.S. citizen.
Dubicka, who is now 67, has lived in the U.S. for 64 years. Her father became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1961, and he had told her she was now a U.S. citizen as well.
But now, with the news that she was not, she rushed to start the U.S. citizenship application process. Patricia Smith, the immigration services officer who worked Dubicka’s case, stumbled on another detail: if Dubicka’s mother had also become a naturalized U.S. citizen before Dubicka turned 18, Dubicka would have automatically become a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, her mother never applied for citizenship.
According to Smith, people thinking they were U.S. citizens when in actuality they were not happens a lot more than you would think. “It usually turns up when you apply for benefits at some point,” she said, “and that’s when people start inquiring.”
Luckily, Dubicka had a strong paper trail of evidence establishing her residency and integration into U.S. society. She had a driver’s license, a residency card, and a Social Security card. (She had never registered to vote, needed a passport, or been summoned to jury duty, any of which would have alerted her to her lack of citizenship much earlier on).
Her application also came at a good time. The Washington district office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, where her application was received, once had times as terrible as 14 months between an application file’s completion and naturalization; today, it is closer to five months.
The background investigation into her life was fast and easy; all she had left to do was pass the citizenship test, which she did with ease.
After living in the U.S. for 64 years, she finally became a citizen on September 10, 2013.