SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Most of us take our citizenship for granted. A 58-year-old woman who’s lived in South Dakota for virtually her entire life did, until recently.
A few years ago she was renewing her driver’s license and it was denied. Eva Mott was told something wasn’t right with her paperwork.
What happened next is that Mott hit one brick wall after another trying to get the matter straightened out. After years of frustration, she has turned to KELOLAND investigates to look into the matter.
If you’ve ever eaten at Minerva’s in downtown Sioux Falls, you may have had Eva Mott wait on you. Mott’s been working this same job for 31 years.
“I grew up in Madison, SD; graduated from Madison High School; met my husband at Dakota State College; moved to Sioux Falls and been here ever since,” Mott said.
Mott and her husband have been married for 35 years and she has three grown children. Like any other American, Mott has a social security number. She’s paid taxes, voted and even served on jury duty.
That’s why one day when she went to renew her South Dakota driver’s license, she was startled to hear:
Eva was born in Germany. Her father, a U.S. serviceman from South Dakota was stationed there when he met her mother.
“I was born in a German hospital. My mom and dad were not married at the time I was born. They got married afterward,” Mott said.
When she was one, Eva and her mother immigrated to the U.S. Eva’s father joined them back at his South Dakota home, after he finished his tour of duty overseas.
“My mother was naturalized. And my father was always a citizen. They only time he ever left the United States was to go and serve in the army,” Mott said.
Yet, Mott was told she would need to go through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to apply for citizenship. She filled out all the paperwork and sent in her birth certificate, her mother’s passport, her parents’ marriage license, as well as her own and her social security card
“All had to be originals; mailed it off–paid the money. Everything costs money–every single time you do something–and then nothing,” Mott said.
Her application was denied saying she didn’t have proper documentation and her original documents were never returned.
“I just thought everything was going to be okay. And it wasn’t,” Mott said.
“There was just a lot of red flags. Common sense tells you this doesn’t seem right,” Lindsey Janklow said.
Janklow is the second attorney that Mott has hired to try to find her way out of this mess.
“I’ve been going through this so long. I just kind of hit a brick wall. And I don’t know,” Mott said.
“Every door just kept getting closed for her. I can see why she’s frustrated. It shouldn’t be that difficult for a person who’s resided in America their whole life,” Janklow said.
So what does the law say regarding a case like Mott’s?
“So the law has actually changed several times throughout the years,” Janklow said.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the latest law in effect since 2001 is that a child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when all the following conditions have been met:
- The child has at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization
- The child is under 18 years of age
- The child is a lawful permanent resident
- And, the child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent
“There’s no gray area in my mind. Her dad was a U.S. citizen. Her mother married her father. Her mother became a U.S. citizen and all this took place while she lived in the United States and under 18,” Janklow said.
But when she didn’t get her original German birth certificate back from Homeland Security, or any of her other documents, none of her attempts to clear up the issue have been successful. And she’s walking around with an expired driver’s license.
“Not being able to get a driver’s license. What’s going to happen in the future? What about when I want to retire and collect social security? Am I going to be able to do that? There’s a lot of things I don’t know,” Eva Mott said.
“She pays taxes. She put her time into this state and this country. She should be their first priority,” daughter Liza Cohen said.
Multiple attempts to contact Homeland Security to try to get Mott’s papers back have been unsuccessful.
“I think they lost my documentation. I really do,” Mott said.
Kennecke: You’re telling me it’s a bureaucratic mess?
Janklow: It is a bureaucratic mess, yes.
Mott also attempted to enlist the help of South Dakota’s senators.
After talking to Mott, KELOLAND News reached out to Senators Thune’s and Rounds’ offices and were told both were willing to help resolve the issue, but needed more information from Mott.
Mott told us she will provide whatever she can for resolution.
When Mott tells her story, most people find it unbelievable.
“They kind of think it’s a joke actually. Oh it’s funny, you know. It’s not funny. It’s really kind of…. It’s frustrating. it’s frustrating,” Mott said as she fought back tears.
U.S. Immigration tells KELOLAND Investigates that it does not comment on individual cases due to privacy concerns.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety tells KELOLAND News the Real ID Act brought about stricter requirements for proof of citizenship and while the State Driver Licensing Program worked to accommodate Mott, she didn’t have the correct documentation to get a license.
KELOLAND Investigates will continue to follow Mott’s story and let you know if she’s able to be granted citizenship.
“We’re happy to continue working with Ms. Mott or any South Dakotan having trouble with federal government agencies. We frequently work as a liaison between South Dakotans and the federal government when they are experiencing difficulties such as Ms. Mott’s. Staff members in our South Dakota offices are specially trained to assist constituents once a release form that authorizes us to work on their behalf is signed. Don’t hesitate to reach out.”Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD)
“Advocating on behalf of South Dakotans like Ms. Mott and helping them maneuver the federal bureaucracy is one of Sen. Thune’s top priorities. He welcomes the opportunity to continue working with Ms. Mott to help ensure she has the requisite information that will allow him and his team to best serve her needs in this case.”Ryan Wrasse, Communications Director for Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
“The implementation of the Real ID Act, which took effect on Dec. 31, 2009, brought about stricter requirements for proof of citizenship. The state Driver Licensing Program worked to accommodate Ms. Motts. Ultimately the required documentation was unable to be produced to issue a Real ID compliant driver’s license.”Tony Mangan, Spokesperson for South Dakota Department of Public Safety