American Doctor Told He’s No Longer a Citizen
A bureaucratic nightmare.
WaPo (“A doctor tried to renew his passport. Now he’s no longer a citizen.“):
Siavash Sobhani is stateless.
The Northern Virginia doctor knows at least that much about his situation. He knows he is no longer considered a citizen of the United States — the place where he was born, went to school and has practiced medicine for more than 30 years — and that he also belongs to no other place.
As he tells it, when he sent in an application for a new passport in February, he had no reason to expect he’d face any difficulties. He had renewed his passport several times previously without problems. This time, it was set to expire in June, and he wanted to make sure he had a valid one in hand before his family took a trip in July.
But he did not receive a new passport. Instead, at the age of 61, he lost what he had held since he was an infant: U.S. citizenship.
A letter from a State Department official informed him that he should not have been granted citizenship at the time of his birth because his father was a diplomat with the Embassy of Iran. The letter directed Sobhani to a website where he could apply for lawful permanent residence.
The U.S. government didn’t take away Sobhani’s citizenship because of anything he did. The letter points to a bureaucratic reason: Those born in the United States to parents who have diplomatic immunity do not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth.
“As a member of your parent’s household at the time of your birth, you also enjoyed full diplomatic immunity from the jurisdiction of the United States,” reads the letter. “As such, you were born not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Therefore, you did not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth.”
As a matter of law, this is quite right. Though controversial, it has long been established that almost anyone born in the United States is instantly a citizen. The exceptions are rare cases like this one, where the person was not subject to US law. Sobhani should never have been declared a citizen.
As a matter of policy and conscience, however, this is a travesty. Sobhani has lived as an American citizen—and by all accounts, a great contributor to American society—all 61 of his years.
The consequences of following the law and not common sense are rather awful.
Can he still legally practice medicine? Will the money he has earned over his career count toward his Social Security benefits if his Social Security number changes? Will he get to attend his son’s destination wedding next year?
Sobhani was hesitant to speak publicly about his situation. He has applied for permanent residence, as instructed, and he doesn’t want to do anything that might upset government officials who hold his fate in their hands. But he also knows how slowly the country’s immigration system can move, and he worries that he could wait in limbo for years if top officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) don’t hear about his case and agree to help him. He said he has already spent more than $40,000 on legal fees and still doesn’t know when his case might be resolved.
“I’m waiting for an interview, but does that mean I wait another year for an interview?” he said. “Then another three years for the next step? Then another 10 years before I can travel outside of the country?”
At his age — he turned 62 this month — he had already started to think about retirement. He and his wife planned to spend this year exploring other countries in hopes of finding a community where they could buy a home. Now, he can’t even visit a friend in London who recently had a stroke, or his father-in-law, who lives in Lebanon and is seriously ill.
“If he passes away, I can’t even go to his funeral,” Sobhani said.
Sobhani uses the words “upsetting,” “frustrating” and “distressing” to describe what he has been going through. His language is gentler than what many people would use if they suddenly lost the freedoms, protections and benefits that come with U.S. citizenship — all because of a paperwork mistake that was made when they were too young to read.
One would think this situation would be easy to correct. There’s been a widespread—if certainly not universal—consensus that the so-called DREAMers (those brought here illegally when they were small children and who have lived in the country for a number of years) should be allowed to stay rather than deported to a country they never knew.
Sobhani’s case should be even more straightforward. He was born here, went to school here, graduated medical school here, and practiced medicine and paid taxes here for decades. He’s only nominally Iranian and, in any case, “said he cannot safely live in Iran because he has spoken out against the government.”
Sobhani wrote letters to Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) requesting their help, saying he had “the utmost respect for the laws governing this country.” He also noted that he has dedicated his career to helping people in Virginia and the D.C. region and has been “directly involved in the care of tens of thousands of lives, currently with an active patient panel of over 3,000 patients.”
“I can only hope that the impact I’ve made in caring for our community of Virginians, your constituents, for the past 30 years will hold some weight in swaying your decision to intervene on my behalf,” he wrote.
He shared a letter that Connolly wrote to a USCIS official on his behalf.
“I trust that you can imagine how difficult it must be to believe that you were a citizen of the U.S. your entire life, just to find out you actually were not,” Connolly wrote. He added, “Our office is respectfully requesting all possible consideration in expediting this case in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations.”
Sobhani said he hopes his citizenship will be restored within six months, but he has no idea if that’s a realistic expectation. He has no idea if he will have a passport in time to attend his son’s wedding in Portugal next year or if he will get to make those retirement scouting trips with his wife anytime soon.
He has no idea how long he will remain stateless.
This seems like an occasion where a private bill, rather than urging a bureaucracy to do what it lacks the authority to do, would be the appropriate action. I’m insufficiently versed in immigration law to know whether President Biden has the authority to restore citizenship via executive order.