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February 23, 2014

Unnamed woman, age 70, from Greeley, Nebraska, Photo by Dorothea Lange (1940), Source National Archives and Records Administration (NARA No. 1372774, ARC Identifier 521788), (PD-By Govt. Officer or Employee as part of official duties)

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails” (Ps. 71: 9).

When asked, my mother proudly proclaims herself American, in heavily accented English.  A naturalized citizen of the United States for over 50 years, she has owned a home here, raised a family, voted regularly, and paid taxes in this country.

In her 70s, however, she had difficulty obtaining a state issued photo identification card.  That my mother was seriously ill at the time only exacerbated the situation. Repeatedly hospitalized, she was asked over and over for a photo ID she did not possess.

With no alternative, my mother was required to retell her life story again and again.  Since she had earlier suffered a stroke, this was difficult (and embarrassing) for her.  It was, also, distressing, as she felt the inquiries impugned her integrity. There was little I could do to aid or protect her.

Funny thing about documentation…

• Governmental records should exist of my mother’s marriage to my father in Europe, following World War II; my mother’s passports on immigration to the United States, and later on the one occasion she and my father vacationed in Europe; their purchase of a home in the state; their payment of a mortgage in full on that home; and their federal and state income tax returns for half a century.

• Corporate records presumably exist as to my mother’s payment of phone bills, utility bills, health insurance premiums, and hospital bills, decade in and decade out. The numerous health care facilities which rendered treatment to her, throughout the years, all have extensive medical records, as well.

• Catholic Church records may even exist of the regular donations by my mother to the local parish while she still lived in the home where we grew up.

None of these records sufficed to establish my mother’s identity under the new statute. Yet not one of these entities – governmental, corporate, or religious – ever doubted her identity. Nor were they likely to refund her money for failing to obtain the ID card.

Given all the obstacles, my mother did not vote in the last election. She was penalized for the simple fact of having aged, and is not alone in this.

My mother and hundreds of thousands like her were made refugees by World War II. She and her peers were young at a chaotic time when documentation was far less pervasive than now.  They lived “off the grid” before there was a grid, the way we understand it.

Sadly, there are those today willing to commit identity theft and worse. Steps must be taken to safeguard the rest of us against them. However, sensitivity should be shown toward those who lack documentation for legitimate reasons, especially the elderly and infirm.

We will one day be in their shoes.


  1. How frustrating! I hope you are able to rectify the situation. Its disgraceful people are lost in a system that has no time to look at cases individually

    My mother had ALS and near the end it was almost impossible for anyone to understand her. Getting her legal matters together was a nightmare as people would lose patience and treat her so disrespectfully.

    Glad she has you to help.

    • I’m truly sorry to hear of your mother’s situation. I’m sure it was a great comfort for her to have you there. You’ve hit the nail on the head. There are wonderful people, both in the legal and health care systems. But an elderly person w/o an advocate can be chewed up.

      All things good,


  2. I so appreciated this post. Having obtained U.S. citizenship only about 7 years ago, a very tiny part of me can relate. Thanks for sharing this story with us! Blessings to you.

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