Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Community News Network

September 12, 2013

After 64 years in the U.S. woman finally gets citizenship

WASHINGTON — Approaching her retirement, Zofia Dubicka went to register for her Social Security benefits in March when a clerk delivered stunning news.

"You're not a U.S. citizen," he told her.

She was incredulous. Then devastated.

"I just started crying. I said to him, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes ma'am, I am.' "

She thought: "How could that be?"

Dubicka, who will turn 67 on Saturday, has lived in Northern Virginia for 24 years. Before that, on New York's Long Island for four decades. Her family had fled Poland at the end of World War II, and all this time she thought that she had been born on a farm in Germany. They immigrated to the United States when she was 3, and she vividly remembers the day her father became a naturalized citizen in 1961, when she was a teenager.

"Zofia, now you are a free American citizen, too," she remembers him saying. "You can be anything you want to be, go anywhere you want to go."

But now at a federal office in Fredericksburg, Va., the clerk was telling her she was not who she thought she was.

Worried about the possibility of not being able to claim her Social Security benefits, Dubicka immediately started what she assumed would be the long process of applying for U.S. citizenship. Then three weeks ago, the immigrations officer assigned to her case told her about another shock that she had discovered deep in Dubicka's family's immigration records: She had been born in a displaced-persons camp, in Westrhauderfehn, Germany - not on a farm.

"My parents never talked about it," Dubicka said this week. "On Sunday after church, all the relatives gathered for a big meal, and the only thing my father said was how bad Hitler was, how terrible everything had been, and how lucky we were to be here."

Immigration services officer Patricia Smith, who was assigned to Dubicka's case, said if Dubicka's mother had also been naturalized before the daughter turned 18, Dubicka would have automatically been a citizen. But her mother never filed for citizenship.

Dubicka's sister, who has since died, was born in the United States in 1951, and so was automatically an American. The mix of legal residents and citizens in a family is not unusual among immigrants, Smith said, and that can add to the confusion in which someone assumes he or she is a citizen, until learning otherwise.

"It's a lot more common than people realize," Smith said. "It usually turns up when you apply for benefits at some point, and that's when people start inquiring."

Smith said it was "very understandable" that Dubicka assumed she was a citizen. "But all she had was that little immigration visa."

The yellowed permanent residency card, which Dubicka found in her parents' files after they died in the 1970s, shows a toddler staring seriously into the camera, a relic of their arrival at Ellis Island in 1949. She had no birth certificate, and her German baptismal certificate was in tatters.

But she knew her birth date was Sept. 14, 1946. And she provided immigration officials her driver's license, her residency card and a Social Security card, which are available to non-citizens. She had never registered to vote, never needed a passport and had never been summoned to jury duty. She had years of tax returns, her certified nursing assistant diploma and plenty of other documents proving her integration into American life.

And she was determined to become a citizen. "I don't give up," she said. "Just like my father and mother must have been to get out of that [displaced-persons] camp, I'm very persistent."

Her family spent three years in the camp in northwestern Germany before being admitted to the United States. They settled in New York, near an aunt and uncle who sponsored them. Her father found work in a steel mill while her mother became a homemaker. They rarely talked of the war and made no mention of the camp or how they ended up there, Dubicka said.

Their reticence did not surprise Mark Wyman, emeritus professor of history at Illinois State University, who wrote a 1989 book, "DPs: Europe's Displaced Persons 1945-1952."

"It was very, very common that the kids grew up not knowing anything," Wyman said. The United States accepted only 400,000 refugees, and those only after several years of delay. At the start of World War II, Poland had been split between Germany and Russia, so "when the war ended, people in Poland and the Baltics retreated with the Germans, in hopes of getting to the Americans or British. They went as far as they could, and many ended up in the camps."

After a normal American childhood on Long Island, Dubicka Americanized her first name to Sophia, married and started using her husband's surname of Goldston. They had four daughters. The couple separated about 25 years ago, just when the New York medical center where she worked started cutting back. Dubicka moved to Alexandria, Va. after she heard there was plenty of work in the region. She moved to Fredericksburg two years ago.

Animated and friendly, she now works at the front desk of a Fairfax, Va. pediatric lung center, where she is used to calming down upset patients and parents, sorting through complicated medical forms and organizing office procedures.

That experience came in handy in the spring as she began filling out forms and collecting documents in her effort to become a U.S. citizen.

Dubicka's interview with Smith was scheduled for mid-August. Smith, the immigration officer assigned to help her become a citizen, found the family's immigration and naturalization records "in a nice, neat package because nobody had opened it in years and years," Smith said.

The Washington district office of the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services has caught up on its once-fearsome backlog. It takes five months on average from the time an application file is completed to naturalization; in 2008, the wait was closer to 13 or 14 months, an agency spokesman said.

The background investigation into Dubicka went smoothly, and she had collected all the necessary paperwork. All that was left was the citizenship test, which she easily passed. She planned to return to the Social Security office Thursday morning and finish registering for benefits. She has begun returning her legal documents to her birth name, reclaiming Zofia Dubicka as her new American identity.

On Tuesday night, she gathered outside Alexandria City Hall along with 24 others from 14 countries.

Dressed in pearls and a sparkling American-flag brooch, Dubicka raised her right hand and swore allegiance to the only home she's known for the past 64 years. Then she kissed the small flag she'd been given, and waved it.

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • The Simpsons still going strong

    The groundbreaking animation first hit the air Dec. 17, 1989, but the family first appeared on television in "The Tracey Ullman Show" short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987.

    August 21, 2014

  • Police chief resigns over racial slur repost to Facebook

    A repost on his personal Facebook page of a racially-charged comment by the original poster of a comedy video has forced the police chief of an Oklahoma city to resign his office.

    August 21, 2014

  • Does Twitter need a censor?

    Twitter decided last year to make images more prominent on its site. Now, the social network is finding itself caught between being an open forum and patrolling for inappropriate content.

    August 21, 2014

  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
Furry Roommates: Dorms Allowing Cats and Dogs Chase Rice Defends Bro-Country 'Jersey Shore Massacre' Pokes Fun at MTV Series Raw: Wash. Mudslides Close Roads, Trap Motorists DC's Godfather of Go-Go Honored Ukraine Calls Russian Convoy a 'direct Invasion' Girl Meets Her 'one in the World' Match Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks Japan Landslide Rescuers Struggle in Heavy Rain Raw: Severe Floods, Fire Wrecks Indiana Homes Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future Raw: Russian Aid Convoy Arrives in Ukraine Okla. Policeman Accused of Sex Assaults on Duty Dominican Republic Bans Miley Cyrus Concert Raw: Israeli Air Strike in Gaza Raw: Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in Malaysia Attorney: Utah Eatery Had Other Chemical Burn
Seasonal Content
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Facebook