Proving citizenship: Roadblock for Ore. driver, 94

U.S. passport

GOLD HILL, Ore. (AP) — When Helen Mary Thomas was born 94 years ago in Tennessee, there was no doctor in attendance at her parents’ rural home, and no birth certificate was issued.

That posed no problem for nine decades, until Thomas tried to renew her Oregon driver’s license in May.

State law now requires drivers to show proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, but she was unable to do so, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.

Thomas lives in the Southern Oregon town of Gold Hill, and she has much else to establish her identity.

She is a retired Hewlett-Packard Co. employee from California who worked in the rivet department. She owns a home, votes, has grown children and grandchildren. She has a Social Security card, she’s covered by Medicare, and she’s been paying taxes since before World War II.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one falling through the cracks,” she said. “I was born and raised in America. But I never got a birth certificate. It’s like I’m not here.”

The law calling for proof of citizenship was approved in 2008. With licenses getting renewed at eight-year intervals, many people are now showing their legal presence for the first time, said Department of Transportation spokesman David House.

“Most of them have never had to dig out a birth certificate or a passport to establish that,” he said.

The state agency gave Thomas a temporary license. It expires Aug. 29. In the meantime, state workers advised her to send paperwork to the Social Security Administration to get information that could establish her place and date of birth.

She did, in June, but hasn’t gotten back what she needs, leaving her worried about getting around in Southern Oregon. Her husband of 46 years died in 1996, and none of her children live nearby.

“I’m on my own — this is a necessity, not a pleasure,” she said. “I have to pick up medicine at a drug store. I drive a lot less now but I’m still a good driver.”

Even if she gets a new license, Thomas said she may not use it long.

“The way I feel now, a year is stretching it,” she said. “I’m as old as dirt.”


Information from: Mail Tribune,

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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