Help! My Partner Immigrated Illegally as a Child and Has a Fake Social Security Number.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 10 2014 6:00 AM

Dream Deferred

My partner immigrated illegally as a child and has a fake Social Security number. How in trouble is he?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My partner was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. Around the age of 16 he bought another person’s identity. He has been using this person’s Social Security number ever since and has a successful career, etc. We’d like to get married in the next few years. What are the implications down the road?

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—He Paid for His Identity

Dear Paid,
How terrible it must be to be a person brought here as a child, living the life of a productive American citizen, while knowing that at any time the government might unmask the lie at the heart of a good life. I spoke with Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She naturally and correctly said that your partner needs to consult with his own immigration attorney to understand what could happen in his case, but she supplied a general outline of what your future husband might face. She pointed out that a crucial piece of information is how he got here. If he was sneaked across the border, that could require that he leave the country in order to regularize his status, which in turn could trigger a 10-year bar from returning. Because Congress has failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide potential relief to young people brought illegally to this country as children, the administration created a (probably temporary) reform called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. If your partner is eligible for DACA, it could help mitigate his jeopardy in regard to that initial illegal entry.

Williams also pointed out the dangers inherent in having bought someone else’s name and Social Security number, which could be aggravated identity theft. Since your partner has surely filled out employment forms, if he’s falsely declared himself to be a citizen, that’s a crime which can prevent someone from gaining legal status. It goes on and on—and finding out confidentially what the potential pitfalls are and what remedies (if any) are available is why people pay lawyers. But of course, we don’t know how many people like your partner are simply hiding in plain sight, successfully pulling off the subterfuge, maybe for a lifetime. In any case, you two should check out Define American, the advocacy group co-founded by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who was brought here as a boy, pretended to be an American citizen, then “came out” as an undocumented person. I recommend you both watch his moving documentary Documented.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am being bullied at work. I’m a professional woman in a field with limited opportunities. I work in a very small office and am the newest and youngest employee. Since I started, the “mean girls” have excluded me from conversations, grow hushed when I walk into a room, and have been generally unfriendly. I’ve been brushing it off and figured it would take me time to integrate. Then I overheard two of them saying some petty and nasty things about my appearance and attire. I’m a generally likable, (relatively) good-looking, non-smelly, appropriately dressed person (you’ll just have to take my word). My boss is a nice guy, but these employees have been with him since the beginning. I am not the only one on the receiving end of this behavior. I like my work but I’m barely resisting the urge to let the mean girls have it for being so awful to me and others. I can’t afford to quit as I have mountains of student debt, jobs are scarce, and I have a young family to support. How can I handle this situation, and perhaps confront the mean girls, without propagating the cycle of bullying?

—Sick of Meanies

Dear Sick,
You’re a young professional, but we don’t know if the mean girls are your superiors or if they are support staff. Of course wherever you are in the hierarchy does not justify their behavior, but if they have administrative duties, it could be they resent being subordinate to you—and other new, young professionals—and enjoy hazing all of you. Whatever the origin of their ridiculousness, do not start off by going the confrontation route. Instead, occasionally bring in for everyone in the office a homemade platter of brownies or a basket of fruit you got from a farm stand. Since these women have been around forever, turn to them occasionally for advice, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. Be gracious and unflappable. Maybe you’ll never win these mean girls over, but on some level they will have to recognize how petty they’re being by mocking your outfits. If, however, their behavior is directly impacting your work in a negative way, say if they aren’t fulfilling requests or are being otherwise professionally uncooperative, then you have to address it firmly and directly. Tell them you are ultimately all there to serve your clients, customers, or patients—whatever the case may be—and undermining your ability to do this is simply not acceptable. Start documenting what’s going on, so if it doesn’t stop and you have go to the boss, you can be as factual as possible. Maybe he’s one of those oblivious guys who lets bad behavior fester until he’s forced to address it. So keep in mind that for the time being, you’re still new and untested, and this nasty bunch are his loyal reliables.

—Prudie

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