The day Carlos went into the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to renew his driver’s license nearly cost him everything he struggled for on his path to U.S. citizenship.
Carlos Marcos, formerly Abboud Abbas, came to the United States as a refugee from Egypt in 2016. He was grateful for the safety and freedom he found in America. After living peacefully within its borders for 5 years, it was time for the next step. In June 2021 he attended a World Relief Citizenship Clinic to apply for U.S. citizenship.
But there was one problem in his quest to become a naturalized citizen.
Sitting across from an Immigration Legal Services (ILS) team member, Carlos revealed what happened to him after that day he walked into the DMV to renew his license. He received a voter registration card in the mail with his name on it.
The “Motor-Voter” Dilemma
Initially, Carlos didn’t give his newly acquired voter card much concern. After all, he trusted the U.S. systems put in place and was careful to adhere to them. Unfortunately, the systems in place let him down. Through no fault of his own, the DMV registered Carlos to vote, leading to a significant problem: only U.S. citizens can vote.
Voter registration by noncitizens is a serious offense with serious consequences. At the very least, intentionally registering to vote as a non-U.S. citizen could delay eligibility to naturalize for 5 years. However, if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determined Carlos claimed to be a U.S. citizen, the government could attempt to deport him.
This situation was unsettling. Carlos never asked to vote, nor did he ever claim he was a U.S. citizen. And he isn’t the only one. Coined by immigration advocates as “motor-voter,” this tends to be a common situation that can cause big problems. An immigrant’s visit to the DMV can result in their unlawful registration to vote when they never asked for it. They’re left to untangle a potentially costly, legal mess they never initiated.
After Carlos learned his voter registration card was a serious error, he immediately canceled it. But he grew more uncertain as he considered the impact this could have on his immigration status.
The Path to Proof
Carlos found great relief in the support network of World Relief ILS. Walking alongside him, they helped him collect documents from the DuPage County Election Commission and the Illinois Secretary of State proving his innocence. These papers revealed Carlos never claimed to be a U.S. citizen. And he never asked to register to vote during his visit to the DMV.
After the necessary paperwork was completed, his application was submitted. The wait began. Nine months later, he was scheduled for an interview with USCIS where his ability to become a U.S. citizen would be determined.
The Life-Altering Day
The interview was difficult. It felt like question after question was directed toward that voter card. Carlos answered the best he could but remained worried. Was his application going to be denied because of an issue he had no control over?
Arriving at the World Relief office after the interview, the ILS staff assured him they were thorough in preparing his application and covered every possible base. David Dischinger, Citizenship Associate for World Relief ILS, recalls, “We were able to reassure him that everything should be fine with his application because we were able to demonstrate in his application that the voter registration did not make him ineligible to become a citizen.”
And, of course, he was right.
Less than one month after his interview, everything Carlos struggled for finally culminated in a dream come true. He attended his Oath Ceremony and became a U.S. Citizen.
We need Your Help
Every year, World Relief Chicagoland helps hundreds of people apply to become citizens of the U.S. You can help others reach that goal by becoming a trained volunteer.