By Nick Falsone on November 16, 2013
Anna Haight lost the $25 to slot machines but won so much more.
Last year, the 93-year-old resident of Country Meadows in Bethlehem Township, Pa., wanted to take a group bus trip to Atlantic City. The casino was offering $25 of free slots play to those on the trip.
Haight needed photo identification to get in on the deal. She didn’t have an ID so she applied to get one. It arrived in time for the trip, but the application also triggered an investigation by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Haight -- who in 1920 arrived to the United States from Italy as a 4-month-old and received citizenship by way of her father receiving citizenship in 1926 -- couldn’t prove her status. Passports she previously held had long expired. Other documents were lost.
It took an attorney, a microfilm machine and a number of federal officials to get everything sorted out. The process took months, but as of Friday morning, Haight no longer has to worry about proving what she’s known to be a fact for more than eight decades -- she’s an American citizen.
A USCIS officer came to Country Meadows for a 10 a.m. ceremony to deliver the Oath of Allegiance and present a certificate of citizenship to Haight. Family and friends attended the ceremony as did a group of students from Green Street School in Phillipsburg. One of Haight’s daughters, Ann Marie Ball, teaches at Green Street; the students were fifth-graders studying immigration.
"I feel relieved that it is all over," Haight said after the ceremony. She said she was grateful to Country Meadows, USCIS and others who planned the ceremony. She said she was bothered that her citizenship was being questioned.
Difficulty with documents
Ball said the process has been quite an ordeal for her mother. Haight was able to get the $25 in free slots play, which she ultimately donated to the casino, with the ID she obtained. It wasn’t until after the bus trip that the federal agency flagged her, Ball said.
Part of the problem, according to USCIS spokeswoman Anita Rios Moore, was the way Haight received her citizenship in 1926. “Certificates of citizenship weren’t given to children who derived citizenship from their parents,” Moore said.
Ball enlisted the help of Easton attorney Raymond Lahoud, who’s a national immigration and deportation defense attorney. He worked pro-bono on the case.
“She deserved it,” Lahoud said. “I came to the realization that it’s (her) generation and generations before that kind of made things happen for us.”
USCIS didn’t have Haight’s information in its computer system, and the documents Lahoud obtained from the family were old and difficult to inspect, Lahoud said.
“They had to look into when my grandfather first came into the area,” Ball said, adding some of the proof was buried deep on microfilm.
Moore called the case unusual, which is why the agency thought it would be a good idea to have a formal ceremony honoring Haight.
Lahoud said the USCIS did an excellent job handling the case. The agency waived a $600 fee that’s charged with the immigration application Haight needed to complete. It also tried to push the application through quickly because of the circumstances, he said.
For Haight, her daughter said, the ceremony provided her with some peace of mind nearly a century after she arrived to Ellis Island with her family. The family eventually settled in West Virginia.
Haight, whose maiden name is Latrecchia, married William F. Haight, a World War II veteran whose trade was carpentry. The couple raised a family in Wyckoff, N.J., and retired to Long Eddy, N.Y.
William Haight died about nine years ago. Anna Haight moved to Country Meadows about three years ago. She has 16 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, some of whom attended Friday’s ceremony.
“In a way, it’s kind of awesome seeing someone that age taking that step,” Moore said.
As for future trips to Atlantic City, there's one group bus trip coming up, but Haight said she won't be reserving a seat.
"I don't think I want to go back," she said.
She celebrated by having lunch with her family at Stefano's Restaurant in Bethlehem. She eventually plans to frame the certificate of citizenship and hang it on her wall.
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