Danny Westneat, in a column for The Seattle Times (May 3, 2017) recounted the story of a retired Seattle schoolteacher, Ruben Van Kempen, who applied for his social security benefits and was refused. (He’d received letters from Social Security for years that totaled up his retirement benefits.)
Van Kempen, of Indonesian heritage, immigrated to the U.S. from Holland in 1962. He became a U.S. citizen in 1982. For 37 years, he taught drama in Seattle public schools.
With his application for Social Security, he had submitted evidence of his U.S. passport and his naturalization certificate granting him U.S. citizenship. Then Van Kempen received a letter from Social Security saying his application could not be processed because of his immigration status.
He tried again in person, submitting all his documents at a Social Security office.
Social Security sent him a letter saying they were unable to verify his immigration document. Further, the letter read, “Please contact us when your alien status changes or is renewed, so you can work in the U.S.”
Van Kempen couldn’t help but wonder: “Am I being swept up in something related to immigration? Is it something about my Indonesian heritage? . . . Can I travel? If I leave my country, will they let me back in?”
It would also cost him money. Without the Medicare medical coverage he had been paying into for 37 years, he would have to pay over $625 a month for health coverage.
Van Kempen’s political representatives went to work for him, including the state governor’s office and his congressional representatives.
Westneat reported two weeks later (May 17, 2017) on a response from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: “It appears that in Mr. Van Kempen’s case, there was a technical error.”
His information had been wrongly entered into a database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE). Its purpose is to vet non citizens who have visas to work in the U.S. and other non citizens applying for benefits. No U.S. citizen is supposed to be entered into that database.
The entry of Van Kempen, a U.S. citizen, into the system may very well have been a technical error. Mistakes do happen.
Yet, the current furor over refugees and immigration issues has caused questions about U.S. citizens being erroneously targeted.
“It turns out,” Westneat reported, “Republicans have been championing efforts to expand the same Alien Verification program he got caught up in as a means to purge the voter registration rolls.”
So what might happen to other Americans if voter rolls are entered into databases such as SAVE?