I am happy to report the passport saga has come to a happy ending.
For those of you who don’t know: I have been working on getting my three children German passports for 14 months now. They entered Germany with their US passports. Ruby and Rory are scheduled to leave and spend the summer in Silver City on July 10. If they were to exit Germany with the US passports, and no proof of German citizenship, they would get arrested for overstaying their visas. And not be able to return to Germany.
So we needed the German passports. This was not even an immigration or citizenship issue: The kids have German citizenship by being children of a German mother. No, I thought, it was a bureaucracy issue. Or was it?
The sequence of emails between myself, the consulate in Houston and the Buergeramt (citizen’s service office) in Berlin-Steglitz spans a year, and if printed would circumvent the globe. The main hurdle: before issuing documents to Germans born in a foreign country, the issuing office has to receive the ok from the German consulate in the country of birth. I did not understand why until the very end of the ordeal. The reason is creepy.
I don’t want to bore the reader with details, but the barriers to receiving passports where a mix of bureaucracy and incompetence, and included
- No response to the letter of inquiry from Steglitz to Houston
- Steglitz refusal to follow-up with looking into why there was no response
- No response for a month from Houston to my phone and email messages
- Steglitz resending the inquiry via email to a mistyped email Houston email address
- Houston requesting “long” birth certificates, stating the town of birth (which Texas issues upon request, and NM doesn’t issue unless you bribe someone)
- Benny’s midwife’s basement having flooded a few years back, turning all records into pulp
- City of Austin demanding a utility bill to verify identity of me requesting my kids’ birth certificates
Once we received the long birth certificates in the mail, mailed them to Berlin, pdf-ed them back to Houston, and after another nail biting ten days passed (the day of the kids’ departure now three weeks away) because the head of the passport office was on vacation, she finally sent this email to Steglitz:
Anhand des Schreibens der Hebamme für Ben Alfero und des Wohnsitzes der Eltern im Ort der Geburt laut der Geburtsurkunden für Rory Gregory und Ruby Zeuner, ist eine Leihmutterschaft hier unwahrscheinlich. Hinweise auf eine Leihmutterschaft oder ähnliches kann ich hier nicht erkennen.
Ein positives Votum gemäß den vorläufigen Durchführungshinweisen des Bundesministeriums des Innern wird hiermit abgegeben.
Non-German speakers, this says: you can give these kids passports now, because there is no evidence of them being born to a surrogate mother... What????
So this is what this bureaucratic nightmare was about. Since surrogate mother deals are less regulated in the US, the German state needs to make sure my kids are actually, genetically, heretically, biologically, (to not say racially) German and not the product of a fertilized non-German egg planted into my German womb. And this is what caused a year of trouble, hundreds of dollars in fees and mailing costs, and a bunch of gray hair. It had to be German blood in their veins. Creepy.
Whatever. My kids now have EU Passports and dual citizenship (or rather, they had it all along, but now the bureaucrats had to admit it).
So meanwhile, the block my dad lives on in Berlin Kreuzberg erupts in chaos. 40 asylum-seeking refugees from Africa have refused to leave the school on Ohlauer Strasse they had been occupying for over a year. Their asylum applications are not looking promising, and they are facing deportation back to war zones. These guys are on the roof of the building, threatening to jump. They have very little to lose. 1000 police have blocked the entire area, to prevent more people from joining them. Then the Kreuzberg authorities order the school to be cleared. But the police is smarter than the politicians and waits. Many people, including my parents and my sister, sign this petition, supporters are doing sit-ins and demonstrations in the streets right outside of my dad’s balcony. He can only get into his building showing his ID. The #ohlauer tweets come 3-4 a minute.
On Wednesday, my dad escapes to our quiet Steglitz and has dinner with us at the Greek place on the corner. He seems harrowed and tired, discouraged by the constant violence he sees outside his window. I offer him political asylum in Steglitz for a few nights. But that night as he gets home, an agreement is reached between the occupiers and the Kreuzberg government. The barricades are removed and everyone goes home. The refugees get to stay in the school, and their other demands will be looked at later. The agreement seems really non-committal, badly written, and anti-climactic, after this week of trauma and violence.
This shitstorm showed once again: German asylum law, and the bureaucratic system it has created, are not working as a whole and are not doing justice to the individuals stuck in the process. The whole thing is completely dysfunctional, outdated, designed for a world in which war, political prosecution and human rights violations that happen elsewhere did not concern us in the rich countries. “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar”, untouchable human dignity, says Article 1 of the German constitution. That should define the German nation. Not blood. Yet that antiquated notion of nationality is at the heart of what keeps us from reforming our asylum process.
Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, it’s the Fourth of July, which President Obama marks by attending a naturalization ceremony, …. and taking the opportunity to remind the nation that US immigration reform has still not happened. The American notion of citizenship, based on shared values, in the President’s words, “adherence to a set of beliefs, and unalienable rights, and obligations to each other, to look after each other and serve one another” makes a lot more sense than the Germans’ in today’s ethnically intermixed world.
Yet the US Congress cannot or is not willing to pass reforms that assure human dignity, keep families together and create a system that works for people and the economy. 50,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have crossed into Texas alone (of all places) since October. Fifty Thousand. A few hundred were sent to California for processing, and met by angry protesters, shouting “Send them back!”
My children are privileged. Even though it was a pain in the ass, they now have two passports. Through pure luck they are citizens of a country that grants citizenship based on blood and of another country that grants it based on place of birth. But does that really make them citizens of the world? Both passports were issued by wealthy nations with democratic political systems and lots of opportunity. Both nations are democracies that have not figured out how to change policy and how to address the incoming tide of the poor, prosecuted, opportunity-seeking humans that surround us – address it politically, economically, legally and humanely. It’s the next big challenge for us. When we figure it out we’ll be true citizens of the world.