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Mia Love's immigrant story may be true, but some questions still linger

Published September 28, 2012 11:19 pm

Politics • Little-known law may have provided a path to citizenship for the candidate's family.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While questions of congressional candidate Mia Love's story about how her family came to America continue to swirl, an immigration lawyer says her story of how her birth provided an avenue for U.S. citizenship is possible under a law in place at the time.

The system of Western Hemisphere Priority Dates allowed immigrant parents to register their newborn citizen child with the State Department and begin the process of obtaining a green card — and, eventually, citizenship for themselves and their foreign-born children.

The law allowing parents to register their children by the deadline would have been in place after Love's birth in Brooklyn in December 1975.

"Because she had been born in the United States and they had registered the birth before this deadline ... they were able to go back to Haiti and process for immigrant visas for themselves and the other children," Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney who studies the history of immigration law, told The Tribune. "If her parents applied under this law, she's correct that she served as their ticket to this country."

Stock first explained the process in a story Friday in the online edition of Forbes.

Love has told the story of her immigrant parents hundreds of times during the course of the campaign, most prominently featuring it at the Republican National Convention last month.

The parable of how her family settled in the states with only $10 in their pockets, working for a better life, serves as an inspirational tale of self-reliance and pursuit of the American Dream.

But questions were raised — first in an article by the liberal-leaning magazine Mother Jones — about pieces of the story, specifically whether her parents were in the country legally when she was born and whether Love is a so-called "anchor baby," a pejorative and largely inaccurate term to describe a U.S.-born child used by immigrant parents to gain citizenship.

Love told the Deseret News in a 2011 interview that she was born 25 days before a law expired that allowed parents and family members of U.S.-born children to obtain citizenship. "My parents have always told me I was a miracle and our family's ticket to America," she was quoted as saying.

The vast majority of immigration lawyers haven't even heard of the law because it hasn't been used for decades," Stock said Friday. "This was a very unique, unusual provision of the law that only existed briefly."

Some questions remain, particularly how her parents came to the country on a tourist visa — as Love said they did — in 1974 and remained through the end of 1975.

"It's probable that they were out of status," said Stock, meaning they had overstayed their permission to stay as tourists — which typically lasts six months — although it is possible they could have been granted an extension.

Asked by ABC 4 News if her parents got to stay in this country because of her birth, she responded: "What if they did? So what? What if they did? I mean they are legal. They are legal U.S. citizens. I was born in this country."

Love has not been a crusader on the immigration issue, but has said the government needs a way to track people overstaying their visas, supports stronger border security and opposes "incentives" for people to come to the country illegally.

Love was at a town hall meeting Friday, but Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said that, regardless of any of the questions or explanations, "this line of questioning is inappropriate."

"I think for a candidate to have to speculate on her parents' motive during her conception and birth is outside the scope of what questions are appropriate during a campaign," he said. "The fact is her parents are U.S. citizens and if people have questions about that, then they should take those questions to the government agency that granted them citizenship."

Democrats demanded an apology from Love this week after she accused Matheson of planting the story with Mother Jones.

"Voters of Utah's 4th Congressional District also deserve an apology for this reckless smear campaign," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis. "If Mayor Love doesn't want to answer questions about her background, that's fine with me. But it is unacceptable for Love and the GOP to divert media attention away from their candidate's failure to understand and answer questions about her own biography by lobbing unfounded personal attacks at Jim Matheson."

Thomas said it's Matheson who should apologize for botching crime statistics in Saratoga Springs and distorting his record on health reform.

"Jim ought to not be self-righteous, calling people out when he's misleading and not telling the people of Utah the truth," Wright said.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke