Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Government Service: Oxymoron of the Week

Social Security

This happened a few days ago, but I can only write about it now because I can only now do so without using multiple expletives.

Went to the Social Security office in DC to get the bambina her SS number. Made a point of checking and re-checking the website to ensure that I brought all of the relevant and required documents. Even went so far as to print off the web page that outlines the relevant and required documents so as to avoid any dyspeptic bureaucrat from capriciously deciding that I didn’t have what was needed.

Nice try, Haggis.

Got there. Got my number (9). Saw that the “Now Being Served” machine said “88” and so settled in. Waited for almost two hours (with baby in tow). Finally got called to the window, only to be told that I did not have all of the relevant and required documents.

You see, friends, apparently when the SS Administration tells you to bring your Adoption Decree, they also mean to bring the English translation of the adoption decree. In addition, the fact that the adoption decree is written entirely in English with the exception of the “filler” language, is immaterial. They MUST have the official translation.

Go with me here. The adoption decree simply proves that the child for whom you are seeking a social security number is indeed yours. My adoption decree from China says, in English, “Adoption Decree” on the front and then says in Chinese something like, “Be it known to all person blah blah that…” followed by (in English): my name, birth date, address, parental status and date of adoption. Followed by the bambina’s name, birth date and a photo of me and her thereon affixed. CLEARLY the Chinese government would not take a photo of a random woman and a random baby to affix to some fake document so the baby could receive non-existent benefits from the US government in 65 years. CLEARLY the adoption decree as written provided all of the necessary information the Social Security Administration requires for the acquisition of a number. But the clerk was having none of it. He absolutely had to have the translation, which I might add, is a document typed up on a typewriter on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and notarized in China. Wow. Now THAT sounds far more official and legitimate than an actual leather-bound/signed and sealed official Chinese government adoption decree covered in a plastic casing, doesn’t it?!!

I implored him, I damn near begged him, I got snarky. Nothing worked. The highlight of this man’s day was saying “No” to some bee-atch who thinks she can just walk in here with a Chinese kid and act like she’s an American.

Which leads to the other annoying, infuriating occurrence. He then started telling me that my daughter is not a citizen anyway, so why not just come back later so that she can get her number as a citizen rather than a resident alien. I started telling him that the law was changed in January 2004 that foreign adoptees were considered American citizens from the moment they left customs at the US airport. When we walked out of Dulles Airport, the bambina was as American as you and me. Do we have the paperwork from Homeland Security yet to prove it? Nope. But the whole point of the law change was so that new adoptees would not have to apply like standard immigrants for citizenship. So here I was, in the social security office, telling this guy the law, which he couldn’t even begin to comprehend. He kept saying, “that is just not possible. She has to go and apply to be a citizen like anyone else” and I kept telling him he was mistaken.

As you can imagine, when you find yourself with a Soviet-style bureaucrat who nitpicks your documents and doesn’t know his own profession’s relevant legal statutes, you know you are beaten and will not win. So I took my stuff and walked away, almost three hours after arriving, with a little bambina who had been a complete darling in a 90 degree government office for three hours, with nothing to show for it but raised blood pressure and a burning desire to decimate the moron clerk on my blog.

But then I decided to set an example of restraint for my daughter. I waited a few days till the rage subsided, let the incident roll around in my mind, and then decided to feel pity for the clerk rather than anger. I figure that if I’m ever in a job or a place in my life where the sole highlight of my entire day is giving the Heisman over a technicality to some poor new mom and her baby, then I probably need more help than scorn. Right?

So I do plan to go back as soon as I can “prove” that she’s American, as soon as I can leave her with someone so as not to inflict government building heat malfunctions on her, and as soon as I think of some snappy ways to ruin a soulless government worker’s day, such as “May I tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” and “Do you happen to have any air freshener back there? I'm afraid I have terrible gas today."


Anonymous said...

I spent twenty years in the military, and had the great displeasure of dealing with civilian bureaucrats on quite a few occasions.

Sometimes it seems that they would rather spend hours arguing and avoiding the task they were hired to do in the first place, then take the 10 minutes that it would take to accomplish the task that was needed.

I suspect that there is a secret competition going on, and that the bureaucrat with the highest number of dissatisfied customers, wins.

On a completely unrelated note. I am still in love with you. :-]

misterfed said...

Ah, yes, the government's grasp of international adoption issues. With both Evan and Abby, we tried to get a social security number early (in part, to declare them as dependants).

Easy, right? Wrong. What answer you get on any procedural step involving an internationally adopted baby depends on which functionary you encounter on any given day and which supervisor is there on backup. SSA told us that we needed a passport to get a social security number. State told us that we needed a SSN to get a passport. INS/BCIS/whatever they are called this week was, of course, affirmatively unhelpful. Both agencies were confused on citizenship. Yes, they are citizens. No, they aren't. Where's your proof of citizenship? Where's their original Korean birth certificate? Where's the paperwork from birth parents? (!)

Meanwhile, of course, they were citizens as soon as the adoption became formal (which is different than your process with China -- it happens after a while here, not in China). That's been the law for a number of years now. But have any of the affected agencies promulgated regulations to address the situation? No. Are there any reliable guidelines distributed to the employees of the agencies? No. INS, then BCIS, then Homeland Security was supposed to have certificates of citizenship done years ago -- have they come up with them yet? No.

In my former career as a fed, I had lots of experience being cheerfully grim and unwavering with fellow feds. I got to do that again unti I wore them down. We still don't have citizenship certificates, though, and I still am going to have to get Abby's SSN changed from her birth name to the name we gave her. Grrrrr.

Raine said...

I don't mean to sound anti-American in this post, but this, along with the voting system in the States stinks. Congress should have long ago realized that they need a nationwide standard for immigration, adoption, elections, etc. Instead, the whole bureaucratic and electoral system is a piecemeal hack attempt. A warning to E, I have a feeling that once you do get the SS stuff, it might not be "valid" amongst certain circles (ie. those who are clueless to their own legal workings). If such is the case, you will have gone through all the trouble for nothing.

Also, as an aside, I can't believe that f*cker thinks the bambina should have to go apply for citizenship like everyone else. How? Is she supposed to retain foreign alien (that is such a terrible and ethnocentric term) status until she's old enough to walk and talk, and then walk in herself to register? And at which time, be rejected because she doesn't have the proper paperwork?

This is why we have a need for something called transparency in North America.

Anonymous said...

Early this morning I heard something of interest on WCBS, so I check out their web site and found an article which pertains to you blog. It seems that each state can approve of the federal change for itself. N.J. is the 30th stat to do so. I'm e-mailing you a copt post-hast. Love BB