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Florida man discovers he's not legally in US more than 60 years after moving to America

Revelation came when Social Security denied him benefits
Jimmy Klass
Posted at 2:53 PM, May 07, 2024

'I was blindsided'

Outside Jimmy Klass' mobile home in Clearwater are symbols of American pride hanging not just front and center but also on the side and back of his home. America is, after all, the only home this 66-year-old has ever known.

"I moved to the U.S. in 1959. I've been here for 64 years," he recently told us.

But after more than half a century in the U.S., where he's lived, worked, gone to school, got married, had kids, paid his taxes and even voted, Klass said in 2020 he discovered he's not an American citizen.

"I just was, like, blindsided," he said about the revelation.

Klass said it all came to light after he applied for the Social Security retirement benefits he had paid into his entire working life.

"You've got to be kidding me," he said. "One month, they told me I should expect my first check on the second Wednesday of 2020. But instead, I get a letter stating that I haven't proven to them that I'm here legally."

Deep Roots in America

Klass was born in Canada. His mom was Canadian, but his father was American, born and raised in New York. Klass said his family moved to the U.S. when he was two and stayed here. As Klass got older, he assumed he was also an American, a dual citizen.

He laid out dozens of documents from his past, along with other documents and pictures that offer a glimpse into the deep roots he formed in the U.S. over his lifetime.

"You know you're old when the old driver's licenses were paper," he chuckled as he showed us old driver's licenses he had been issued in the U.S.

Klass said he was never questioned about his citizenship status — not when he got his Social Security card, driver's license or voter registration card.

"I've been voting for over 40 years. I guess I'm in a lot of trouble," he said with a sarcastic laugh.

By voting as a non-U.S citizen, Klass broke federal law each time he voted in an American election.

Klass said his citizenship status was also never questioned when he applied for and was approved to serve as a Marine in the U.S. military. He didn't end up serving due to getting a union job, he said. At one point in his life, he was even approved to work for the New Jersey State Police.

"The only thing they asked me for was my Social Security card and my driver's license," he said.

Denied

After learning he wasn't really a U.S. citizen, Klass formally applied for status but was denied.

U.S. Customs & Immigration Services wouldn't share details when we contacted them about Klass' case. In an email, a spokesperson stated that they don't talk about individual cases.

But in a 2022 denial letter, the agency stated Klass didn't provide enough evidence to prove his father lived in the U.S. for 10 years before Klass was born, which is a requirement for a child seeking citizenship through a parent.

Klass contacted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's office for help, and hired an immigration attorney and also a genealogist who found records linking Klass' dad to the U.S. in the years before he was born. Still, his fight continues to this day.

"I've seen a handful of cases like this. They don't come around every day," explained Indera Demine, a Fort Myers-based immigration attorney.

Is a complicated and changing US Immigration system to blame?

She said Klass' case is likely a reflection of a large, complicated and changing U.S. immigration system that can't always accurately track who's here legally, illegally or somewhere in between.

"For many years, the DMV and different agencies didn't necessarily communicate with each other," she said, adding that "the documentation that you need to renew your driver's license or for Social Security benefits were not as stringent as they are now."

So how did Klass get a Social Security card?

"That's a good question," Demine responded. "It's quite possible that back then, the requirements to have a Social Security card are not the same as it is today."

"I worked my 50 years, and I paid into my Social Security. They should be paying me," he said about the retirement benefits he was expecting to receive but has yet to collect.

So, what happens if his case doesn't get resolved, and how has it changed his view of America?

"I'll probably move back to Canada," Klass said. Yep, bye-bye, America."

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