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Mystery Man
April 27, 2010 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Kid who doesn't exist looks to future No birth certificate. No Social Security number. No official identity.
posted by fixedgear (58 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love a happy ending.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


The end result of American culture's obsession with paper documentation will kill this man. He will be homeless and no service center will be able to really help him. Well, actually he wont be killed, because he was never born, even though it's obvious that he was.
[finishes the article]
Ah, fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for this guy, but for many other people with no paper identification, there is only a tunnel to sleep in.
posted by fuq at 8:39 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by procrastination at 8:41 AM on April 27, 2010


decades ago this was pretty common, and wasn't really even a big deal. Now with the obsession about "illegal immigration" it's going to be a much greater challenge
posted by delmoi at 8:43 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heaven help this kid if he ever finds himself in Arizona.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:44 AM on April 27, 2010 [24 favorites]


Wow, well that was a happy ending for that kid, all it took was someone knowledgeable doing the research for him.
posted by delmoi at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2010


And to top off the happy ending, he now can buy energy drinks without a hassle!
posted by lampshade at 8:50 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Glad there was a happy ending, but that was a really poorly written article.
posted by amro at 8:50 AM on April 27, 2010


Interesting that Facebook is becoming our de facto national white pages. Also, three cheers for librarians.
posted by mecran01 at 8:51 AM on April 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


No birth certificate. No Social Security number. No official identity. Without a past, Manual student could have little hope.

So being able to produce a birth certificate is the key to 'hope'. Interesting.
posted by gman at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm kind of tearing up from the happy ending. Thanks for this.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2010


There is no good reason not to have issued documentation to him when he was a small child. He should have just had his guardianship papers accepted as the equivalent of a birth certificate, with an affidavit that his guardian had known him since he was a baby/small child. It's not like babies are going around switching identities and evading the law.

For that matter, I think all children who are brought into the USA under a certain age should just be given automatic citizenship. What is the difference between bringing a baby or a five-year-old into a country illegally, and an illegal immigrant having a baby after emmigrating? In both cases, the child had no choice; in both cases, the parents have evaded the law with the consequence that their child has citizenship.

(Being Canadian, I had included Canada in the previous paragraph, but then I realised that I don't know if all babies born on Canadian soil get Canadian citizenship regardless of parental immigration status; it seems like that is the law in the USA, except perhaps for those on diplomatic passports).
posted by jb at 8:53 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Losing all of one's ID is how homeless people cement their homelessness. There was a rather exceptionally intelligent old gentleman on the streets here, and he qualified for free housing. But he couldn't get it without replacing his ID, and for that they wanted him to state his mother's maiden name, which he refused to do, because he "didn't want to disturb the resting of her soul." So he stayed on the street.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:53 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


That was a great ending. Nice work, dead-tree media.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:57 AM on April 27, 2010


Hurray for librarians!
posted by bonehead at 9:00 AM on April 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


I was, for a while, in a similar situation to this kid. I was what was referred to as a "foundling" - a child that had been abandoned by his parents. In my case, I was two weeks old, and left in or near the lobby of a free clinic. I had no birth documentation, no name, no age, no nothing. My date of birth had to be estimated - the doctors at the hospital where I was taken estimated that I was about 2 weeks old, and counted backwards from there. I was placed with a religious adoption agency, and ultimately with my adoptive parents three weeks after that.

However, I didn't have a birth certificate, or anything else from those first two weeks. I had a provisional birth certificate issued by the hospital, which has proven to be all but completely useless, as it was issued in a name other than mine - with no real paper trail that I've been able to find explaining the name change. (as far as I can tell, someone at the hospital made the name up) When my adoption was finalized over a year later, I was issued a real birth certificate, but the discrepancy between my date of birth and the date of issuance almost two years later continues to become a problem for me to this day.

When my parents applied for a social security card for me, the SS people flagged the application for fraud because of the date discrepancy. Obtaining a teen work permit was an ordeal. Getting my driver's license for the first time was a total nightmare. It took intervention from a United States Congressman to obtain a passport, and even then the US State Dept. screwed that up twice before finally getting it right. Deity help me if I ever decide to run for President.

I am so happy that this journalist was willing to help this poor kid do the legwork and track down his mother, because as much of a pain in the ass my situation is, his situation was WAY worse.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:02 AM on April 27, 2010 [43 favorites]


I am curious about what happens for those children who are born to parents who eschew documentation -- refuse to get birth certificates or SSN/SINs for their children, homeschool, etc (you can find this on many of the natural parenting boards online) -- and who might eventually want to work.

Children born on Canadian soil (unless their parents are diplomats or employees of diplomats) are Canadian.
posted by jeather at 9:07 AM on April 27, 2010


Feel-good stories make me feel good. Good for Brent.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2010


Yep, great that the story has a happy ending for Brent, but I'm sure there's many others that don't turn out so well. From the article:
As frustrating as Brent's case is, Marion County juvenile court Judge Marilyn Moores said it isn't unique. She comes across a handful of such cases each year.
I can't help thinking if they hadn't found Brent's biological mother alive (and sober and gainfully employed, no less), they might never have tracked down his birth certificate. Others are doubtless not so lucky.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does it try and automatically print?
posted by Theta States at 9:11 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


fixedgear linked to the single-page version, which on indystar.com's site is also a try-to-automatically-print version. (Which is only one of many problems I have with the indystar.com site, but I won't bore you with the list.) The multi-page version (with pictures of Brent) is here.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:17 AM on April 27, 2010


I was going to make a joke about him becoming a shadowrunner, but the whole situation is actually too goddamn depressing. What a stupid, stupid system. I'm glad it worked out for this kid, but that's a damn thin silver lining.
posted by Caduceus at 9:17 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am a horrible person, because as I was reading the article I was thinking, "Masked vigilante, kid. Assuming identities on the fly, an unknown and untraceable ghost in the machine, stepping from the shadows to right wrongs and bring down justice on the heads of evildoers..."

And then I got to the end and I was all like, dammit. Now you're a cog like the rest of us.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:18 AM on April 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


Theta States, clearly the article is trying to leave a paper trail...
posted by Polyhymnia at 9:19 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


We were asked nicely in a MeTa a while back to link to single page/print view versions where available. It seemed a reasonable request and folks seemed to be near-unanimous. That auto print is weirdly baked into their web site.
posted by fixedgear at 9:20 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


The multi-page version gets stuck on page 2 for me. The print version allowed me to get to the happy ending.
posted by Floydd at 9:23 AM on April 27, 2010


I have a tenant who was born at home in Texas in the 1950s. She received a birth certificate later in Wisconsin that used her baptismal and school records as proof of her birth.

Her non-standard birth certificate works for social security (she's on SSI) and HUD (she gets Section 8) but the state department is wary of her birth certificate. The state department wants the baptismal records or school records but both the school she attended and the church she was baptized in are gone. Hopefully she'll get some resolution to this soon since she is unable to visit her family who lives in Mexico because she lacks a passport.
posted by vespabelle at 9:25 AM on April 27, 2010


Why does it try and automatically print?

It's print view, and some websites try to force that. Script blocking seems to help that, if it's an option for your browser.

I am a horrible person, because as I was reading the article I was thinking, "Masked vigilante, kid. Assuming identities on the fly, an unknown and untraceable ghost in the machine, stepping from the shadows to right wrongs and bring down justice on the heads of evildoers..."

I'm not sure if you're a horrible person, but there's still hope for your dream. Illegal immigrants are in the same situation, and even though they may be living on US soil from an early age, go through the public school system and graduate with flying colors, they're often stuck in jobs that don't check background information that well and are able to pay in cash.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2010


Looks like Repairman Brent is getting ready to squander a great gift.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:28 AM on April 27, 2010


I can't post. There is something in my eye.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The answer to this problem is simple: Mandatory RFID chip implantation at birth. (I suggest that the chips be implanted in either the infant's wrist or forehead to provide optimal access to a wide variety of scanning devices.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:44 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank God for Facebook.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:47 AM on April 27, 2010


I am a horrible person, because as I was reading the article I was thinking, "Masked vigilante, kid. Assuming identities on the fly, an unknown and untraceable ghost in the machine, stepping from the shadows to right wrongs and bring down justice on the heads of evildoers..."

Probably not as horrible as thinking "shadowy master criminal". Perhaps in a more dystopian, less forgiving society, one where the impulse to help the undocumented has been suppressed by a punitive regime, When nobody dares to harbour an undocumented individual, the kid would soon learn to hide and fend for himself, and would become some kind of shadowy master criminal by necessity. Perhaps he'd recruit others like him who passed a test and build an empire. His feats would be spoken of in hushed tones and would gain the status of legend, evolving into a Robin Hood figure. If the cops finally get him, even a televised execution would not kill the legend; they'd say they fried some other poor shmuck for propaganda points, and that the real one is still out there, sticking it to The Man.
posted by acb at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


WARM FUZZIES!

I hope he has a fantastic time at university. And everything else.
posted by kalimac at 9:54 AM on April 27, 2010


It's not like babies are going around switching identities and evading the law.

I was a witness for a friend when he changed his name. It was a pretty simple process -- a bunch of paperwork, then a court date where we all showed up and avowed that he was who he said he was. Then he got up on the witness stand of the court and the Bailiff, a huge and imposing man, took my friend's oath and read him a standard set of questions.

The changee before my friend on the stand was a 12 year old girl whose mother had remarried and changed her name, and the family was there to get the girl synced up with everyone else. Anyway, the Bailiff kind of loomed to one side of the stand and asked these very grave questions of this girl, ending with "Are you taking this action to avoid prosecution or other criminal penalties?" The girl, who seemed pretty overwhelmed with the proceedings answered "no?" in a very small voice. The Bailiff beamed at her and said brightly "Well, I should hope not!" The court cracked up.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


The multi-page version refuses to change pages in Firefox and almost made Safari choke (pages changed there, but really inconsistently and loading the site took an incredibly long time). The links to other pages aren't even links at all, source shows an empty a tag but no href, it's doing some weird scripting thing to detect clicks and do the linking in the server backend. It's effing asinine, really. Thanks for linking the print version, or honestly I wouldn't have bothered reading the article.

Here's a hint, dead tree media: If you want to make money, you need more than just advertisements; you need a reason for me to stay on your site long enough to SEE the advertisements. Stupid shit like this makes me leave your site. It also makes me not want to visit it in the future. Try using real actual links for a change. HTML isn't that goddamn hard, is it?
posted by caution live frogs at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to follow the blog of a girl who'd gotten pregnant unexpectedly and was determined to do everything "herself" - prenatal care (no doctors, she was "smart enough" to read about what vitamins she needed) and delivery. She did deliver the baby at home, and her partner measured it and then the next day they took her (it was a girl) to Whole Foods and weighed her on a produce scale. She was determined not to get a birth certificate or Social Security number for the daughter because that was just Big Brother spying on innocent Americans, etc. I recently found this girl again on Twitter; the daughter is now two and the mom is lamenting that they can't travel the world together (not that she has the money for it) because Daughter can't get a passport without a birth certificate.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:57 AM on April 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of The Indianapolis Star's librarians, Cathy Knapp, scoured public records databases for any trace of Elizabeth.

There's the heroine of the story.
posted by blucevalo at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


So apparently Facebook is eclipsing government agencies in keeping track of who exists and what they're doing.

Wait a minute, maybe that's just what they want us to think...
posted by el_lupino at 10:08 AM on April 27, 2010


It's fortunate that he actually had all the necessary documentation, but just didn't know how to find it. What do you do if there wasn't a birth certificate in the first place?
posted by kafziel at 10:20 AM on April 27, 2010


I'm glad I read the whole thing.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 10:35 AM on April 27, 2010


There is no good reason not to have issued documentation to him when he was a small child. He should have just had his guardianship papers accepted as the equivalent of a birth certificate, with an affidavit that his guardian had known him since he was a baby/small child. It's not like babies are going around switching identities and evading the law.
I know right? How could that lazy toddler lack so much foresight!?
posted by delmoi at 10:57 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


BitterOldPunk: And then I got to the end and I was all like, dammit. Now you're a cog like the rest of us.

Funny thing, that. I have a friend whose parents were living a, shall we say, non-traditional lifestyle at the time he was born. His parents split up shortly after his birth and he spent the first year of his life alternating between their care in several different provinces. I don't know all the specific details, but he ended up with two different birth certificates in two separate provinces under two different names.

Unfortunately, his entire school records from kindergarten through graduating high school were under one identity and all of his bank accounts and Social Insurance and everything under the other. So, of course, when he decided to apply to college this caused him a huge headache and he started the long process of merging the two identities.

I thought he was crazy. I mean, he had an entire, completely legit fallback identity should anything go wrong in his life. Creditors? Felony Conviction? Running from the mob? Doesn't matter. Just change names.

It seemed to me that the reasonable solution was not to merge the identities, but rather to fill in the blanks on both of the existing ones. Get two driver's licenses, two Social Insurance Numbers, open up a second set of bank accounts.

My friend just shook his head. It was illegal, and besides it would be so much work. Easier just to roll it all together. I still think he missed an opportunity, but I can certainly see where he was coming from.
posted by 256 at 11:01 AM on April 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's the heroine of the story.

Kim Roberson is the heroine of this story. She took a neglected child with health problems and raised him--alone--into a fine young man with a bright future. I want to hug her.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2010 [15 favorites]


Someone I know raised a friend's kid. She got him when he was a month old, his bio-mom couldn't deal. Since both friend and bio-mom were young San Francisco hippies friend worried that the baby would be taken away from her if the wrong people found out he wasn't her bio-babe. Her solution was to report him as a home birth and get a birth certificate with her name on it. The local health department was delighted to accommodate a home birth hippie mama.

She managed to track down the bio-mom when the kid was 18, he got to meet her, it was no big deal because he had a "real" mom.
posted by mareli at 12:03 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having done a home birth without a midwife (our third child, by accident), it was interesting that in San Jose, CA it wasn't the mother that had to attest to the child's birth, it was me as the other adult present. Having the registered midwife sign the paper helped though. No other problems since then with SSN, passport, just a few funny looks at the hospital occasionally.

The classic quote from my wife as she greeted her son, right after I had cleaned and swaddled him was "Oh no, not the white towels!". Still makes me laugh thinking about it.
posted by mdoar at 12:30 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wrote a (not-so) short story back in college about a large extended family of American gypsies who would have several legal identities, then have a child, and register the child several times as a home birth using the different names. The children would grow up having several alternate identities to choose from, but the parents always kept one aside as a safety to use in case the child 'burned' their other identities later in life. The group would exchange these identities with other families who had children of the same age, to further confuse those law officers who tried to pursue them. They were caught when they tried to sell one of the identities to an outsider criminal who, through misadventure, ended up revealing this century-long plot.

With the right long-term planning, one could be as free in the monitored, digital world as people were before the industrial revolution.
posted by chambers at 12:46 PM on April 27, 2010


A very touching story, but it also made me think again about how romantic it would really be to live "off the grid." Off the grid, as this kid was forced to be until the happy ending, really means modern outlaw status, i.e. literally being outside the protection of the law.
posted by bearwife at 12:59 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hopefully he's not crushed to death in an outhouse by a Alopeciac albino judge.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:00 PM on April 27, 2010


I am a model tenant and a model citizen and take pleasure in doing all that is expected of me. My wallet is full of identity cards, library cards, credit cards. Last year I purchased a flat olive-drab strongbox, very smooth and heavily built with double walls for fire protection, in which I placed my birth certificate, college diploma, honorable discharge, G.I. insurance, a few stock certificates, and my inheritance: a deed to ten acres of a defunct duck club down in St. Bernard Parish, the only relic of my father’s many enthusiasms. It is a pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one's name on it certifying, so to speak, one's right to exist. What satisfaction I take in appearing the first day to get my auto tag and brake sticker! I subscribe to Consumer Reports and as a consequence I own a first-class television set, an all but silent air conditioner and a very long lasting deodorant. My armpits never stink. I pay attention to all spot announcements on the radio about mental health, the seven signs of cancer, and safe driving—though, as I say, I usually prefer to ride the bus. Yesterday a favorite of mine, William Holden, delivered a radio announcement on litterbugs. "Let's face it," said Holden. "Nobody can do anything about it—but you and me." This is true. I have been careful ever since.
—Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, 1961

posted by koeselitz at 1:07 PM on April 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I grew up not too far from a community that was into the John Birch Society. Most still push their beliefs here and there, but could still be a part of society. One family that went off on the sign of the devil and ss#'s decided their kids would be off the grid. Seemed like a great idea to not have the mark of the devil with the apocalypse happing any day now.

Flash forward to the 80's and their kids just didn't exist as far as the world knew. As adults, they couldn't really read, not even their bibles. Couldn't legally marry, get any sort of health, drivers license, anything. They worked doing odd jobs and got paid cash. Everyone in the town knew, and it was just a part of the quirky small town.
posted by agent of bad karma at 2:31 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


This story really shook me. I'm so glad there are people like the journalist for the Indy Star and Ms. Roberson out there.

The story broke me up a bit, and it's because it indirectly reflected something I'm going through right now. For almost a year, my wife and I have been trying to conceive (previously). It hasn't worked out very well. Two months ago, after her third miscarriage, my wife learned she had Factor 5, making implantation and the likelihood of carrying to full term very slim.

We aren't taking this well, at all. Since, she and I have been zombies... prone to the occasional outburst without any seeming cause, whatsoever. It sucks, and it's starting to mess with everything. Last week she used the word "barren", and had to pull the car to the side of the road to keep from losing it. Unless you've gone through something similar, you don't know how bad of a place it puts you in. I found out she had asked her sister if she would be a surrogate, which normally I would consider to be fucked up, but I know her head is treading water (I guess she had forgotten Factor 5 is genetic, too).

I think about Brent's mother, and I get mad. I'm glad she got her life together, but it just really, really, makes me shake my fist at the sky. Why does some drugged out lady have the opportunity to have two kids she didn't want, and my wife has to suffer the humiliation of even considering asking her sister to carry our child? And why... to bring you to my situation... does my cousin, a girl born to a rich, white family, get to complain about being a single mom and continue to fuck up her and her daughter's life? Why does she get a beautiful baby girl, and how can she look her beautiful daughter in the eyes and continue to spend the child support money and her father's stipend on oxy and whatever else the hell she's doing?

Around Christmas time, when she was talking to me about a particularly awful scene she caused at my aunt's Christmas Eve brunch when she slapped her daughter for putting her feet in her mouth (apparently, this is a hot button with my cousin), she said "Be thankful you don't have kids." She, nor the rest of my family knows our situation, so it was all I could do not to put down the phone, drive to Georgia, and beat the living shit out of her.

My cousin spent all of her money on pills, again, and before Cassidy can be put into a summer program that she has to be in or else she won't be able to attend kindergarten in the fall (because mom fucked up the head start situation, too), she has to have shots and certain paperwork in order. Her mother can't be troubled with such "bullshit".

After reading this story, I'm really REALLY tempted to relieve my cousin of her troubles.

NOTE: In a previous thread, I may have said some things that rubbed some people the wrong way. I didn't really feel comfortable divulging where my angst may have come from, and it doesn't mollify anything I said, but maybe you'll see where my head was.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 3:41 PM on April 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm lucky my wonky birth certificate was actually issued by the State Department, as I've had no problems with passports. However, this did lead to the Social Security Administration suddenly screwing up my birthdate some 30 years after the fact, which caused some weird problems until I sorted it out.
posted by exogenous at 4:32 PM on April 27, 2010


Thanks, Bathtub Bobsled, for sharing your story. I think the folks from that previous thread owe you an apology. Their behavior certainly shows how hostile MetaFilterians can be when they're feeling self-righteous.

Good luck to you and your wife.
posted by irisclara at 4:39 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not like babies are going around switching identities and evading the law.

No, but babies can be stolen, and if it's too easy to get paperwork for a baby of unestablished origin, the crime can be completely covered up.

And I know that stranger kidnappings are very rare, but this would apply to familial kidnappings, too.

In other words, if someone brings a child in to a government office and says, "This child's mother gave him to me, I'd like to get paperwork for him," I like to think the government wouldn't just say, "OK, sure! Here you go!"
posted by palliser at 8:32 PM on April 27, 2010


Also, Bathtub Bobsled, sincerely sorry for my lulzy comments in your AskMe of last year. I really wish things had been going differently for you in the meantime and that you had your baby by now. Wishing you present strength and future joy.
posted by palliser at 8:39 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Their behavior certainly shows how hostile MetaFilterians can be when they're feeling self-righteous.

As did mine. If you think about it, my post was in the same vein. Expressing my angst contributed nothing to the discussion, and the derail that followed was just as pointless. No fault but my own.


Also, Bathtub Bobsled, sincerely sorry for my lulzy comments in your AskMe of last year. I really wish things had been going differently for you in the meantime and that you had your baby by now. Wishing you present strength and future joy.

No apologies necessary. You had no way of knowing the context, and at the time I was not aware of our difficulties, either. If anything, I need more lulz, these days.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:28 AM on April 28, 2010


deadmessenger: How odd. I'm an adoptee. My birth certificate is dated about 2 years after my birth date. This is normal from when/where I was adopted. I have never had a problem with it. I have a US Passport, got it without trouble. Brent's case is different mainly because he wasn't adopted. What an odd situation.
posted by Goofyy at 7:46 AM on April 29, 2010


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