NationNation Now

Women who lost U.S. citizenship for marrying foreigners get apology

Laws and LegislationPoliticsFeminismMigrationU.S. CongressImmigrationAl Franken
Grandson of woman stripped of citizenship a century ago thanks Senate for 'recognizing the wrong.'
The Senate is sorry that women who loved a foreigner once had to choose between marriage or citizenship. l

The Senate has a message for Grandma Elsie: So sorry. The apology came in the form of a resolution expressing regret for a law passed more than a century ago that stripped thousands of women of their U.S. citizenship for marrying foreigners.

The law gained attention when Daniel Swalm discovered that his grandmother Elsie Knutson Moren, born and raised in Minnesota, lost her U.S. citizenship under an obscure 1907 law after she married a legal immigrant from Sweden.

Swalm met with aides to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who introduced the resolution. The measure, which gained support from other senators who heard from descendants of other American-born women who lost their citizenship, passed this week. 

"I hope all the people who have their own Grandma Elsie in their family history take this opportunity to put a candle on a cupcake in her honor and give thanks for justice finally served after all these years,’’ said Swalm.

He praised Franken and his co-sponsor Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) for "recognizing the wrong that was done a century ago and taking the steps necessary for the Senate to make amends.’’

“What Elsie Moren and many other women went through was wrong and should never happen again,” Franken said in a statement. “Our resolution won’t scrub history, but with its passage in the Senate, we hope to bring attention to the injustice that these women faced.”

When women gained the right to vote in 1920, Elsie did not, according to the resolution's sponsors. By 1922 Congress had acted to allow most American-born women who married foreigners to remain U.S. citizens.

But those who married men ineligible for citizenship, such as Chinese immigrants, still forfeited their U.S. citizenship, until that restriction was later repealed.

Elsie died in 1926 at age 35 due to childbirth complications, never having regained her rights despite living her entire life in Minnesota. But her foreign-born husband, Carl Moren, became a U.S. citizen in 1928.

"Grandma Elsie was born on May 16, 1891," Swalm added. "What a wonderful way to celebrate her 123rd birthday.''

The resolution expresses "sincere sympathy and regret’’ to descendants of women whose citizenship was revoked under the Expatriation Act of 1907, and reaffirms the Senate's "commitment to preserving civil rights and constitutional protections for all people of the United States.’’

Women aren't  the only group Congress has offended in the past. Here is a list of some other high-profile congressional apologies: 

Chinese immigrants: In 2012 Congress apologized for passing laws targeting Chinese immigrants, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Hawaiians: In 1993, Congress apologized to Hawaiians for the U.S.-led overthrow of their monarchy in 1893.

Japanese Americans: In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation providing $1.25 billion, or $20,000 each, in reparations and a formal apology for Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

African Americans: In 2008, the House issued an apology to African Americans "on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow." The Senate passed a similar resolution a year later.


Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Laws and LegislationPoliticsFeminismMigrationU.S. CongressImmigrationAl Franken
  • White House intruder arrested after entering front doors
    White House intruder arrested after entering front doors

    An intruder scaled a White House fence and made it all the way into the building Friday evening before he was caught and wrestled to the ground by security officers, the Secret Service said. President Obama and his family had already left for Camp David when the incident occurred.

  • Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past
    Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past

    Don Spirit, a Florida grandfather who fatally shot his daughter Sarah Lorraine Spirit and six grandchildren before killing himself, had a long history of domestic violence — at one point pushing his pregnant daughter against a refrigerator and assaulting and threatening his former...

  • Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?
    Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?

    In Texas, where the governor once urged the public to pray for rain, this week’s torrential storms might finally be a sign of lasting relief for the state plagued by years of drought. Or maybe not.

  • For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war
    For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war

    Lawmakers' votes this week on whether or not to train and equip Syrian opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State were arguably the most consequential after nearly two years in which Congress is likely to set a new low for productivity.

  • Egyptian militant admits links to 1998 U.S. embassy bombings

    A longtime Egyptian militant with ties to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden admitted in federal court Friday that he had links to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, a surprise guilty plea that the judge sharply questioned because it reduces his prison time from a potential life sentence to...

  • Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels
    Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels

    What was supposed to be a no-drama final session of Congress before the campaign season turned into anything but as President Obama's new strategy to combat the threat from Islamic State resulted in a wrenching vote that is likely to reverberate through the midterm election and...