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

Because of a 1907 immigration law, Elsie Knutson Moren, who was born and raised in Minnesota, lost her U.S. citizenship because she married an immigrant from Sweden.
Because of a 1907 immigration law, Elsie Knutson Moren, who was born and raised in Minnesota, lost her U.S. citizenship because she married an immigrant from Sweden.
(Photo provided by her grandson Daniel Swalm)

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for citizenship, such as Chinese immigrants, still forfeited their U.S. citizenship, until that restriction was later repealed.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.