A 90-year-old Irish immigrant to Chicago who was declared illegal in 1999 will finally get her American citizenship in 2013.
Over 88 years since she arrived on an emigrant ship Josephine Stout will finally be able to claim she is a fully-fledged American.
Her amazing story was told in the Chicago Tribune. Records show that Stout was born in a poorhouse in Ireland and that she traveled from there in 1923 on the passenger ship RMS Franconia and that she was aged one and a half.
Back then, landed emigrants were considered resident aliens but Stout’s parents never went through the paperwork for her.
That hardly mattered until 1999 when Stout, after falling on hard times after several family tragedies, applied to have public assistance.
She could not produce evidence of her citizenship other than a social security number and was denied.
Suddenly she was an undocumented immigrant, approaching 70 with seven grandchildren she was raising after her daughter was killed in a robbery.
"What did I know about being from Ireland?" said Stout. "I don't even have an accent. I have always said, 'I am an American, period.'"
She was forced to collect cans as Irish government officials, alerted to the case, tried to find her original birth certificate.
Sister Mary Jane Feil, who headed up a local charity, came to Stout’s assistance when she found out about the elderly woman desperately struggling to raise her daughter’s family
"Josephine would take the bus all over creation trying to get those kids into support groups and whatever care they needed," Feil told the Chicago Tribune.
"She couldn't afford her medicine sometimes. She has no teeth. She needs cataract surgery. She needs hearing aids. Anybody else would be dead by now. But that's Josephine. I think she's only lasted this long out of grit and determination."
"Some of the kids were older, but I still had mouths to feed, so I picked up cans to make money and I worked small jobs," said Stout.
Another nun, Sister Joellen Tumas, became aware of her case.
"She wasn't one to complain about things, but she was desperate because her gas was about to be shut off and she was fighting eviction," Tumas said.
In 2009, Stout's last surviving child, Rosemary, died of cancer.
Tuma’s charity linked Stout to Chicago Irish Immigrant Support and Executive Director Brendan Magee who alerted the Irish Consulate.
Her birth certificate was found on Oct. 27, 2010 stating she was born in March 1922, in Limerick.
"Her mother gave birth in what was called a poorhouse, a religious-run institution often for women who were destitute," Brendan Magee said.
The documents allowed her to become legal after almost 70 years but she still has to receive an official passport.
"The sisters, and all the others, they did so much," Stout said. "It was a lot of wear and tear, and with the state cutting me off, it was a real struggle. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm glad it's over, but you don't forget."
Now she is part of the senior Irish scene in Chicago.
"I didn't want to go at first," said Stout. "I didn't want to be around a bunch of old fogies. Now I don't want to miss it. I really enjoy the people there. They've taken me to see (the singing group) Celtic Thunder. But I still like the blues, and Jerry Butler."
Soon her American citizenship will arrive, ending an incredible odyssey that began on an emigrant ship in 1923.
Log in with your social accounts:
Or, log in with your IrishCentral account:
Don't have an account yet? Register now !
Join IrishCentral with your social accounts:
Already have an account ? Log in
Or, sign up for an IrishCentral account below:
Make sure we gathered the correct information from you
You already have an account on IrishCentral! Please confirm you're the owner.
Our new policy requires our users to save a first and last name. Please update your account: