Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flag Waiver: Welfare Reform Spurs Citizenship Oath at 106

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flag Waiver: Welfare Reform Spurs Citizenship Oath at 106

Article excerpt

Sometime after Henriette Bolane turned 100 years old, she started bothering her son-in-law for the application that would let her become a U.S. citizen. But because it meant she'd have to make a trip to Baltimore, and because his mother-in-law was so old that the matter seemed academic, he put her off again and again.

Then, this summer, President Bill Clinton signed welfare legislation that cuts off benefits even to legal immigrants. And Roger Guelce finally found a reason to make the trip.

"After the law, if she's not a citizen, they're not going to give her her Medicaid," said Guelce, explaining his understanding of the new welfare reform act. "If she becomes a citizen, definitely they have to give that to her." So it was that Thursday, 30 days shy of her 106th birthday, Henriette Bolane became the oldest new American in known history. "We're proud to have you be a citizen," said Ben Ferro, director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Maryland office, who traveled to Bolane's home in Hyattsville, Md., to administer the oath. This year the INS has naturalized a record 1.2 million new citizens, three times the number of a year ago. The rush was prompted by an array of circumstances. But most pressing is the welfare reform act, which denies food stamps and disability benefits to all noncitizens, even resident immigrants in the country legally. For Bolane, remarkably, the issue was not yet crucial. She has no health problems except high blood pressure. With her Medicaid card, she fills her prescription for $1 at the area drugstore. Bolane was chasing her grandchildren around the yard in her 90s. The night she turned 100, she danced until 4 in the morning. But no one expects fabulous health to hold forever. "Ever since she hit 104, her body started slowing down," said grandson Roger Guelce Jr. …

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