Please recommend an attorney -- preferably one in the Los Angeles area -- for an unusual Italian citizenship by descent case. Looking for one with knowledge of complicated 20th Century treaties regarding the former Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey, Italy, and Greece, and experience dealing with a lack of some typical primary citizenship evidence.
Know a good immigration/citizenship attorney, or someone with experience with the Italian consulate system, preferably in Los Angeles? If so, please drop a note.
My mother-in-law "Jane" was born in California in 1949. Her family are Sephardic Jews who lived for hundreds of years on the island of Rhodes, which is just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. Rhodes was formerly part of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the population was Greek and following the break-up of the Empire, the island was "supposed to" go to Greece. However, it was illegally seized by Italy in 1912 and, seeing as possession is 9/10 of the law, was formally made a part of Italy under the Treaty of Lausanne
in July 1923. This treaty gave Italian citizenship to the people of Rhodes, and according to knowledgeable sources I've talked to in the Rhodes genealogy community, this new citizenship also applied to people born on the island even if they weren't actually living there at the time of the treaty signing.
Jane's maternal grandfather Ray was born on Rhodes in either 1895 or 1896 (reports vary), and immigrated to the US in 1913. Jane's maternal grandmother Amelia was born either on Rhodes or in Milas, Turkey (reports vary) in 1904 and immigrated to the US in 1916. They got married in Los Angeles in August 1923 and had their first child, Jane's mother Esther, in Los Angeles in late 1924.
Ray filed his Declaration of Intention for US naturalization and citizenship in 1916. He and his family believed he became a US citizen shortly thereafter. However, he apparently didn't actually file his final papers for citizenship until the 1950's and did not become a full US citizen until 1955
. (Copies of all the papers have been obtained from the Department of Homeland Security under an FOIA request.) This raises questions about his citizenship status in the 1916-1955 period, and whether that citizenship can be passed down to his children and/or grandchildren.
Specifically, Italian citizenship is one of the rare European nationalities that can pass down by descent. It used to be that only men could pass it down, but after 1948, women can also pass it down to children who were born after 1948.
As mentioned, Ray was born 1895/1896. Assuming that he became an Italian citizen in July 1923, then Amelia also unknowingly became an Italian citizen upon marrying him a month later in August 1923 -- although she probably assumed that she was becoming an American citizen upon her marriage, under the Cable Act of 1922. Their daughter Esther was born in the US in 1924, at a time when both her parents apparently had Italian citizenship, thus making her a dual citizen. As she likely never knew this, she never formally renounced her Italian citizenship. Esther married Ralph in 1944, also from Rhodes and also an Italian citizen, who had come to the US in 1937, fleeing Mussolini. Ralph became a US citizen in 1945. Their daughter "Jane" was born 1949 -- and so could have inherited Italian citizenship from Esther under the post-1948 law allowing female lines to carry citizenship.
"Jane" would like to claim her Italian citizenship by descent, if in fact she is entitled to it (as we believe she may be). However, we're going to need a good immigration lawyer for this case, preferably in the Los Angeles area, because of several complicating factors:
- Applying for Italian citizenship by descent usually includes getting copies of your Italian ancestors' birth certificates, as proof. However, there are no known birth certificates for people born on Rhodes under the Ottoman rule -- the Empire was kind of lax about record-keeping by that point. Furthermore, it is unclear (but unlikely) that any formal documents, such as passports, were issued to the people of Rhodes when they became Italian citizens en masse
in 1923. Therefore we have little primary evidence for Ray and/or Amelia's Italian citizenship.
- There are probably only two surviving modern censuses of Rhodes under Italian rule, one from the 1920's and one from the late 1930's. They contain minimal information on the population outside of names and birthdates (or in some cases estimated birth years). Ray had already left the island by that point and while he may have had family members show up in the census records, he himself would not. So, more lack of primary evidence of citizenship.
- Around 1943/1944, the Italian anti-Semitic governor of Rhodes illegally stripped all the local Jews of their Italian citizenship, above and beyond the impositions already placed on them by Italian Racial Laws. This meant that some then supposedly reverted to Turkish citizenship again...or not? It was unclear at the time. In any case, the Jews of Rhodes were shipped to Auschwitz in 1944 and nearly all murdered there. So there is very little previous "case law" before the Italian consulates on the subject of Italian citizenship for Rhodes descendants, as only a few people chose to apply for it in the intervening years.
- In 1948, Rhodes was formally transferred from Italy to Greece, and the people of Rhodes were now given Greek citizenship. However, unlike the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, this only applied to people who were actually living on the island at this time...probably. This is a sticky wicket that needs research by a good attorney.
- Finally, copies of all US-based evidence -- birth certificates, US citizen papers, etc. -- have already been collected, but apostilles are still needed.
So, names of immigration/citizenship attorneys, people involved with the Italian consulate system, and suggestions on how to proceed are welcomed. Thanks, MeFi!