Seeking recomendation for immigration attorney in Los Angeles for Italian citizenship by descent case
June 19, 2009 4:58 PM   Subscribe

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.

Short version:
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.

Long version:
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!
posted by Asparagirl to Law & Government (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Nabil E. Chelico - - (213) 234-9592.
811 Wilshire BLVD (downtown LA)

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 6:04 PM on June 19, 2009

This is fascinating - it could almost be an FPP in its own right! I'm going to check with a friend who is an immigration lawyer out west to see if she knows anyone in your area. It sounds like you've been exceedingly thorough and diligent in your research so far - I think any attorney will be impressed with what you've come up with so far.

I'm sure you've already considered this, but do you have any official Rhodian documents for Ray and Amelia, even if issued before the Italian takeover in 1923?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:22 PM on June 19, 2009

Nabil E. Chelico - - (213) 234-9592.
811 Wilshire BLVD (downtown LA)

Wouldn't the man need an Italian lawyer?
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 6:45 PM on June 19, 2009

Yeah, I would hire an Italian lawyer located in Italy to handle your claim. Certainly other people from this island have had the same problem--could you figure out which attorneys have been handling their claims?
posted by lockestockbarrel at 8:55 PM on June 19, 2009

Response by poster: I'm sure you've already considered this, but do you have any official Rhodian documents for Ray and Amelia, even if issued before the Italian takeover in 1923?

Nope, not a one. Like I said, the Ottoman Empire was terrible at record-keeping in the latter part of its existence. It's possible that there may have been local Jewish community records at one point, such as rabbinical records of births or marriages, but if so, I think they were probably destroyed during the war (one of the main synagogues in Rhodes was accidentally destroyed by Allied bombs) or purposely destroyed by the fascist Italians or the Germans as part of the overall community destruction during the Holocaust. As far as I know, the two censuses are pretty much all that's left, in terms of official contemporary documents (and I've heard that the late 1930's census had some nasty things written in the margins about some of the Jews they were enumerating...). There are also some surviving headstones in the cemetery, many of which have been transcribed. (They're online here, if you're interested!)

Certainly other people from this island have had the same problem--could you figure out which attorneys have been handling their claims?

I have asked around, without much success so far. What I've heard is that a very small number of people who had a more clear connection to Italy (i.e. they or their family left the island with Italian passports) have succeeded in getting Italian citizenship post-war. But this is not the norm, and no one else I know of in the Rhodes community with as convoluted background (i.e. left the island during the Ottoman period but did not yet have new citizenship) has tried to get Italian citizenship. That may be because not many wanted to get Italian dual citizenship; many families left the island specifically because of the grinding poverty and (later on) the overt anti-Semitism they faced during the immediate pre-war Italian period, and preferred to move on with their new lives. I guess it's like how not that many German Jews chose to reclaim German citizenship post-war. "Jane", however, is American-born and from a younger generation and doesn't have the same negative feelings about potential Italian dual citizenship -- she loves Italy!

If "Jane"'s case works, though, then I think other younger-generation Rhodes descendants may try to get dual citizenship, too. I'm planning on writing about the case for a genealogy journal, once it's wrapped up (satisfactorily or not), which may get the story more attention and help other descendants recognize their potential rights.

Yeah, I would hire an Italian lawyer located in Italy to handle your claim.

Is there an Italian ABA or something like that? How can I, in the US, find a good Italian lawyer with this kind of experience? Italy colonized many areas in the Mediterranean in that same time period; perhaps they've dealt with people from Ethiopia or Trieste or Libya who have brought similar claims for Italian citizenship? Has anyone heard of anything like this?
posted by Asparagirl at 9:48 PM on June 19, 2009

Response by poster: I should note that the photos of those headstones surviving on the island may, in fact, be relevant -- one of them is apparently the headstone of Ray's father. However, the headstone inscription is short and does not name any surviving children, so its ability to be used a primary citizenship source for Ray is unclear. His grandfather's headstone is apparently on that list too.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:57 PM on June 19, 2009

Just a thought -

If the Rhodes' Jewish community had connections with either other Greek or other Italian Jewish communities, there might be a way to collect (indirect) historical evidence that way. Surprising amounts of documentation survived the Shoah (ie, not a lot, but sometimes surprising pockets).
posted by Salamandrous at 7:17 AM on June 20, 2009

Is there an Italian ABA or something like that?
Yes, there is the Consiglio Nazionale Forense, which is the governmental agency that collects all the "Ordini degli Avvocati", which are more or less provincial bar associations. The real problem though is getting recommendations, I don't think they do that - until a few years ago lawyer were even legally prohibited to advertise their services.

I wish I could be of more help since your 'case' is exceptionally intricated and generally awesome.
posted by _dario at 7:19 AM on June 20, 2009

Italian Jewish Studies Association

This might be a way to get connected to Italian Jews who might have a foot in the legal community. In terms of finding the Italian bar, you should either ask the Consulate, or go through the major Italian law schools. I knew someone who was studying law at the University in Torino, and he swore up and down it was the best, but, you know.

It's an interesting project and if you found a faculty member with interest, it could be a big help. (Italy is a civil law country and the universities and their faculties tend to be much more important players in legal development)
posted by Salamandrous at 7:22 AM on June 20, 2009

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