St. Paul woman wants to be U.S. citizen, but her father won't submit to a blood test

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 25, 2013 - 10:40 PM

A St. Paul woman who was born in Ethiopia says her father’s refusal to prove paternity is blocking her path to U.S. citizenship.

In a federal lawsuit filed on Christmas Day, an Ethiopian refugee who has lived in the Twin Cities nearly 10 years is suing her father, contending that he refuses to take a blood test that she needs in order to become a U.S. citizen.

Sara Jelde, who came to the United States in 2004 at age 17 with her five siblings and father, is also suing Immigration Services for requiring the test.

She shouldn’t suffer because her father won’t provide the blood test, said her attorney, P. Chinedu Nwaneri, on Wednesday. “She feels helpless.”

Jelde’s mother did not come to the United States, and the family settled in Eagan. Sara Jelde eventually moved in with her eldest sister, who helped Jelde get legal resident status.

The five children later moved apart, her father remarried and they had not communicated for several years, the suit says.

Jelde, now 26 and living in St. Paul, finds herself in a legal quagmire brought on by her decision last May to apply for citizenship.

The suit says Jelde’s father has refused to provide a blood test demanded by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that will prove his paternity.

The suit also names Immigration Services, saying that “in the unlikely event that the blood or DNA test” raises questions about the relationship with her father, it should not bar her from citizenship. “She believes he is her father,” said Nwaneri, who added that he does not know why the man will not submit to a test.

Jelde’s mother, who remains in Ethiopia, also has remarried, according to the lawsuit.

The blood test was ordered after an immigration official stated that Jelde did not correctly answer a question asking her to provide her father’s last name, the suit stated. “Jelde was not represented by counsel at the interview or at the time,” the suit says.

If the immigration agency needs a blood test, it could get one from her older sister, who petitioned for Jelde to enter the United States as a refugee, Nwaneri said. Her father did not file any petition for her or sponsor her in the United States, according to the suit.

The suit was filed electronically on Christmas morning. Nwaneri said he was in haste to file because the deadline for submitting the test results is Friday.

An Immigration Services spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but attorney Mark Cangemi, the former special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Twin Cities, said the father’s refusal to submit to a blood test raised a red flag, although Cangemi said he had not seen Jelde’s file.

He said that in 35 years as an immigration investigator, he could recall no case in which a parent declined to provide a blood test. He said that he had seen refugee cases in which application forms have been falsified, stating parental relationships that do not exist. He also said it was possible that Jelde, in good faith, believed he was her father.

“It is fairly unusual for the government to require DNA testing,” Cangemi said.

Jelde’s father could not be reached for comment. Reached by phone Wednesday, Jelde said she would agree to an interview only with the consent of her attorney.

Nwaneri said such an interview would be possible, but he was leaving the Twin Cities on Thursday and it could not be arranged before next week.

He said he hopes Jelde will be granted citizenship. “She is working,” he said. “She has no criminal record. She’s been a good citizen.”

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