Dear Prudence

Dream Deferred

My partner immigrated illegally as a child and has a fake Social Security number. How in trouble is he?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My partner was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. Around the age of 16 he bought another person’s identity. He has been using this person’s Social Security number ever since and has a successful career, etc. We’d like to get married in the next few years. What are the implications down the road?

—He Paid for His Identity

Dear Paid,
How terrible it must be to be a person brought here as a child, living the life of a productive American citizen, while knowing that at any time the government might unmask the lie at the heart of a good life. I spoke with Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She naturally and correctly said that your partner needs to consult with his own immigration attorney to understand what could happen in his case, but she supplied a general outline of what your future husband might face. She pointed out that a crucial piece of information is how he got here. If he was sneaked across the border, that could require that he leave the country in order to regularize his status, which in turn could trigger a 10-year bar from returning. Because Congress has failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide potential relief to young people brought illegally to this country as children, the administration created a (probably temporary) reform called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. If your partner is eligible for DACA, it could help mitigate his jeopardy in regard to that initial illegal entry.

Williams also pointed out the dangers inherent in having bought someone else’s name and Social Security number, which could be aggravated identity theft. Since your partner has surely filled out employment forms, if he’s falsely declared himself to be a citizen, that’s a crime which can prevent someone from gaining legal status. It goes on and on—and finding out confidentially what the potential pitfalls are and what remedies (if any) are available is why people pay lawyers. But of course, we don’t know how many people like your partner are simply hiding in plain sight, successfully pulling off the subterfuge, maybe for a lifetime. In any case, you two should check out Define American, the advocacy group co-founded by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who was brought here as a boy, pretended to be an American citizen, then “came out” as an undocumented person. I recommend you both watch his moving documentary Documented.


Dear Prudie,
I am being bullied at work. I’m a professional woman in a field with limited opportunities. I work in a very small office and am the newest and youngest employee. Since I started, the “mean girls” have excluded me from conversations, grow hushed when I walk into a room, and have been generally unfriendly. I’ve been brushing it off and figured it would take me time to integrate. Then I overheard two of them saying some petty and nasty things about my appearance and attire. I’m a generally likable, (relatively) good-looking, non-smelly, appropriately dressed person (you’ll just have to take my word). My boss is a nice guy, but these employees have been with him since the beginning. I am not the only one on the receiving end of this behavior. I like my work but I’m barely resisting the urge to let the mean girls have it for being so awful to me and others. I can’t afford to quit as I have mountains of student debt, jobs are scarce, and I have a young family to support. How can I handle this situation, and perhaps confront the mean girls, without propagating the cycle of bullying?

—Sick of Meanies

Dear Sick,
You’re a young professional, but we don’t know if the mean girls are your superiors or if they are support staff. Of course wherever you are in the hierarchy does not justify their behavior, but if they have administrative duties, it could be they resent being subordinate to you—and other new, young professionals—and enjoy hazing all of you. Whatever the origin of their ridiculousness, do not start off by going the confrontation route. Instead, occasionally bring in for everyone in the office a homemade platter of brownies or a basket of fruit you got from a farm stand. Since these women have been around forever, turn to them occasionally for advice, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. Be gracious and unflappable. Maybe you’ll never win these mean girls over, but on some level they will have to recognize how petty they’re being by mocking your outfits. If, however, their behavior is directly impacting your work in a negative way, say if they aren’t fulfilling requests or are being otherwise professionally uncooperative, then you have to address it firmly and directly. Tell them you are ultimately all there to serve your clients, customers, or patients—whatever the case may be—and undermining your ability to do this is simply not acceptable. Start documenting what’s going on, so if it doesn’t stop and you have go to the boss, you can be as factual as possible. Maybe he’s one of those oblivious guys who lets bad behavior fester until he’s forced to address it. So keep in mind that for the time being, you’re still new and untested, and this nasty bunch are his loyal reliables.


Dear Prudence,
There’s a public pool where I love to take my 4-year-old daughter. It has a wonderful program in which once or twice a week the pool welcomes a local day camp for children and teenagers with severe developmental disabilities. There are about 30 campers, each with an assigned supervisor. The problem is that on several occasions, even with this supervision the campers have done things that have frightened or threatened my daughter. One day an older teen at the snack bar began throwing his food and screaming obscenities; some of the food hit us, and my daughter was terrified. Another time, a child a lot larger than my daughter trampled her in the water. He was out of control, and it was several seconds before his aide and I could get her out from under his feet and up to the surface. I want my daughter to be exposed to all sorts of people, and to feel empathy for them, but I think that putting her at risk and scaring her is probably counterproductive. We’ve talked about what’s going on, but she’s too young to really understand. Am I wrong to think I ought to keep her away on the days when these kids are there? Can I call the pool and ask them when the campers are coming without sounding like a terrible person?

—All Wet

Dear All Wet,
There’s a reason most pools have designated times for families to get in the water and times reserved for adults—the latter so grown-ups who just want to do laps don’t have to contend with toddlers in swim diapers and hormonal teens. Your daughter is simply too young to wade into with a pool full of big kids, and it doesn’t matter that these children have special needs. You’re also right that having her end up confused by and terrified of these children is not going to teach her empathy. There’s nothing wrong with your asking management if there’s a schedule for the campers. You can say it’s a wonderful program, but it’s too raucous for a 4-year-old so you’d like to know ahead of time when the pool will be more placid.


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Dear Prudence,
I need you to tell me if I’m a jerk. My husband (whom I love dearly and is amazing and sweet) calls me every day, a couple times a day, just to “check in” or “say hi” or “hear my voice.” This is very sweet, but he doesn’t have anything to say, and it annoys me to no end! He doesn’t keep it short, either, even though he’s busy. I could go the whole day without talking to him, and if something interesting happens that simply can’t wait, I’ll call him. I’m currently unemployed, so when he asks me what is going on, 99.9 percent of the time, it’s nothing. I love him to bits, but how do I tell him to not call me unless he has something to say without hurting his feelings? 

—I’ll Call You

Dear Don’t,
My husband is tied up and preoccupied during the workday and I usually don’t hear from him. Then a few years ago, I started noticing that around lunchtime he would phone me with nothing to say. He finally confirmed my supposition that he was the only person on the street not on his cellphone, and he was calling me so he didn’t look like a dork. If marriage required that spouses only talk when they have something interesting to say, silence would fall over the land. It is sweet that your husband just wants to hear your voice, and it’s too bad you don’t want to hear his. But while you don’t have to listen to him gas endlessly, you probably don’t want to tell your husband he bores you to death. Instead you need some useful ways to exchange a few nothings, and then get on with your more pleasant activities—like perusing job sites or organizing your paper clips. Try these canned phrases: “Since the grocery store is empty in the afternoon, I’m on my way there. Is there anything you want me to pick up?” “I’m in the middle of writing a new cover letter. Let me finish it, and I’ll show you tonight.” And the ever reliable, “I know how busy you are, so I’d better let you go.”


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