City Weekly first wrote about John Paul Garman in August 2007 as “No Land’s Man,” a Utah resident in the United States all his life but with no citizenship papers and therefore no way to legally hold a job, drive a car or pay taxes.
Left as an infant with a babysitter in California around 35 years ago (no one knows for sure how old he is), Garman was adopted by U.S. parents who died before filing paperwork to make him a U.S. citizen. With the assistance of sympathetic California social workers, Garman got a judge to issue a birth certificate. Then 9/11 happened and the gates slammed shut on Garman’s hopes for citizenship papers.
Since the City Weekly story ran, things had started to look up for Garman. In September 2008, he stopped by the newspaper’s offices to say he had a Utah ID card, and, better still, a working Social Security number, thanks to—he thought—the help of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Garman had a legal job working at a gas station and car wash, and was moving up in management. For the first time in his life, he was filing taxes, and he was excited about it. He got a check back from the IRS for $1,500 in withheld taxes and a stimulus check.
“I’m legit,” Garman said at the time. He was working toward becoming “completely legit,” by paying down court fines accumulated by driving for years without a driver license. Through a payment plan worked out with the court, he was paying $25 to $50 per month in court fines. Next, he applied for a passport. Garman’s attorneys thought a passport would be the ultimate proof every government bureaucracy would need that Garman was true red, white and blue. The plan backfired.
Six months later, Garman feels like he’s back to Square 1. Today, his Social Security number has been turned off, deactivated by some pencil pusher after Garman applied for a passport. He’s lost his job at the gas station and is back trying to support himself in Salt Lake City’s off-thebooks construction economy.
On March 6, Garman received a letter from the U.S. State Department passport office rejecting his passport application because the court-issued birth certificate he submitted “was recorded more than one year after the birth occurred.” The letter asked Garman to supply early public records showing his date and place of birth, such as a hospital certificate, or U.S. census record.
The problem with that is “the documents they want don’t exist,” says Randa Vieira, who works with Salt Lake City attorney Randall Edwards, who is trying to help Garman out of his seemingly bottomless hole. The lawyers, working Garman’s case for free, succeeded in getting California to issue a birth certificate, but since then, haven’t had much better luck than Garman in trying to figure out the federal bureaucracy.
“We kept thinking once we had the birth certificate, everything else would fall into place,” Edwards says. “But I’m tearing my hair out. Whatever we got was never quite enough. He’s trapped in this administrative nightmare. It’s like a Kafka novel.”
Federal agency officials are polite, Edwards says, and many say they are sympathetic. “But then they give you that look you get across any bureaucrat’s desk: ‘We have our regulations, and we can’t make exceptions.’”
City Weekly’s calls to the State Department’s passport office were referred to the Consular Affairs press office in Washington,3 D.C. A spokeswoman said the office would not comment on Garman’s case, or on the case of any individual applying for a passport. She said the State Department Website would allow Garman to check on the status of his application.
“It’s a terrible situation,” says Edwards. “Nobody knows where he came from or who his parents are, and no one is willing to acknowledge he’s here.” Garman and Edwards next plan to work the political angle, hoping that Hatch’s office, which has been helpful in the past, can move the federal bureaucracy again.
“I’m just tired of the whole damned thing,” Garman says. “The right hand [of the government] doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
He is contemplating a grand publicity stunt, such as bicycling to Washington, D.C. At this point, he says, “it seems like my best bet.”