After 18-month bureaucratic battle, Relay woman proves she is a citizen Rep. Cardin, aide help her get passport

September 17, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Vivian Reininger never doubted her American citizenship, especially during her childhood years in a Japanese prison in the Philippines in World War II.

But her certitude was jolted last year when the State Department denied her a passport, blocking a birthday trip to Europe in June with her eldest son, William, a New Jersey engineer.

The refusal launched the 63-year-old Relay resident into an 18-month bureaucratic struggle that ended last month when her brother found the right piece of paper -- the court record of their adoption in 1950 in Texas by their mother's second husband.

Once the adoption record surfaced, the State Department conceded finally that Reininger is indeed an American. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin sealed her victory yesterday when he said, "Hello, fellow American" and handed her a new passport.

Clutching the small blue book, Reininger grinned and said, "If you've got a passport, you've earned it. They don't just give them out." She thanked Cardin and Marianne Kreitner, his aide, who worked all summer on the problem.

"This didn't come easily," Reininger said. "To me, this is very, very precious."

Reininger had no civil record of her birth in Manila in 1933 to an American soldier and his Filipino-born Spanish wife; it was among the many destroyed during the Japanese occupation.

Bureaucrats ruled that her hospital birth record -- at a U.S. Army hospital in Manila -- and a baptismal record were insufficient proof of her citizenship. To further complicate matters, her birth father's Army records were among thousands burned in 1973 at a service-records depot in St. Louis.

Another complication was that at the time of her birth, the Philippines was an American protectorate so there was no consular registry of births to American citizens abroad, which would have been copied in records in Washington.

Until the adoption record appeared, Reininger effectively was a nonperson who couldn't leave the country unless she became a naturalized citizen. "It was frustrating," she said. "I've been a documented U.S. citizen all my life."

Kreitner said, "Vivian's situation became complicated by world events, and everything that could have happened to complicate it happened."

Through the struggle, Reininger remained confident her situation would work out, she said.

"The more they said 'no' to me, the more determined I became," she said. "I told the passport people I would never give up. I knew I was an American. I was born in a U.S. Army hospital in Manila and delivered by an American Army doctor, and they don't let outsiders in."

She was 8 when the Japanese conquered the Philippines. She said she was interned "along with a bunch of other children" in Santo Tomas Prison in Manila. Her mother, Pilar, a Spanish national, was not detained, she said.

"We didn't have much to eat and no one to take care of us," Reininger said. "There was no adult supervision." In 1943, the Japanese sent the children to parochial schools, she said. "I went to Holy Ghost School and the nuns took care of us."

By the time the war ended in 1945, she said, her birth father was dead and her mother had remarried, to George Schratz, another soldier she had known before the war and who had been captured in the fall of Bataan. When Schratz was ordered back to the United States, Reininger said, her mother and the four children followed on an American troopship.

In 1950, Schratz adopted the children in Lampasas County, Texas. It was the record of that adoption, which included the fact that her birth father had been an American citizen and was deceased, that the State Department finally accepted as proof.

Before the record was found, Reininger said they tried unsuccessfully to locate her father's birth record in Chicago. Searches of census and immigration records were fruitless, she said.

Her siblings -- a sister and two brothers who live in different parts of the country -- were unaware of her plight until she told her brother, Fred Vickers, 59, of Laguna Beach, Calif., and he produced the adoption record.

With that, Cardin, a 3rd District Democrat, was able to persuade the passport agency that Reininger is an American citizen.

Even if no adoption record existed, Cardin said yesterday, "I think the State Department became convinced early that she was a U.S. citizen but it was getting it documented. We wouldn't have stopped; we would have had a passport."

As for the holiday trip to Europe? "Maybe next year," Reininger said.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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