What happens when you've lived in the US as long as you can remember, and then discover in your 30s that your presence isn't lawful

I have a friend who was born in the Czech Republic, and moved to the US as a toddler. After Trump was elected, she was surprised to find letter in the mail from ICE asking her to confirm her lawful presence in the country — for the first time in 35 years.

I have another friend who was born in China and adopted by American parents as a newborn. The same thing happened.

Another friend of mine was fortunate enough to avoid this fate, because after 35 years in the United States — ten of which we'd been friends — he had finally formalized his citizenship. I remember the shock and double-take that fell across my face in 2014 when I learned that he hadn't been a citizen after all this time. He had moved to the US from Argentina as a toddler, and though his presence remained legal for those 35 years, he hadn't done anything to formalize his citizenship until after his father passed away.

I thought of these friends as I read this New York Times article about an adopted woman who is married with two children, and recently discovered — much to her surprise, and by no fault of her own — that her presence isn't lawful.

It was on the eve of getting married in 2012 that she realized there was something amiss in her all-American upbringing. Adopted as an infant from Mexico, she discovered that what she thought was a minor mix-up in her paperwork was something else entirely. Eventually, she realized that not only was she not American, she did not, in the government's view, belong in the United States at all.

This year, a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services arrived in the remote corner of western Alaska where Ms. Trimble cooks for homeless people and where her husband, John, is the only dentist in town.

"You are not authorized to remain in the United States," it said, ordering her to depart the country within 33 days or face deportation.

It can be difficult to wrap your head around the arbitrary insanity of immigration in the United States. But articles like this can a have a powerful impact by putting a human face on the story. It's easy to argue about abstract concepts, but it's harder when you have to see a living, breathing person who's suddenly branded as a "criminal" or an "alien" by no fault of their own.

A woman without a country: adopted at birth and deportable at 30 [Miriam Jordan / The New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Steve Bauer