Laura Siegelman of Plainview has lived in the U.S. for 74 years, arriving in Boston with her parents, who were Holocaust survivors, when she was 2. Despite paperwork to prove her citizenship, she has been unable to obtain a REAL ID — until now. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca; Photo credit: James Escher

For four years, Laura Siegelman of Plainview said she had felt “erased.”

Her infant immunization card from war-ravaged Germany, her 1948 U.S. immigration “green card” and her 1970 New York marriage license were rejected as proof that Siegelman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was American enough to obtain a REAL ID driver’s license. The 76-year-old has been living in the U.S. for 74 of those years.

That changed last week when she won her battle against state and federal bureaucracies to obtain the license, which she wanted in order to visit siblings and friends throughout the country. When she began her quest, a REAL ID would have been required for domestic air travel beginning on Oct. 1, 2020. Since then, the start date has been delayed several times; now it's May 2025.

Finally confirming her connection to her country after so many rejections was bittersweet.

“I was glad I didn’t have to deal with it anymore,” Siegelman said. " … I got mine, but it shouldn’t be this way.”

Her approval came after years of effort with her Bronx-born husband, retired teacher Richard Siegelman. They carted records, testimonials and research in a foot-thick file to more than a dozen local, state and federal officials and elected politicians. The package included a 2020 Newsday article about the “child of Holocaust” who was fighting to be recognized by her own country.

Along the way, they faced constant bureaucratic roadblocks: broken promises, a painstakingly scheduled meeting in which an official didn’t show up, sympathy followed by the excuse that the officials’ hands were tied, and being ghosted by a government agency after the Siegelmans paid hundreds of dollars for a German translation of a document.

The breakthrough came after intervention by Assemb. Jake Blumencranz (R-Oyster Bay), his chief of staff, Ida McQuair, and Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. The state Department of Motor Vehicles provided her an interim license on May 15 that complies with the federal REAL ID law and promised the permanent document would arrive in June.

“After I heard their story, I couldn’t do nothing,” Blumencranz said. He read the Siegelmans’ file and brought the case to the DMV commissioner.

“When I went to the commissioner and spoke to him the first time, he said this has happened to others, and this has been a reason for concern in the past … he spoke to a 100-year-old man with a similar issue," Blumencranz said.

DMV spokesman Walt McClure said: “We are happy to have been able to help achieve a positive resolution in this matter. We take these and other such requests on a case-by-case basis because each may involve different circumstances, and we will provide assistance when we can."

The 2005 federal REAL ID law was born after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, its intent being to create a higher level of security to thwart terrorists.

“I do understand why security laws had to be passed post-9/11, and I am sympathetic to politicians who want to do something,” Laura Siegelman said of the law. "But you can't lump together someone who doesn't have a particular document with a terrorist."

The REAL ID law requires a birth certificate, passport, Social Security number and proof of date of birth through specific, certified documents in order to fly or to enter sensitive buildings such as nuclear power plants. The deadline to begin the requirement has been delayed twice since 2020, giving the Siegelmans some reprieves to continue their mission. 

Laura Siegelman’s yellowed, tattered records weren’t accepted as proof.

When she arrived in Boston in 1948, she was listed by her Polish name, Laja Jochweta Diamant, on a seven-digit “green card.” That U.S. immigration card with a photo of a curly haired 2-year-old in a buttoned-up cloth coat identified her as “perm. res” entitled to live and work in the United States indefinitely. She was a “Polish DP,” or one of 900,000 displaced persons under a United Nations program, along with her parents, Howard and Helen Diamant.

On her first day of school, the teacher had difficulty pronouncing her Polish first name, Laja, so the teacher called her Laura.

“I was very embarrassed,” she said. “So I became Laura and I stayed Laura.”

Her parents became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1955, which should have made their daughter a U.S. citizen, too. But she only had a copy of the naturalization papers, which didn’t qualify under REAL ID, which required the original.

After graduating from The Cooper Union in 1968 with a fine arts degree and becoming a commercial artist, she met Richard Siegelman, an American citizen. They married in 1970, which should have made Laura a U.S. citizen. But wanting to keep a vestige of her family name, Laura dropped the “J” from her Polish middle name and made it a “D” for Diamant for the marriage certificate.

That invalidated the marriage certificate for a REAL ID license because the name was different from the one on her green card.

Decades later, as she sought a REAL ID license, she was told her green card was outdated and invalid. She would need a new, nine-digit card, but couldn’t use the old green card as proof because it carried her Polish name.

Piecing together family records also failed. None of the records she needed survived the war. 

A German vaccination record was good enough to qualify for Social Security benefits and Medicare, but not for a REAL ID license.

“These things were ridiculous to me,” she said. "Suddenly you are in a position that you have never been in your entire life in this country.”

But her story of fighting the system is also a love story.

Richard Siegelman, 79, made most of the calls, did much of the research at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, transmitted emails, and questioned and cajoled officials, lawyers and immigration, civil rights and Jewish rights advocates. At times, the effort became a near full-time job for the retired teacher from the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District.

The fight was made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed government offices at times. “This was not enjoyable; it was very frustrating,” he said. “But wouldn’t you do that for your wife?”

His reason for refusing to quit when the going got tougher?

“Our 53rd anniversary is coming up and the rabbi said, ‘In sickness and in health,' " Richard Siegelman said.

There were encouraging moments, too.

Some key staffers of politicians were supportive and tried to find ways through the maze of laws and rules. They and news reports helped keep up their spirits, and keep their story alive.

“I photocopied the 2020 story on three pages,” Richard Siegelman said of the original Newsday article. “It was part of my email to them.”

“It was very nice knowing someone had an interest,” Laura Siegelman said. “The problem was noticed.”

Their win is just starting to sink in. Soon, they will start planning trips to visit siblings in Florida and California and close friends in Seattle. Then they will celebrate.

“We’ll go first-class,” Laura Siegelman said. “And I’ll be drinking Champagne.”

For four years, Laura Siegelman of Plainview said she had felt “erased.”

Her infant immunization card from war-ravaged Germany, her 1948 U.S. immigration “green card” and her 1970 New York marriage license were rejected as proof that Siegelman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was American enough to obtain a REAL ID driver’s license. The 76-year-old has been living in the U.S. for 74 of those years.

That changed last week when she won her battle against state and federal bureaucracies to obtain the license, which she wanted in order to visit siblings and friends throughout the country. When she began her quest, a REAL ID would have been required for domestic air travel beginning on Oct. 1, 2020. Since then, the start date has been delayed several times; now it's May 2025.

Finally confirming her connection to her country after so many rejections was bittersweet.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Laura Siegelman of Plainview has lived in the United States for 74 of her 76 years.
  • But her infant immunization card from war-ravaged Germany, her 1948 U.S. immigration “green card” and her 1970 New York marriage license were rejected as proof that Siegelman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was American enough to obtain a REAL ID driver’s license.
  • Last week, she won her battle against state and federal bureaucracies to obtain the license, which will be required for domestic air travel in 2025.

“I was glad I didn’t have to deal with it anymore,” Siegelman said. " … I got mine, but it shouldn’t be this way.”

Her approval came after years of effort with her Bronx-born husband, retired teacher Richard Siegelman. They carted records, testimonials and research in a foot-thick file to more than a dozen local, state and federal officials and elected politicians. The package included a 2020 Newsday article about the “child of Holocaust” who was fighting to be recognized by her own country.

Along the way, they faced constant bureaucratic roadblocks: broken promises, a painstakingly scheduled meeting in which an official didn’t show up, sympathy followed by the excuse that the officials’ hands were tied, and being ghosted by a government agency after the Siegelmans paid hundreds of dollars for a German translation of a document.

The breakthrough came after intervention by Assemb. Jake Blumencranz (R-Oyster Bay), his chief of staff, Ida McQuair, and Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. The state Department of Motor Vehicles provided her an interim license on May 15 that complies with the federal REAL ID law and promised the permanent document would arrive in June.

“After I heard their story, I couldn’t do nothing,” Blumencranz said. He read the Siegelmans’ file and brought the case to the DMV commissioner.

“When I went to the commissioner and spoke to him the first time, he said this has happened to others, and this has been a reason for concern in the past … he spoke to a 100-year-old man with a similar issue," Blumencranz said.

DMV spokesman Walt McClure said: “We are happy to have been able to help achieve a positive resolution in this matter. We take these and other such requests on a case-by-case basis because each may involve different circumstances, and we will provide assistance when we can."

The 2005 federal REAL ID law was born after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, its intent being to create a higher level of security to thwart terrorists.

“I do understand why security laws had to be passed post-9/11, and I am sympathetic to politicians who want to do something,” Laura Siegelman said of the law. "But you can't lump together someone who doesn't have a particular document with a terrorist."

The REAL ID law requires a birth certificate, passport, Social Security number and proof of date of birth through specific, certified documents in order to fly or to enter sensitive buildings such as nuclear power plants. The deadline to begin the requirement has been delayed twice since 2020, giving the Siegelmans some reprieves to continue their mission. 

Laura Siegelman’s yellowed, tattered records weren’t accepted as proof.

When she arrived in Boston in 1948, she was listed by her Polish name, Laja Jochweta Diamant, on a seven-digit “green card.” That U.S. immigration card with a photo of a curly haired 2-year-old in a buttoned-up cloth coat identified her as “perm. res” entitled to live and work in the United States indefinitely. She was a “Polish DP,” or one of 900,000 displaced persons under a United Nations program, along with her parents, Howard and Helen Diamant.

On her first day of school, the teacher had difficulty pronouncing her Polish first name, Laja, so the teacher called her Laura.

“I was very embarrassed,” she said. “So I became Laura and I stayed Laura.”

Her parents became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1955, which should have made their daughter a U.S. citizen, too. But she only had a copy of the naturalization papers, which didn’t qualify under REAL ID, which required the original.

After graduating from The Cooper Union in 1968 with a fine arts degree and becoming a commercial artist, she met Richard Siegelman, an American citizen. They married in 1970, which should have made Laura a U.S. citizen. But wanting to keep a vestige of her family name, Laura dropped the “J” from her Polish middle name and made it a “D” for Diamant for the marriage certificate.

That invalidated the marriage certificate for a REAL ID license because the name was different from the one on her green card.

Decades later, as she sought a REAL ID license, she was told her green card was outdated and invalid. She would need a new, nine-digit card, but couldn’t use the old green card as proof because it carried her Polish name.

Piecing together family records also failed. None of the records she needed survived the war. 

A German vaccination record was good enough to qualify for Social Security benefits and Medicare, but not for a REAL ID license.

“These things were ridiculous to me,” she said. "Suddenly you are in a position that you have never been in your entire life in this country.”

But her story of fighting the system is also a love story.

Richard Siegelman, 79, made most of the calls, did much of the research at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, transmitted emails, and questioned and cajoled officials, lawyers and immigration, civil rights and Jewish rights advocates. At times, the effort became a near full-time job for the retired teacher from the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District.

The fight was made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed government offices at times. “This was not enjoyable; it was very frustrating,” he said. “But wouldn’t you do that for your wife?”

His reason for refusing to quit when the going got tougher?

“Our 53rd anniversary is coming up and the rabbi said, ‘In sickness and in health,' " Richard Siegelman said.

There were encouraging moments, too.

Some key staffers of politicians were supportive and tried to find ways through the maze of laws and rules. They and news reports helped keep up their spirits, and keep their story alive.

“I photocopied the 2020 story on three pages,” Richard Siegelman said of the original Newsday article. “It was part of my email to them.”

“It was very nice knowing someone had an interest,” Laura Siegelman said. “The problem was noticed.”

Their win is just starting to sink in. Soon, they will start planning trips to visit siblings in Florida and California and close friends in Seattle. Then they will celebrate.

“We’ll go first-class,” Laura Siegelman said. “And I’ll be drinking Champagne.”

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

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