WWU Alum and Retired Teacher Gets to Stay in U.S.

Ruben Van Kempen (’92) was settling into retirement after a career of teaching theater at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. He directed a production of “Oklahoma” in Evansville, Indiana with plans to teach theater to youth around the country. He applied for Social Security and Medicare in February in advance of his 65th birthday, and fully expected to receive the benefits to which he had been contributing for 37 years. “I was crossing every T and dotting every I,” he says. 

Ruben Van Kempen

He submitted the proper documentation to Social Security and made plans for his upcoming free time. Van Kempen is of Dutch-Indonesian heritage and a 55-year resident of the U.S. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1962 when he was ten years old and became a citizen in 1982. At 65, he was planning to spend his retirement in theater education, directing plays, and traveling— not making appeals to elected officials, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

But instead of receiving confirmation of his status, Social Security denied his application. “I made seven phone calls to the Social Security Administration, none of which was returned. I was on hold with the Department of Homeland Security for an hour and 52 minutes before I heard someone’s voice.” The glitch originally occurred in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement program (SAVE), but landed in the Department of Homeland Security. 

Van Kempen, his wife Myrnie Van Kempen (’95) and his children are all citizens. Last year, Van Kempen was approved for TSA Pre-Check status, which requires a background check into residency and citizenship verification. A year later, after providing a passport, naturalization certificate, and Social Security card, his documentation did not satisfy government officials.

Van Kempen did not sit still. He called Senators Murray and Cantwell, and Representative Parmila Jayapal. Governor Inslee’s office also called Van Kempen upon hearing the story. “The gentleman from Inslee’s office was a former Roosevelt High School student, though he wasn’t my student, he remembered me.” 

The elected officials worked hard to get the problem resolved. And so far, it is—somewhat. “I have been assured that my Social Security payments will begin soon, and those are retroactive. But we’re not sure about my Medicare yet. Those may not be.” And as for his status? The Department of Homeland Security has yet to confirm his citizenship documentation. 

He is very conscious of what would happen if he didn’t have his documentation, if his status was in question, if, for some reason, he didn’t have access to elected officials. “

His daughter is getting married in France in the coming year. Van Kempen has a trip to Vancouver, B.C. planned soon. He is keeping his reservations. “I am going to travel,” he says.