Who is Mia Love?
Everyone knows one answer to that question. She's the Republican running against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in Utah's 4th congressional district. She graduated from the University of Hartford with a degree in fine arts. She also is the mayor of Saratoga Springs, a mother of three, an avid runner and has been known to dazzle Republicans with her singing voice at Republican get-togethers.
And Love never misses an opportunity to tell about how her parents came to the country with only $10 in their pockets and a hope for a better life.
But even though Love is the one who brings up her parents' immigration story, she refuses to answer questions on the topic. Why the secrecy? It may trace to her parents' status in the U.S. at the time of her birth.
Love's parents reportedly arrived in the U.S. in 1973 -- likely on tourist visas, according to one expert -- leaving a child behind in Haiti. The story goes that the parents moved to New York, where Love was born.
Because of U.S. law then in place allowing parents of a U.S.-born child to stay in the country, Love has said, they eventually were able to call for their other child who had been left in Haiti. They were subsequently reunited as a family and moved to Connecticut.
Love usually smiles with pride as she tells the last part of the story of how, on the day she left for college, her father pulled her aside and said: "Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society. You will give back."
Love claims those words have echoed in her mind throughout her life, reminding her not to depend on others for handouts but to be someone who works hard and gives back.
Liberal-leaning Mother Jones magazine dug deeper into Love's story and published an article last week that raised eyebrows about her past. Other questions have been added since: Were Love's parents legal immigrants -- or, more to the point, were they legal at the time Mia was born in 1975? Had they entered the country legally on tourist visas and then overstayed? Was Mia a so-called "anchor baby" whose birth to illegal immigrants was then used to put the family on a fast track to citizenship?
The anchor baby topic is a potentially thorny one for Love, who at least one news report presented as a hard-line critic of illegal immigrants. Love has not made immigration an issue in her current campaign for Congress.
Mother Jones also quoted a 2011 Deseret News interview with Love in which she explained that her birth allowed her parents to become citizens because of a law in place at that time that expired after her birth. Yet immigration lawyers and U.S. officials were unaware of any such law, the report said, that would have allowed her parents to obtain permanent residency because of her birth.
Now it appears that there was, in fact, such a law in place in the 1970s. A report by Forbes magazine last week appears to establish that fact conclusively, although it's still unclear whether Love's parents were in the country legally at the time of her birth.
It's possible they were in legal status, but no one can say for sure without a review of documents. And Love is not releasing documents.
Her parents may have renewed their temporary tourist visas, or they may have overstayed them -- as many illegal immigrants now in the U.S. have done in recent years.
"Who would blame Mia Love's parents if they stayed for a time in the country illegally? Haiti was a brutal place in the 1970s, offering little hope for their children or, indeed, anyone's children," Forbes wrote.
The anchor baby law referenced by Love expired in 1977, according to Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney with Lane Powell, who was quoted in the Forbes article. Stock is an expert on birthright citizenship.
Stock and other attorneys confirmed that the law in force in 1975 could have allowed Love's parents to gain residency because of their daughter's birth, thus putting them on a path to citizenship, Forbes reported.
The State Department's Foreign Affairs manual at the time states:
"9 FAM 42.53 N4 Former Western Hemisphere Priority Dates (CT:VISA-1545; 09-27-2010)
a. Until 1976, aliens born in independent countries of the Western Hemisphere and the Canal Zone were identified as "Western Hemisphere immigrants" upon establishment of status by obtaining a labor certification or being exempt there-from as the parent, spouse, or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) alien.
b. A native of the Western Hemisphere who established a priority date with a consular officer prior to January 1, 1977 and who was found to be entitled to an exemption from the labor certification requirement of INA 212(a)(5)(A) (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(5)(A)) as the parent, spouse, or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) alien will continue to be exempt from that requirement, and will retain the priority date for so long as the relationship upon which the exemption is based continues to exist."
"The quota system was different back then," Forbes wrote. "Having a baby in the U.S. and registering for immigration as a Western Hemisphere immigrant before the deadline could allow adult parents during that time to be eligible for immigrant visas ... ."
If Love's parents were not legal immigrants at the time of her birth, then the candidate for Congress would be an example of what many ultra-conservative Republicans (including some Love supporters) have denounced -- children of undocumented immigrants being granted citizenship just because they were born in the U.S. Yet birth on U.S. soil is a primary criterion for citizenship under the U.S. Constitution.
Conservatives such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have argued that illegal immigrants have used the birth of a child in the United States as a strategy to put them on the road to naturalization. Lee supports legislation that would end this practice.
Love contends that her parents did everything they could to be legal citizens in the U.S.
"They became U.S. citizens legally ... my parents never called me that," Love said in reference to the term anchor baby.
Love has been pushed by local and national media outlets to discuss the situation further but doesn't respond. Her campaign did not allow the Daily Herald to interview her and her family on the topic.
State Republican Party chairman Thomas Wright, who has served as a media surrogate for the Love campaign, said Love is not taking questions on the issue anymore and pointed out that it was unfair and inappropriate for people to ask Love what her parents' intentions were when she was born.
"This line of questioning isn't going to solve the questions facing our country," Wright said.
With no clear answers, though, speculation is filling the void.
Brigham Young University political science professor Adam Brown observed that Love isn't the only candidate looking to keep private family information private this election. Brown pointed to Mitt Romney and his tax returns as another example of a candidate hoping to keep personal information shielded from the public's eye.
Brown noted that Love's decision to keep her family situation private is only one factor of many that will determine whether she is elected in November.
"For many people the most important factor is general ideology and party persuasion," Brown said. "I don't think avoiding a topic will necessarily make a candidate unable to win."