George Santos’s Mother Was Not in New York on 9/11, Records Show
Representative George Santos of New York has said consistently that his mother, Fatima Devolder, was working at her office in the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Even as he altered his official biography to remove other false claims, Mr. Santos’s account of ties to the tragedy remained.
But official immigration documents reviewed by The New York Times on Wednesday directly contradict that claim, too.
In an application for a visa to enter the United States filed in 2003, Ms. Devolder said that she had left the country for Brazil in June 1999 and had not returned since. In earlier paperwork filed in June 2001, three months before the attacks, Ms. Devolder said that she had been unable to return to the United States since 1999 because her green card had been stolen in Brazil.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Santos, who represents parts of Queens and Long Island, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Mr. Santos’s apparently fabricated link to Sept. 11 marks yet another entry in a long list of falsehoods that he shared as he sought elected office. He attracted interest from federal and local investigators after The Times reported last month that he omitted details from financial disclosures and based his pitch to voters in New York on a series of lies about his real estate holdings, academic degrees and Wall Street career.
More on the George Santos Controversy
- Behind The Times’s Investigation: The Times journalists Michael Gold and Grace Ashford discuss how Representative George Santos was elected to Congress and how they discovered that he was a fraud.
- Split View: New York Republicans are ready to rid themselves of the newly elected representative after his pattern of deception was revealed. But House Republican leaders badly need his vote.
- Facing Inquiries: Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Santos committed crimes involving his finances or made misleading statements, while authorities in Brazil said they would revive a 2008 fraud case against him.
- Alternate Identities: A newly surfaced video shows Mr. Santos in 2019 using one of his alternate identities and urging members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community to embrace Republicans. The clip offers insight into Mr. Santos’s early forays into public political life.
Even as Mr. Santos’s web of falsehoods has angered his constituents and politicians from both sides of the aisle, lying about a connection to Sept. 11 has unique resonances in New York. But the claim that Mr. Santos’s mother witnessed the Sept. 11 attacks, which remained on his campaign website on Wednesday evening, marks the third notable occasion that Mr. Santos has appeared to falsely link himself to notorious tragedies.
In an interview after his election, Mr. Santos, who is gay, said that a company he had worked for “lost four employees” at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016. The Times reviewed news coverage and obituaries and found no evidence that could support the claim.
Mr. Santos, 34, has also said that his mother’s parents were Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Ukraine and “survived the Holocaust.” But reports by The Forward, a Jewish publication, and CNN found evidence that his grandparents had been born to Brazil.
Mr. Santos has said that he grew up hearing that his maternal grandparents were Jewish refugees who came to Brazil. But in immigration documents filed with the State Department, Ms. Devolder, who died in 2016, said that both of her parents were born in Brazil.
Those documents, and those that show Ms. Devolder was not in New York on Sept. 11, were provided to The Times by a researcher, Alex Calzareth, who obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request. Mr. Calzareth then shared them with The Times and other news outlets, including The Forward.
Mr. Santos’s links to the Sept. 11 attacks were already the subject of doubt. In a message posted on Twitter in July 2011, Mr. Santos said that the attacks “claimed my mothers life,” but on his campaign website, his biography said that Ms. Devolder “survived the tragic events on September 11th, but she passed away a few years later when she lost her battle to cancer.”
Mr. Santos had also previously said that his mother worked her way up to become “the first female executive at a major financial institution.” But on immigration documents, she described herself as a housekeeper and home aide.
Mr. Santos’s friends and former roommates have recalled Ms. Devolder as a hard-working, friendly woman who made her living cleaning homes and selling food. No one interviewed by The Times could recall her ever working in finance.