One of the reasons I've not yet become a citizen, despite being out here for over a decade is because the US and the UK do not observe dual citizenship, unless you happen to be born with parents from each nation (although a lot of 'aliens' I know hold 'secret' dual nationality). Basically, if I chose to agree to bear arms for this dear country, then I would technically have to relinquish my rights to being a British citizen - and quite frankly after watching Sicko, not bloody likely!! Also, Anna has dual citizenship and so will any future K-spawn, and in this increasingly unstable world giving them the opportunity to hedge their bets citizenship-wise seems no bad thing. I have visions of them flitting between Berkeley, and the Sorbonne, living for a year in Paris then Prague, just because they can; whereas I'm sure they will actually use their US/EU citizenship to bum around Europe in a VW van until they find some equally directionless creature to marry so that they can live thousands of miles away from me.
Just like their dear old mother.
Anyway, I am a little conflicted about the issue of jury duty, err, I mean citizenship. Unlike a lot of immigrants to this country, I did not move here for the chance of a better life (Lord knows), I moved here in hot pursuit of some fine California ass. I do feel some form of obligation to the States though. I understand that citizenship for me, is not a right it is a privilege. I should support my adoptive country with more than my taxes, I should be more involved. I know that I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to move here, live life on the other side and move on from that deeply ingrained opinion that America=arrogance, waste, conspicuous consumption and insularity that most non-Americans hold.
The main reason I will not become an American citizen any time soon is because of the US Immigration Service.
Does any native-born American have any real idea how rude, inefficient, degrading, chronically underfunded and understaffed the INS is? I suppose if they did you'd hear fewer stories about how awful the DMV is. The DMV is a cupcake picnic compared to immigration.
I've been meaning to write a post about my experiences, but quite honestly even years after the event I am still so angry at the way I was treated that I can only throw down a couple of 'gems' by way of bullet-points. Spit them out as it were:
- The Los Angeles INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) opens at 6am, the line starts forming at what, 4am? I live over two hours away. If you arrive at 6am and get to the back of the queue, chances are you won't get in because they have already seen their quota for the day.
- My fingerprints expired 3 (three) times during my 'adjustment of status'. The third time I had them done I had a small cut on one finger, which rendered my fingerprints 'invalid', but they failed to notify me of this, and closed my case.
- I had to get 'parole' each time I went back to the UK and wished to re-enter the United States, so that I could keep my green card application ongoing. The second time I applied for 'parole' they sent it to me with page 7 unsigned. Stamped, but unsigned. When I arrived at Atlanta airport they allowed me to carry on to LAX but took my passport from me and promised it would be returned. After hours or frenzied phonecalls, misdirected transfers and hang-ups I had to drive down to LA one month later, and stand in line at 5am to get it back.
- When they take your photo at the INS there is a big sign that states 'if you blink you will be charged $10'. There are also posters everywhere in the INS building alerting people to overpopulation in the United States. As if they're trying to say, 'no breeding on the premises you filthy immigrant breeders'.
- When I received my notice of receipt of application, the only piece of paper I was to get from the INS for a couple of years, my 'alien number' had been transposed by whatever muppet had filled in the form. For the next 4 and half years I had to explain at every work permit application, parole hearing, and fingerprinting, that I was not in fact Kim Phan from Vietnam.
- Each INS official has a sign next to him/her that states 'we will not answer questions'. If you blurt out 'but am I even in the right line?', they will keep their heads down and gently tap the sign with their pen.
- When I finally had my green card interview, four years later, the INS official said 'you guys don't have any kids?' (we gave you enough time, dammit). When we shook our heads he said 'Pets?' He then asked me to verify my phone number, that we filed our taxes jointly, then he apologized and said my fingerprints had expired (no joke) and my application would be held up until I got them redone. I was more amazed that he'd apologized than the fact that my fingerprints had expired again.
- About three weeks after we went down to LA for the eleventy-billionth time to appeal that our case should not be closed, that my fingerprints were in fact valid, that I was not in fact, Kim Phan, my green card with arrived stealth-like anti-climax in the mail.
I realize that getting an immigrant application in Southern California probably means I witnessed the worst side to the INS, and that hopefully people in North Dakota, Michigan and Washington are sailing through the requisite hoops with smiles all round. I would also like to say that for the record, the first time I re-entered the US with my Green Card, the immigration official at LAX smiled at me and said 'welcome back Ma'am'.
My point, to this diatribe, is that there is a general misconception in this country that it is somehow easy to immigrate here. That you just stroll across the border, or sneak across, and then a couple of months later fill in the papers and you're in. The truth is that it is so amazingly difficult, but that the States has a border with a country where people would happily stand on their heads for five years if it meant the chance of a work permit here. These same people are met with incompetence, hostility, rudeness and contempt. Their first introduction to the bureaucracy in the country is the INS. What a terrifying thought.
I would have liked to have voted in this week's primaries, but I won't be doing so any time soon.