Becoming an American

by Harry on April 18, 2014

I became a US citizen earlier today.

Most native-born Americans have relatively little interaction with the immigration services. It might come as a relief to those of you who worry about the reputation of the US for racism that even for many of us who are white, well-educated, male, native-English speakers, most of our interactions with the immigration services are quite unpleasant. In my case the worst was being interrogated by an armed man for several hours shortly after arriving at an airport in Pennsylvania about one month post-9/11 and being threatened first with permanent deportation, and then with imprisonment without trial (fortunately, I did not yet know enough about what was possible to take the latter threat seriously); my offense was green-card related, but most of the interview, including the threats, was conducted after the official had already acknowledged to me that I had, in fact, not broken the conditions on the green card. Most other interactions have fallen on a spectrum ranging from hostility to extreme surliness. I remember how good it felt, once, re-entering the US to a greeting of “welcome home” from an immigration officer.

So I didn’t expect that this was going to be a pleasant experience. It has involved three drives to Milwaukee (actually, I love Milwaukee, and welcome any opportunity to go there,—going for 10 minute appointments, though, is non-ideal), the first for fingerprints, the second for the interview, and today’s for the ceremony. In fact, it has been as close to delightful as I could have wished. The fingerprint man chatted away about his daughter’s decision to colour her hair purple. The woman who interviewed me was amused that the magistrate’s court where I received my only criminal conviction has lost its records, and that the police station from which I was released after my only other arrest was uncontactable by email or phone (they did, eventually, respond to my hard-copy letter, telling me that they had passed it on to the LAPD central office—I have heard nothing more); she seemed to regard the nature of the arrests (Miners Strike 1985; Justice for Janitors 1991) as an asset. I anticipated today’s ceremony being transactional at best. There were 80 of us and, while I was alone [1], everyone else had family with them; so, due to security measures of dubious worth, it took us over an hour to get into the Courthouse, so the ceremony began one hour late. But the officers of the court were in celebratory mood, and the judge made it clear that this was the most pleasant of all her duties. I was able, mercifully, to make the oath in good conscience; but the oath was not moving to me at all (and I do not think I was alone in that). Afterwards, once we had all officially become citizens, the judge kindly read the long list of 40 or so countries from which we all originated, asking us to raise our hands when our country was read out. She reminded us never to forget where we came from, and explained that we knew more about the politics, history, and law-making processes than most native-born Americans, but that we should feel that our customs and cultures are welcome as part of the country we have joined. Going through her list she stopped occasionally to greet people. There were more from Mexico than from any other country and when they raised their hands she looked one to another and said, warmly, “We’re so glad that you are here”.[3]

After the ceremony the Frenchman and his wife teased me about being British, and observed that now we are both American we could abandon our rivalry.

I’ve never felt allegiance to the people who rule Britain, so disavowing allegiance to them was no hardship. I’ll never feel American, I am pretty sure of that. But I don’t feel British either; I identify as English, and Wisconsinite. But when I hear my children sing first song below at school, I choke up, just as much as I would if I could ever hear them sing the one after it. Both songs, as Al Stewart would say, proving that most people never listen to the lyrics (or understand them when they do):

So, for now, with the blessing of the judge, a glass of vintage port, an episode of Dr. Who, then I’ll drift off to sleep listening to ISIHAC.

[1] A few days ago 2 of my students [2] joked that they would come for a ride to Milwaukee with me, and I ignored them, thinking they were joking, then panicked that I had been rude; but, mercifully, they had been joking, and introduced me to the term YOLO, which sums up pretty well the way I have not lived my life.

[2] Who could be the subjects of this discussion between Hardy and Steele. They have enthusiasm. Its nice.

[3] I was warned ahead of time about the most anxiety-provoking part of the whole thing—giving up your green card, after never being more than a few feet away from it for more than two decades. I warn anyone who takes this step—the moment of surrender is very traumatic.

{ 72 comments }

1

Henry 04.18.14 at 3:58 am

I never brought my green card around with me except when traveling for departure and reentry – too worried that I’d lose it (I used to lose wallets with dismaying regularity for a bit there). Congratulations. It sounds as though it was a perfectly lovely experience. The one bit that I found unfortunate was the Q&A on US history and politics that you had to learn, where “states’ rights” is an acceptable answer to the question of what caused the civil war.

2

Corey Robin 04.18.14 at 4:05 am

Thanks, Harry. I really enjoyed this. And mazel tov!

3

Neil Levy 04.18.14 at 4:07 am

It might be different for green card holders; I have only ever entered the US as a visitor. But I frequently pass through immigration in the UK and the US, and there is no doubt that the UK is much worse.

4

MPAVictoria 04.18.14 at 5:47 am

Congrats! May it bring you happiness and success.

:-)

5

Chris Bertram 04.18.14 at 7:04 am

Don’t darken our door again!

6

John Holbo 04.18.14 at 7:12 am

Congrats from Singapore!

7

Jonathan Cook 04.18.14 at 7:28 am

As a Madison native who now is a British subject living near Macclesfield, congratulations! The US –> UK version is much less traumatic though still annoying at times. The ceremony was odd. Swearing an oath of allegiance to Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was odd. And her representative was the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, a very tall polished man. He admonished us to be British and (I’m not kidding) to not steal things. OTOH, many local public service providers used it as an opportunity to meet and greet and sign people up for voting, smoke detectors, etc. Having two passports is delightful though! Short line both ways across the Atlantic . . .

8

Niall McAuley 04.18.14 at 7:35 am

The oath, per Wikipedia. I wouldn’t have any difficulty with that (assuming I wanted to be a US citizen).

In our last Presidential election here in Ireland, it came out that one of the candidates had become a US citizen many years before, and questions were asked about how she could be Head of State of a country when she had absolutely and entirely renounced and abjured all allegiance and fidelity that country.

9

NomadUK 04.18.14 at 8:24 am

Well, congrats. Truthfully, there are a lot of other countries I would rather be a citizen of (one of which is the UK — and by extension the EU — and so I am), but I happened to be born there, and that blue passport is pretty handy at US airports. And, as it turns out, I’ll be heading back, to Vermont, for a long stay in the company of a very nice woman, so it’ll be handy for work purposes. Otherwise, meh. God save the Queen!

Still, welcome to the club.

(And Jonathan Cook@7, my oath was taken at Oxford, and it was exactly like that — including a nice portrait of HM overseeing the ceremony. There were exactly two Americans in a multicoloured sea of 100 or more people from over a dozen different countries. And we had tea and cakes. I’d memorised the first verse of ‘God Save the Queen’, and sang it reasonably well, I think. And, yes, one winds up knowing — at least for awhile, until memory fails — far more about the country than 99.9% of the natives — but, of course, immigrants are the cause of all our problems, as any Daily Mail reader knows.)

10

Ciarán 04.18.14 at 9:37 am

I ignored them, thinking they were joking, then panicked that I had been rude; but, mercifully, they had been joking, and introduced me to the term YOLO, which sums up pretty well the way I have not lived my life.

Yup, English alright!

11

Main Street Muse 04.18.14 at 10:04 am

My mother was Irish and became an American citizen only with reluctance.

One of my student’s became a citizen last week. Our class clapped when he returned.

Madison is awesome. Do you ever go to Chicago? When I lived in IL, I enjoyed my trips over the border in the land of cheeseheads and Packer fans. We loved camping on Rock Island up past Door County.

12

Alan Peakall 04.18.14 at 10:28 am

Congratulations.

I vaguely recall an anecdote about a reporter for The Economist who made the mistake of leaving his green card at his hotel when visiting a detention center to investigate conditions for illegal immigrants held there, and had to have it couriered to him before he was allowed to leave.

13

Barry 04.18.14 at 12:41 pm

Congratulations!

14

Steve LaBonne 04.18.14 at 1:01 pm

Congratulations. I’m saddened that it was partly the result of a push from our appalling immigration system, but honored that you have officially chosen to throw in your lot with us. In our current condition we definitely need you and people like you more than you need us.

(“This Land Is Your Land”, with ALL the verses, should be our national anthem.)

15

Matt 04.18.14 at 1:01 pm

My wife almost never carries her greencard. This makes me nervous, as officially it’s supposed to be carried at all times, and I have fears of immigration holds if anything unusual were to happen, though I suspect that with a valid US driver’s license and a middle-class European appearance she’ll mostly be okay.

Neil at 3- that’s interesting. I’ve been to the UK only twice, but both times were fast, easy, and friendly at passport control- generally more friendly than returning to the US as a citizen.

Niall at 8- that’s interesting, too, as becoming a high official for a different country is one of the few grounds for removing U.S. citizenship from a naturalized citizen. (This was an issue w/ Valdas Adamkus, former president of Lithuania, who was a naturalized US citizen. He renounced his US citizenship before running [that’s also actually pretty hard to do], but likely would have been stripped of it upon election, anyway.)

And congratulations, Harry. Keep the certificate of naturalization in a safe place, and apply for a US passport ASAP (but keep the British one up to date, too.)

16

Harry 04.18.14 at 1:13 pm

I’m onto the passport; applying tomorrow. As for the green card, the fact that I had it on my person permanently outside of my home tells you something about how excessively law abiding I am.

Yes, I have always found the UK, like Canada and Ireland (the two other countries I have visited frequently) delightful places to enter. Especially Ireland, a country which has some small excuse for not being especially welcoming to people like me.

17

alkali 04.18.14 at 1:41 pm

Congratulations. I am sorry about our immigration system (mine and yours both, now).

18

Ronan(rf) 04.18.14 at 1:49 pm

Afaict, the policy in Ireland is that they’re extra nice to you coming and going so you forget everything that happened in between.

19

Niall McAuley 04.18.14 at 2:07 pm

Ah, now, Harry, what’s 800 years of oppression between friends?

20

Cranky Observer 04.18.14 at 2:50 pm

= = = I’ll never feel American, I am pretty sure of that. But I don’t feel British either; I identify as English, and Wisconsinite. = = =

Sounds as if you been thoroughly US-ized then ;-)

21

Witt 04.18.14 at 2:58 pm

Welcome! It’s nice that you had a courthouse ceremony; in my experience those often end up being the most meaningful, in part because it’s generally perceived as a happy change of routine for the justices.

Here in the big city they usually only assign you to a courthouse ceremony if you are changing your name; I assume you were not doing that, but Milwaukee is of course much smaller.

It sounds like you missed out the video with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” as a soundtrack — be grateful for that, although tbh some of the American-landscape-and-people images are gorgeous and stirring, it’s the song that grates.

22

Doug K 04.18.14 at 4:23 pm

we had a courthouse ceremony, in Denver. I found this quite moving, all the varieties of cultures and individuals going into the melting pot.. Ethiopians, Koreans, and others who had probably looked into hellmouth before arriving here.

Like you, went straight out and applied for a passport, needed a security token to replace the green card ;-)

I am grateful to America for taking us in, but these Americans are crazy..

23

Boomerang 04.18.14 at 4:37 pm

I moved to the US from the UK as a student and ended up staying for many years during which I became a US citizen. Now that I have returned to the UK, I find that my US citizenship is a huge liability. The US and Eritrea are the only two countries in the world practicing citizenship taxation. I usually don’t pay any actual tax to the US but I do have to file a huge stack of US tax forms which even with my math PhD are hard to understand. Others have to pay specialists thousands to complete these useless forms. Now thanks FATCA, banks are closing US person accounts so soon I’ll need to go off to the US embassy to rid myself of this burden just to survive. US citizenship is great if you live in the US but the worst citizenship to have if you don’t. Look before you leap.

24

TheSophist 04.18.14 at 6:04 pm

If I might ask, why did you choose to become an American? I came over in 77 (7/7/77 to be exact) and still have a green card and a UK passport. When my students ask why I tell them:
1. I want to keep the option of going back to the UK (or, obviously, elsewhere in the EU to work.
2. (Somewhat facetious) If I’m ever on a plane that’s hijacked, they’ll shoot the Americans first.
3. (And you hint at this yourself) I just don’t feel American, and don’t think I ever will.

But even though you’ve made a choice that I didn’t, let me add one more voice to the chorus of congratulations.

25

john b 04.18.14 at 6:13 pm

I find the concept of someone left-leaning identifying as English and not British weird – but that doubtless reflects my Anglo-Welsh-Jewish heritage (with “English” consisting of bigots and “British” consisting of the people whose culture I share), and is an argument I’ve had many times and will again…

TheSophist: you don’t actually need to give up your UK passport to accept US citizenship these days (it may have done in the past, if so I’m not sure when it ended).

26

Pat 04.18.14 at 6:17 pm

… I identify as English, and Wisconsinite.

Maaaaannnn there’s a joke about terrible food in there somewhere.

Obviously I’m happy for you—this is something you wanted, and you should be congratulated for having gotten it. As an ex-pat jealous of the social democratic traditions and (shall we say) more thoroughly steeped cultural traditions of other countries, my own relationship with my citizenship prevents me from saying congratulations and really meaning it. A couple years after I moved to Germany (f.d., I’ve since moved… uh, thence), I wound up meeting Germans and other Western Europeans who had moved to, or wanted to move to, the U.S. I never really knew what to make of them….

27

Steve LaBonne 04.18.14 at 6:26 pm

Maaaaannnn there’s a joke about terrible food in there somewhere.

Except for cheese!

28

js. 04.18.14 at 7:11 pm

In fact, it has been as close to delightful as I could have wished.

This fits with my experience insofar as it seemed to me the people got nicer as you moved through the process. In the early application stages, it was like dealing with morose alien robots who’d just as soon lock you up as say hello. By the end, it was the nicest people in the world. And Faneuil Hall was a pretty great location for the ceremony.

One of the most memorable things was a questionnaire or some such at some stage of the process, where the first question was (as best as I can remember it):

Are you or have you ever been a member of a Nazi, fascist or communist party?

Something like that. And maybe it wasn’t the first question. Given my background (growing up around lots of commies in the mother country), it was mind-blowing. And this was in ’97, well after the collapse of the USSR, etc. Does this still happen?

29

Neil Levy 04.18.14 at 8:21 pm

I suspect my experiences reflects the general crackdown on academic visitors to the UK. If I simply lied aand said I was a tourist, my Australian passport would have me waved through. As it, I am grilled every time and have been taken for further questioning twice. Perhaps they suspect me of looting the store of British knowledge.

30

Matt 04.18.14 at 9:22 pm

One of the most memorable things was a questionnaire or some such at some stage of the process, where the first question was (as best as I can remember it):

Are you or have you ever been a member of a Nazi, fascist or communist party?

Something like that. And maybe it wasn’t the first question. Given my background (growing up around lots of commies in the mother country), it was mind-blowing. And this was in ’97, well after the collapse of the USSR, etc. Does this still happen?

This is semi-statutory, in that membership in these groups can be grounds for being inadmissable, and the regulations say they are supposed to ask about inadmissability grounds. People are typically asked if they “came to the US to engage in prostitution”, too, for example. When I act in the role of giving legal advice, I tell people that the answer to all of these questions is always either just “yes” or just “no”, as appropriate, and to not offer any commentary, no matter how tempting it might be.

31

Tom Slee 04.18.14 at 10:04 pm

I find the concept of someone left-leaning identifying as English and not British weird

I liked Billy Bragg’s effort to make it non-weird.

32

William Timberman 04.18.14 at 10:24 pm

A friend of mine, who’s lived in the U.S. for 20 years, and travels extensively, was preparing to embark on a long-planned trip to Patagonia and Antarctica shortly after obtaining her U.S. citizenship. At almost the very last minute she realized that a) she no longer had a green card, and b) she had also forgotten to apply for a U.S. passport. She could have traveled well enough on her Dutch passport, but suddenly had nightmares about not being let back in after her trip by the ogres of Homeland Security.

To make a long story short, a frenzied dash to the nearest passport-granting office resulted in her receiving her passport just in time to get on the plane and head south. I wonder, though, what would have happened had the timing been just a bit off….

33

js. 04.18.14 at 10:47 pm

This is semi-statutory, in that membership in these groups can be grounds for being inadmissable

I vaguely figured it was something like this — it was just extremely strange to see membership in a CP effectively equated with being a Nazi or a fascist party member. The former seemed just too… normal.

34

Joshua Holmes 04.18.14 at 11:13 pm

Even as a white American citizen by birth, and the son of white American citizens by birth, US customs always creeps me out. It’s an extension of that old joke about Americans freely badmouthing the president but being terrified of traffic cops. I can only imagine what INS and customs are like for anyone else. *shudder*

35

adam.smith 04.18.14 at 11:21 pm

This fits with my experience insofar as it seemed to me the people got nicer as you moved through the process. In the early application stages, it was like dealing with morose alien robots who’d just as soon lock you up as say hello. By the end, it was the nicest people in the world. And Faneuil Hall was a pretty great location for the ceremony.

haven’t made it to naturalization, but going through the greencard process, this was 100% my experience, too. Interesting.
I’ve also found, though, that the folks at the border have been getting nicer since about 2007/2008. Before that it felt like being frisked by prison guards, now I have pleasant chats (frequently about how horrible Obama is, but hey, progress…)

36

RobinM 04.19.14 at 12:26 am

Just for the record: Until I moved to California a few years ago I too used to think of myself as a Wisconsite, but I also thought of myself–and still do, as Scottish, British and European, though I’d emphasise one or other of these depending on the context I found myself in.

But to the point: I’ve always felt a bit anxious presenting my green card to an immigration official whenever I returned to the US. However, some years ago, in 2008 I think, I arrived back in the US from Australia with an out-of-date one. The official I finally dealt with was definitely not warm and cuddly; he was stern and professional. After half an hour spent consulting his computer–I couldn’t imagine there was that much information on me–he returned my card, gave me the forms to apply for a new one within a few weeks, and sent me on my way home to Berkeley. I still haven’t brought myself to apply for citizenship. Maybe the referendum vote on 18 September will help me make up my mind.

37

engels 04.19.14 at 12:39 am

Judas!

38

engels 04.19.14 at 1:02 am

Are you or have you ever been a member of a Nazi, fascist or communist party?

I seem to remember the question ‘are you a spy’ – and looking in vain for the answer ‘if I was, do you think I’d tell you?,’

39

kmurray 04.19.14 at 1:07 am

Congratulations.

As a resident alien with a UK passport living in the Great South West (Tucson AZ), I never leave home without my green card. Checkpoints everywhere, staffed by bored but heavily armed Border Patrol. Do not piss these guys off.

For other ex-pats/emigrants who don’t want to naturalize, don’t exceed the speed limit by more than 20mph. Don’t get caught with a blunt, don’t get charged with any one of thousands of petty offenses that are nevertheless counted as felonies. You see, a felony can be grounds for deportation. At a minimum, you’ll be paying a lawyer for some fancy footwork.

I’m on my third green card, but it’s my last. I’m finally going for citizenship.

40

Alan White 04.19.14 at 2:03 am

As a fellow UW Cheesehead, I must say I especially admire the fact that you’ve embraced citizenship in a state that just financed the tech schools in a higher percentage of support than any institution of the 26 campus UW System for gaining political advantage in an off-term election year by automatically lowering the tech’s tax levy to counties. I’m at the point of wishing some Commonwealth would recruit me! Anyway, any new liberal-minded voter in WI is most, most welcome!

41

Andrew Burday 04.19.14 at 2:17 am

Fwiw, my relevant experience is as an American who lived in Canada (on student visas) for several years in the 80s and 90s. I found that Canadian Customs almost always lived up to the cliche of the polite Canadian. (There was a very noticeable contrast with American Customs.) Canadian immigration, by contrast, ranged from supercilious to outright shitheads. My hypothesis about this is that Customs agents are looking for contraband in your stuff; but Immigration officials are required to treat you as potential contraband. Immigration control is just inherently dehumanizing. As you approach citizenship, you approach human status.

Aside from that, congratulations I guess?

42

Matt 04.19.14 at 2:32 am

For other ex-pats/emigrants who don’t want to naturalize, don’t exceed the speed limit by more than 20mph. Don’t get caught with a blunt, don’t get charged with any one of thousands of petty offenses that are nevertheless counted as felonies. You see, a felony can be grounds for deportation. At a minimum, you’ll be paying a lawyer for some fancy footwork.

That’s rather over-put, but it’s probably good to stay well on the right side of the line. (For example, the only real exception to the “violation of a law relating to a controlled substance” ground for removal is for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana.) This is an under-appreciated reason to naturalize. No one expects to be convicted of a crime that could make them removeable (even people doing such things regularly), but it’s not really that hard to do such a thing. Naturalized citizens are almost impossible to remove.

43

Meredith 04.19.14 at 5:38 am

Cranky Observer@20: “= = = I’ll never feel American, I am pretty sure of that. But I don’t feel British either; I identify as English, and Wisconsinite. = = =

Sounds as if you been thoroughly US-ized then ;-)”
+
Doug K@22: “I am grateful to America for taking us in, but these Americans are crazy..”

= got it right.

Welcome — now you, too, (legally) have “a song, to, sing, all over this land.” A lot of work ahead, but it will be fun, too. There is a lot of good cheese everywhere, and beer, beautiful skies and rivers, industrial sublime galore, and so many different kinds of people, all a little crazy, perhaps definitely.

44

Keith 04.19.14 at 6:44 am

The educated Man is a Citizen of the world.

All these details will be forgotten when there is a world Government.

45

Nine 04.19.14 at 7:32 am

Matt@22 – “This is an under-appreciated reason to naturalize. No one expects to be convicted of a crime that could make them removeable”

Prior to the citizenship interview I obsessed over whether the interviewer might see my drunken and disorderly/public intoxication convictions (2) as fulfilling the “moral turpitude” clause for removal. He didn’t make anything of it – possibly because of my post-rehab existence as an excessively bland silicon valley burgher (i was told that DUI or possession might have been terminal). The naturalization ceremony itself was welcoming and very efficient in all ways. USA USA USA !

Congratulations to Professor Harry, btw.

46

Margaret 04.19.14 at 1:10 pm

What does thinking of yourself as a Wisconsinite feel like?

47

chris y 04.19.14 at 1:45 pm

>Matt @30:

Q. Is it your intention to subvert the Government of the United States by force?

A. Sole purpose of visit.

(Broadcaster Gilbert Harding on Visa application at some point in the 1950s)

48

marek 04.19.14 at 3:20 pm

And for a bit of context, an article from the Guardian yesterday on the experience of becoming a UK citizen:

Inside a dome-shaped auditorium in north London, they fashion British citizens. Mass production – 28 this day, over 40,000 ushered through Brent civic centre over the past decade. Lives communally changed in a ceremony the essentials of which took no more than 10 minutes. Applicants swore or affirmed the oath and then stood bemused as a recorded choir trilled the national anthem.

First up was Adnan Alrashid, a minicab driver whose journey began in Kuwait. He was so excited that he dropped his certificate. “There is freedom here and human rights,” he explained. “You can talk everything that is in your heart.” Audrey Houston Thomas, a care worker from Jamaica, followed. “There is so much opportunity,” she said. Abdul Hadi, originally from Afghanistan, who took the pledge in 2007, chaperoned his cousin, also Abdul. And the attraction? The question itself took him aback. “It is a safe country,” he declared. “There is justice.”

49

Niall McAuley 04.19.14 at 3:59 pm

Keith writes: All these details will be forgotten when there is a world Government.

I don’t think so: Dublin and Cork have been part of the same country, or at least crushed under the boot of the same colonial oppressor (Hi Harry!), for hundreds of years, but there is no sign that the cultural differences and rivalry between the two. are going away.

50

Andrew F. 04.19.14 at 9:35 pm

Congratulations Henry.

As far as “feeling American” goes… I’m not sure what that is, exactly. “American” is frequently used in an aspirational sense, rather than a descriptive one. When one begins to feel attached to, or to have a strong belief in, an aspirational usage of the term, I’d say one is either close or already there.

And agreed on the “states rights” answer, though I’d give credit for recognizing it as a contributing factor.

51

Maria 04.20.14 at 7:59 am

Congrats, Harry!

52

engels 04.20.14 at 5:54 pm

I find the concept of someone left-leaning identifying as English and not British weird

One way it might not be weird: left-leaning ~ sympathetic to Welsh, Scots autonomy ~ sceptical of concept of ‘Britain’

53

Diana Brighouse 04.20.14 at 6:17 pm

Wow. I guess congratulations are in order, although I have to confess to feeling surprisingly discombobulated to find that the only cousin with whom I feel significant affinity has become an American citizen.
I suppose my discomfiture is mainly to do with how someone whom I’d assumed to be at heart a liberal socialist could willingly sign up to the flagship nation of free market capitalism. I agree things are no better here, but we didn’t have to sign up to being English (and I agree, I feel English rather than British).
But equally important to me is being European, with all the history and culture implied by that. I feel the influence of our grandmother in feeling a weight of history, and the significance that a sense of heritage brings.
Anyway, good luck, and don’t lose touch completely. If you send your current email I will update you on family goings on!

54

Bill Gardner 04.20.14 at 9:21 pm

Most native-born Americans have relatively little interaction with the immigration services. It might come as a relief to those of you who worry about the reputation of the US for racism that even for many of us who are white, well-educated, male, native-English speakers, most of our interactions with the immigration services are quite unpleasant.

We’re engaged in a long slow process of becoming Canadians. The rules are somewhat goofy. We had to spend a full day in Charlottetown proving our fluency in English. But most of our interactions with the Canadian Border Services people have been pleasant.

55

nick s 04.21.14 at 5:24 pm

I don’t carry my green card most of the time because, as the person who conducted my interview noted in an unofficial capacity, if you lose your wallet it’s a right royal pain to replace it. I’m also not likely to be travelling to papers-please states any time soon.

From what I can tell, the bureaucracy definitely becomes less hostile and Kafkaesque the closer one gets to naturalization, perhaps because that’s the side that’s more exposed to born-in-the-USA Americans and elected politicians, who are otherwise pretty ignorant of that chunk of government. It’s an industrial process to produce Americans, a bit like the meat industry: the public gets to see the prime cuts, not the slaughterhouses.

I’m nearing the point where my GC is up for renewal, and the cost is designed to nudge people towards citizenship; I’m not ready to make that leap yet, in spite of the pragmatic advantages, in part because of the whole “becoming a [nationality]” thing. Unlike Harry, I feel more British than English, but I feel more northern than both, which is more about allegiance to a sensibility than a state: part of the great continuity that extends to Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor.

56

Eszter Hargittai 04.22.14 at 12:33 am

Congratulations!

I don’t have any horrible memories of the process from a couple of years ago. I did like that my brother and I became citizens just a few weeks apart. While I often still feel that I am not native when in the US, when I’m abroad, I very much feel that I’m at least in part American (aside from the legalities).

I’d never had horror stories with entry into the US or even US embassies (I had experiences at the ones in Budapest, Bern and Toronto, all reasonable especially in the past 15 years). My worst-ever related experience concerned the Canadian embassy in NYC. It was horrid and I have never really had much desire to go to Canada ever since then. (I think I may have visited once or twice in the decade plus since that occasion, but avoid it whenever possible based on that experience.)

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John Quiggin 04.22.14 at 1:05 am

My impression of US entry is that the default setting is hostile, but that every now and then there is a big stuffup (like this one, some heads roll, and instructions are sent out to be nice, at least to the kind of people who can make a fuss that will be heard.

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dsquared 04.22.14 at 11:45 pm

Didn’t this used to be a British blog? Chris is now the only regular poster who is English. (I am, of course, as well as scandalously intermittent, a rootless citizen of global finance capital)

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David (Kid Geezer). 04.23.14 at 2:17 am

Qualified congratulations (take that as you will). Don’t forget to vote.

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engels 04.25.14 at 2:17 am

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

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Bill Gardner 04.25.14 at 2:24 am

D^2: Didn’t this used to be a British blog? Chris is now the only regular poster who is English.

The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, but always moves toward dissipation of energy and dispersion of matter. Of course, this results in a lot of new Americans.

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Matt 04.25.14 at 2:45 am

The funny thing about the oath that Engels quotes is how little practical content it has. Swearing to give up allegiance to a foreign prince or sovereign doesn’t mean you have to give up other citizenship, or do anything in practice. The “bearing arms” bit is hardly a change from LPR status, as permanent residents in the US may be drafted (and of course can serve voluntarily) if there is a draft. An LPR could try to avoid that by leaving the country, but then, so could a citizen w/ dual citizenship. What “defend the constitution” means isn’t clear, either- no one knows, really. The only part that is really serious is the bit about allegiance to a foreign potentate. We here in the US really won’t stand for that. If you must have allegiance to a potentate, we insist it be a domestic one. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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engels 04.25.14 at 3:35 am

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engels 04.25.14 at 9:35 am

You say potentate, I say potentahto, let’s call the whole thing off.

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Niall McAuley 04.25.14 at 10:01 am

Matt writes: Swearing to give up allegiance to a foreign prince or sovereign doesn’t mean you have to give up other citizenship, or do anything in practice.

Eliding the princes and sovereigns, it begins:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign state of which I have heretofore been a citizen”

That’s a pretty strong “form of words”, even if it does not formally require me to give up my Irish citizenship.

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engels 04.25.14 at 10:14 am

Just don’t cheer for them in the World Cup. Or if you do, expect a knock on the door…

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Matt 04.25.14 at 10:41 am

That’s a pretty strong “form of words”, even if it does not formally require me to give up my Irish citizenship.

Oh, I suppose (though not more than in many other countries), but I’ll admit that it does seem to me that the only real question is “what is the practical effect of saying this?”, and the answer is “you can have US citizenship”, and nothing else. No one will make you do anything else, or feel anything else. Your immortal soul will be fine, and you won’t loose a single right or power if, both in your heart and in your speech, you don’t, in fact, abjure your allegiance to Ireland. In fact, your right to do so would be _better_ protected as a citizen of the US living in the US than they would be as permanent resident. I mean, growing up I used to pledge allegiance to the US flag all the time, but even at the time, I knew that didn’t really mean anything, because it had no legal force. That’s essentially the same here.

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engels 04.25.14 at 11:42 am

I don’t understand: if I declare or claim to abjure something, on oath, that I do not in fact believe or abjure then how will my immortal soul be fine (unless we’re all sure I don’t have one)?

I’ll admit that it does seem to me that the only real question is “what is the practical effect of saying this?” … No one will make you do anything else, or feel anything else.

Would that also be the case with wedding vows, say? Iirc there’s usually a lot of stuff in those that doesn’t have legal force but people seem to care quite a lot about what it says. Isn’t forcing someone to publicly commit to something in itself an attempt to make them feel something?

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Matt 04.25.14 at 12:49 pm

Isn’t forcing someone to publicly commit to something in itself an attempt to make them feel something?

Well, I’m not sure I see the “forcing” here. These things are obviously aspirational, as are wedding vows, but if you fail to live up to them, there’s no consequence, and it’s known that there is no consequence, so it can’t plausibly be thought to have anything more than aspirational impact.

I’m pretty sure that even people who think oaths have power over one’s soul think you have to actually mean it when you say it for it to do so- they are not magic words that have power just by being said, as otherwise you could trick people into saying them and then bind them.

As for wedding vows, people who write them themselves of course find them meaningful, but that’s because they wrote them themselves, to express their own views. That’s obviously different from this oath, and this difference is blindingly obvious, so it’s not clear to me how anyone who thinks about it could be confused.

I should add that I’d change the oath if it were up to me. I don’t think that the aspirational content is things we should really aspire to. (And, if I were to become a citizen of a commenwealth country and have to swear allegiance to the Queen, or whatever one says, I’d feel a bit gross about saying such a thing, but not think had any impact.) But it would seem simply silly, a mistake, to let this stop anyone who saw real benefit in becoming a citizen of any particular country.

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The Temporary Name 04.25.14 at 2:53 pm

so it can’t plausibly be thought to have anything more than aspirational impact

The teary-eyed new citizen is a cliché for a reason I think.

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engels 04.25.14 at 7:34 pm

Thanks, Matt. I agree that it wouldn’t be a good reason to pass up citizenship but I was just surprised to hear that declaring on oath something one doesn’t truly hold doesn’t carry ethical implications. I know wedding vows _may_ be individually drafted but I think the cases are still comparable. One is making a solemn public declaration of one’s attitude to something ([other] partners, states) and while this doesn’t carry legal consequences I think it is possible to do it in good or bad faith, and reasonable to have moral qualms about the latter.

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The Temporary Name 04.25.14 at 7:40 pm

I have a workmate who describes the stresses of China and cries; her gratitude that another country will take her is great.

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