Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Naturally Naturalized

One of Talyn's cousins sons asked me, "Are you an illegal immigrant?", to which I replied, "Of course not." I'm proud to announce that, as of Nov. 4, 2009, I am a legally naturalized citizen of the United States.

What does that really mean? For starters, it means that I'm home free. That is, I'm free to stay and go as I please, and I have no papers or rules to worry about. I can vote, serve on a jury, and run for federal office. (but not for President, not that I was planning to)

I realize that many of you may not be familiar with the hoops that a non US citizen needs to go through to live in this country. Here is the (hopefully) quick summary of the process I had to go through: I first had to get a student visa for when I attended BYU, which is fairly easy to get/renew. Once you graduate, however, you have to gain permanent residency either through marriage (easier/quicker) or employment if you want to work for more than a year. Getting permanent residency essentially means filling out a ton of paper work, sending in a bunch of documentation, and forking over a stack of cash. And if you apply through your employer, you probably have to get a lawyer, too. Then after you're approved and get your "green card" (which isn't actually green), you wait for a couple years, prove you didn't get married just to get a green card, fill out more papers, send in more documentation, fork over more cash, and wait for another year. You're finally ready to apply for naturalization - which means filling out more papers, sending in more documentation, and forking over more cash. I'm just glad I didn't need a lawyer. Then you take a test, repeat an oath, and voila! You're a US citizen. Easy as pie.

Not really. This immigration process wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was no walk in the park. I had to call the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) help line several times just to make sure I was filling the forms out correctly, and I'm a college graduate whose first language is English. How can you expect someone from a 3rd world country who's learning English as a 5th language to fill those out? And to have the thousands of dollars necessary to pay the fees? Suddenly, the reason is clear why so many immigrants here are illegal.

Let me point out a couple example of pointless inefficiencies. The first appointment for my naturalization interview was scheduled on a day when I had planned on being on a river trip with some of Talyn's cousins. No problem, I thought, because the notice clearly stated that, if there was a problem with the set time, I could request it to be changed. There was no phone number I could call or website I could visit, so I had to go to the local USCIS office. When I arrived, the agent told me that I needed an appointment. Let me clarify: I needed to make an appointment to go and change my appointment. Wait a minute - I was already at the building, there was no one else there, and all I needed was a couple minutes to make this request. And I had to make an appointment to come back another day? Since I live just 15 min away, I didn't question it. But how absurd.

A similar story: my cousin, who got his citizenship a little over a year ago, used to live 3 hours from his local USCIS office. As he was approaching the building for one of his appoinments, he realized he had forgotten to bring the appointment notice. One would hope that, since he had his green card and other government-issued photo id, that they wouldn't mind if he didn't have the notice letter. Not so. He was turned away and had to make another appointment. An entire day and a tank of gas wasted.

Why do I point this out? Until the government fixes the immigration process, the problem of illegal immigration will never be solved. (wait, is Kevin expressing a political opinion?) Why spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time and effort to immigrate legally when one can simply overstay a visitors visa, work for questionable employers and have no worry of being deported? Don't get me wrong - I think it's completely wrong to do so, but many others think otherwise and they get away with it. I'm grateful that I could go through this process properly. I'm glad I did it and I'm glad it's over.

This is Alena's smile. No, really.