Friday, May 30, 2008

Citizen Abbey

Immigration officers always seem to be a grumpy lot with only a few exceptions. After spending the last four years with my wife in and out of immigration offices, I can see why. The huddled, the tired, the poor all seem to be ill prepared and can communicate in English in only snippets of sentences and with great difficulty.

When Mrs. Abbey began her journey through the immigration system, I did lots of research on the Internet and it seemed as if most people hired lawyers to get them through. Lawyers are great when necessary but cost a lot of money (and are probably worth every cent in one of those necessary events) and so I wasn't really keen on forking over all that dough just to fill out forms. So I undertook the task myself and with one exception where I sent a check with a form and they required money order even though check was listed as being acceptable, I made it through easily. So easily that in an online forum that I used to belong too, I would recommend that people save their money and do it themselves. Even someone with a basic eighth grade education could read the forms, fill it out and attach the required information. I've since switched my tune.

The large majority of immigrants coming into the offices have very little understanding of the world they live in. Some examples. A relative of my wife was recently denied her citizenship because she came to America on a Visa and would leave the country for more than six months at a time to go back home, a no no that is repeated often throughout all the forms. Another person I know came here on a work Visa and then did not work for her employer for one single day. That too as one might guess, is not acceptable. Most of the immigrants I saw could not read forms and left out specific information that was asked for and so get put into a bureaucratic limbo until it gets fixed. A chap yesterday walked into the immigration office that deals solely with citizenship and wanted to get an extension for his foreign passport that expires on the first of June, two days away! Not only is there a separate office for that and has nothing to do with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but also he waited until he had three days to get his problem fixed. Most doubtedly, he will be in the country illegally and his chances of getting citizenship have now greatly diminished.

For Mrs. Abbey, the decision to become a citizen was a no-brainer. She comes from the Philippines, which allows dual citizenship so she can have the best of both worlds. She can travel with the freedom of an American and not need to apply for Visas and can vote but still own land in the Philippines, which I will never be able to do without getting my Filipino citizenship. Even then, I'm not sure I could since I wasn't native born.

So we made it to our appointment on time, sat around for fifteen minutes waiting and listening to the problems of the other would-be citizens, and then my wife's name was called. By this time I was extremely confident that compared to everyone else, she was a shoo in and sure enough, ten minutes later she walked out a conditional citizen of the United States. All that remains is the formality of swearing an oath to the country in one of those ceremonies you see on television from time to time. That should happen sometime in the next couple months. At that time, she can apply for the most cherished and sacred rights guaranteed to a United States Citizen, the right to vote.

No comments: