When are you going to become a citizen? Why haven’t you applied yet?
Everyone used to ask me that over and over for years. At first I had zero interest because really I saw no benefit in it. My parents tried to get me to do it while I was still a minor, since it was much easier that way, but me being an obnoxious know it all, I refused.
Once I turned 18 I knew I would have to go through the long process that everyone used to tell horror stories about. I’d hear how it would take years or they’d ask you hard questions. I also believed that once I started I couldn’t travel until I was done. At this point I had just gotten my green card renewed a year earlier, so I knew I was good for 10 years.
So, I continued to rebel and ignore everyone’s suggestions that I should be naturalized. My grandma would even hand me newspaper clippings that had info on the ever changing immigration laws and how it was getting harder and harder to become a citizen. She was also afraid I’d get deported. Everyone was. But really how could that possibly happen? I was good for life as a US permanent resident as I had been since I was a little kid. Even though I was the only member of my family to still be a resident, I was okay with it. Plus the more they pushed me to do it the more I didn’t want to.
And then one day I met Lauren. (editors note: Dun dun duuunnnnn) You all know that story, but I bet you don’t know this little detail: she wasn’t comfortable with me not being a citizen. She, like my grandma, thought I could be at risk for deportation at any moment. But she also wanted us to be the same. For the first time in my life, I actually considered doing it. If only for her comfort.
One problem though, my green card was about to expire (wow ten years in one post). And one major requirement to being a citizen is having a valid green card. The renewal would take a while, cost around $600 and I wouldn’t be able to apply for naturalization until I had the new card. Also that meant that I had to pay for the new green card and then pay for citizenship. That was way too much for us at the moment. So I renewed the green card in sept 2010 and we moved on with our wedding planning life.
In early 2011 I promised Lauren that I would apply for citizenship before our wedding. Why? Because I felt like I didn’t want her to feel like we weren’t both the same. I didn’t want to be a foreigner within my own family. I also wanted to do it. I was ready! …23 years later.
I researched the crap out of it and found a major roadblock. The process could take up to 6-7 months and I had to be in the city for 3 important dates: The biometrics appointment, the interview and the final oath ceremony. These dates could fall at any time and not attending could delay your application for a while. Too many delays and they reject you (but they, of course, keep the money). With lots of wedding travel planned plus a honeymoon, we decided to wait until after everything to apply.
A few days before I was ready, Lauren and I watched Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip by Alexandra Pelosi on HBO. This documentary took us through 50 oath ceremonies, one in each state. It was so moving that it made Lauren cry. So many people wanting so badly to become US citizens. Just like me now. 🙂
At the beginning of August, I went to the USCIS website and started working on my N-400. Wow. So many questions! Have you ever overthrown a government? Are you a habitual drunkard? Are you a prostitute? Others were much harder like, List every single trip made outside the US since becoming a Legal Resident. Yes they want all trips listed since 1988 for me. Ouch. I only had my last two passports that covered only since 2001. Earlier trips I decided not to list. (Spoiler alert, it worked out in the end as they just want to make sure you’ve been here for the last 5.)
On August 8th I overnighted my completed form, along with all fees and photos to the processing center in Phoenix as requested. The next day I received a text from them stating that my application was accepted and the process had officially started! A few weeks later I received my Biometrics appointment letter. By the end of the month I had
completed biometrics (retina scan, fingerprints) and in mid Sept I received my interview date for early October. I was on my way!
With each new notice and update I kept going back to a message board website to track my progress against other fellow immigrants. I also kept reading the site to try and get a better insight to what others were experiencing. Some cases were obviously going to be rejected and they were shocked when they were. Like a gentleman who was furious he got denied because they found his arrest record for selling cocaine a few months prior. Or another fellow who was rejected because his record showed he beat his wife. He was annoyed because they didn’t “get him or his culture” and duh, it was only a minor bruise on the wrist! Whatever dude. I’m glad he didn’t get in.
And of course I’d always keep Lauren up to date with each thing. The closer we got the more excited she got. She confessed to me that when I had my oath ceremony she would probably cry.
On October 11 I went to the USCIS processing center in downtown San Francisco for my formal interview. I was nervous because I’ve always heard how they could be tough on you. But Lauren came with and helped sooth me while also talking sense into me. See, I was ready to fight if they got snippy with me, but Lauren suggested I just play along and be nice no matter what. So I did.
The interview went well, save for a couple of mistakes on my forms that we corrected together. The interviewer then gave me the famous civics test. 10 questions and 6 must be correct. In the weeks prior I quizzed my coworkers and Lauren with these to practice. A lot of people, natural born citizens too, failed… horribly. When it was my turn, I rocked it. One question was, “what happened on 9/11/01?” Wow, so much I could say, I was building the story in my head and I started with, “Well, these terrorists attacks started…” and she cut me off and said, “Terrorist attacks is fine.” Handled.
On November 4 I received final approval and my ceremony was set for Nov 30th!! I had made it! I immediately let Lauren know and she was just as excited as I was. I love her. 🙂
I updated my stats on the website tracker, and noticed that the entire process took 114 days. Well below the national average of 5 months and way below some problem cities like Miami or Seattle which can take over a year.
So, there I was, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland at 8:15am. Lined up with 1202 approved-Citizens-to-be. I was excited and couldn’t believe it was finally going to happen.
Even Lauren’s parents flew down to see the event. I couldn’t wait for it to begin. I kept wondering if we would sing I’m Proud To Be An American as they do in others. (We did! and Lauren sent me a text: “Oh no they didn’t…. Oh YES they did!!”)
I was in the 4th row and Lauren and her parents were up in the balcony. We went through the entire ceremony (Which was very moving by the way. All natural born citizens should attend one once in their lives.) and once we completed reciting the oath, boom, all 1202 of us were officially Citizens of the United States of America.
No more lines, no more waiting, and no more having to carry any form of proof of residency. Everyone was excited, taking pictures, waving American flags. It was quite the experience. We could all vote now or run for office! Finally, after years and years of people begging me to do this, I had done it. And honestly, it took a Lauren to get me to want to. For me and for her and for our new family.