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Monday, March 26, 2007

My appointment with Immigration

I arrive at the immigration office at 7:45am. I show my appointment letter to the guards and have my bag scanned. I place my appointment letter in a wooden box in the corner of the room and sit down with my husband. That's when I first realize there is no waiting room music, no magazines, no television. It's just us sitting in a room full of airport-style chairs, a handful of Mexican immigrants, and two armed security guards (who I found out don't have any hand lotion with them).

My name is "called" (I say "called" because only once in the history of my life has my name been pronounced correctly by a stranger) and I meet an old man with a gruff accent. I am trying to figure out if he's of Italian or Jewish descent. At this time, he tells me he cannot interview me because I did not submit two passport photos with my application. A panic rises from my chest into my throat as I imagine my appointment being rescheduled for 3-6 months later. I explain that no one ever mentioned anything about photos and he calms me by telling me to go to Kinko's down the street, take some photos, and come right back. The word "Kinko's" sounds so sweet.

At the heavenly Kinko's, I sit for my passport photos and am instructed to pull my hair back behind my ears and take off my earrings. (The government doesn't like cheap jewelry in their photos.) The two women manning Kinko's this morning can't agree on whether or not I can show teeth in my passport photo, so I pass the time by making grotesque faces at the camera while they decide. The two finally "compromise" by telling me to, and I quote, "show teeth, a little".

To be safe, I decide to smile with no teeth but as the girl taking the photo is pressing down on the shutter release button, I for some reason panic and think I better show some teeth. The finished product ends up being a tired awkward half-smile. I sigh at the image and call it good enough. I've never taken good photos for Immigration, so why start now.

At the checkout, the camera woman asks "so what country are you going to?" "Hopefully, the U.S." is my reply. I can't tell if this fascinates her or disappoints her.

Back at Immigration, show the letter, scan the bag, sit in the quiet room. There are different people here now: a couple from Eastern Europe, a small family from Southeast Asia, and a mom and son from Central America.

My husband reads from my study book and drills me on U.S. history and civics. (Good thing U.S.-born citizens aren't deported for not knowing U.S. history or I might lose my husband.)

My name is called again and I meet with the same old man. He says his name is Frank and I notice now that he is kind but with a distinct air of "no messing around." I sit down in his office and become aware that my mind is having trouble remembering things-- specifically, anything. My head is littered with paranoia.

"Where's my passport? Is it in my hand? Yes, it is."

"When was I born?"

"Is that how my name is spelled? Am I sure?"

I'm asked six questions about the United States. The only one I can recall today is the one I stumbled over. "What is the White House?"

"The country's capital—I mean, where the President lives."

He corrects me even though I just corrected myself. "The White House is where the President lives. It is not the capital of our country."

I KNOW that. I was just thinking it's in Washington DC, the capital. Immigration is anal about wording. If only I had remembered this fact before the following happened.

Frank begins to slide a paper and pen across his desk over to me. As I reach for the paper, I think to make conversation and out I mindlessly spout "there was something I had a concern about on my application..." and Frank pulls the paper away. I snap out of my question and say "Where did you want me to sign?"

He prods. "Finish what you were going to say."

That's when I remember that conversation isn't just conversation at Immigration. "Oh crap" my mind repeats over and over and over as I realize that the statement I just started involves documentation I don't have with me.

"Um…" my confidence quivers, "there was a question on the application about military service and I joined the Army in 2000 and left 10 months later, but my lawyer told me not to write it down since I wasn't in long." I hold my breath.

"Were you discharged honorably?"

The "oh-crap-oh-crap-oh-crap" loop running through my head switches to the "please-don't-ask-me-for-my-discharge-papers" loop.

"Yes."

"Then, that's ok." He pauses. "Your lawyer should have written it down, by the way. But it will be ok."

I exhale.

He slides me the paper to sign. I look at it and see that it's a copy of the oath I will be taking later and that I'm signing my allegiance to the United States.

Frank briefs me on the last step to becoming a U.S. citizen and tells me that the United States will be happy to have me. I collect my things, shake his hand and smile my way out the door. I grab my husband and scurry out to the car before Immigration changes its mind about me.

All I have left to do now is swear in officially to receive my certificate of naturalization. I'll receive a letter in the mail telling me where and when to do that and then I will be a permanent fixture in the American landscape. :)

And I will throw the biggest fiesta ever!

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