Saturday, May 15, 2010

Becoming an American citizen

Few Americans give much thought to standing in endless lines or fighting daunting bureaucracy. That is because they are very seldom faced with such possibilities in every day life.
My move to the U.S. started three years before I ever set foot on the plane to New York - three years of endless audiences to various vice ministers, police, security police, passport office, translators, notaries, attorneys, and other mayoral officials. I had to prove that I had not debts, no criminal record, no communicable diseases, mental illness, associations to undesirable agencies and organization, etc.; each document had to be translated into English, notarized, typed only by state approved functionaries, and approved and re-approved by state, ministers, and security police. By the time I finished the entire process, I was exhausted, had not a dime to my name, and had lost all my rights as a Romanian citizen. I was literally a person without a country, a persona-non-grata, with no rights whatsoever. I had a Romanian passport with a single visa to the U.S., but no home and no ability to earn a living. I had to pay back my schooling although the Constitution stated clearly that education was free to all Romanian citizens at all levels. I was stripped of all rights simply because I petitioned for a visa to come study, work, and live in the world's freest republic. Unfortunately, the communist dictatorship thought that I was a spy and my motives were less than honest. As a matter of fact, everyone who made contact at all with a foreigner without prior authorization, was immediately under suspicion and surveillance by the dreaded Security Police. When my fiance's mother came to visit, we had to answer questions at 2 a.m. downtown at the police headquarters. The interrogation lasted over two hours - the cops wanted to know why we did not notify them ahead of time of the visit? All the while, because they controlled the population's whereabouts through draconian block by block registration, they knew exactly who was coming and going into and out of the country. My parents and I were taken in separate vans and interrogated separately as if we had committed a crime. Jean and her son Bill were bewildered that their visit had caused so much distress and heartache to us. Americans could not understand or fathom total control, but we were used to living under constant surveillance and under a microscope. Our phones were tapped, our letters opened, our visits, moves, and job locations were recorded carefully. Nobody could ever be incognito anywhere on the soil of a totalitarian society. And they were doing this without the benefit of cameras or computers! We had become a nation of spies and traitors - spying and betraying our own families for an extra loaf of bread, a pound of meat, bananas, or oranges. It was very sad, knowing that nobody trusted anybody. The survival instinct taught us to accept and circumvent disturbing laws and rules and to keep quiet. People learned to take secrets to their graves.

Was it easy to become an American citizen? Not really. After my arrival in 1978, I lived for two years as a resident alien. I could not vote, I could not be on welfare (not that I wanted to, I was certainly poor enough to qualify), and had no rights. I did not march in the streets demanding same rights as American citizens because I understood I was not an American. I did not wave the Romanian flag in the face of Americans while shouting angrily that America will some day be ours. I learned English better each day. I had studied two years in high school, but it was not good enough. I wanted to become part of the fabric of this society, to understand it, honor it, respect it, and immerse in its culture. I did not want to lose my heritage, I kept it alive at home, but I wanted to be an American. After two years, I felt competent enough to apply for citizenship. I had to study the Constitution, take a test, pass it with flying colors, and be interrogated for three hours by an immigration officer in Memphis. I knew more about the U.S. history and Constitution than most Americans. I spoke better English than most Americans. I spelled better. I was truly prepared. The paperwork was very expansive, difficult to obtain, expensive to translate, and the taxes to the government were costly. As a poor student, just driving three hours to Memphis several times a year was prohibitive. I had to decide sometimes whether I paid for documents and gas to the Immigration Office, or for food and shelter. It took two years and a few months before I was approved and finally sworn in as a Naturalized Citizen in the Court of Oxford, MS. It was a very proud day for me and four years in coming. I was no longer persona-non-grata, I had gained a country, a language, safe borders, and a culture resplendent with a tapestry of many nations, ethnicities, all united by a common language and goal, freedom. We were truly a melting pot, not a tossed salad bowl. What a sweet day, May 20, 1982!

I don't take my American citizenship lightly and I watch in helpless disbelief the demonstration of utter contempt and hatred for our laws by illegal aliens and their supporters, La Rasa, the democrats, and the administration who are demanding amnesty for breaking the law. The foreign flag-waving and the burning of the American flag in the faces of Americans is shocking. The calls for violence against Americans, racial hatred, pitting one ethnic group against another, go unpunished. The federal government is approving and stoking lawlessness, racial divide, and the destruction of our culture and country. What makes hispanics more deserving of American citizenship just because they jumped a fence illegally? Why should we reward bad behavior? There are thousands of immigrants who are waiting their turns patiently, filling out forms after forms, waiting years sometimes to receive or be denied a visa to freedom. Vast oceans separate them from our borders. Does that make them less deserving of becoming legal residents? I had to prove that I had a sponsor in the U.S. who was willing and able to support me if need be. I also had to have thousands of dollars in a bank account so that I won't become the ward of the state. Yet that is exactly what is happening now with all the hispanics who illegally set foot on our soil - they drop their anchor babies and claim permanent residence and citizenship rights when their anchor babies turn 18. I had to pay for years for the birth of my babies because we had no insurance, yet all illegals benefit from free medical and pre-natal care, food, housing, WIC, compliments of the U.S. taxpayer. Why? Should the Mexican government not have some responsibility for their fleeing citizens? They have more wealth in petroleum than our country does, they certainly can afford to institute social programs to eradicate poverty in Mexico. The Mexican gang violence and drug trade are spilling onto our southern borders and the federal government is doing very little to curtail it. It is up to the states like Arizona to defend their own borders against the massive invasion. As one very savy conservative had said, borders, language, and culture are very important and must be preserved at all costs. Our soldiers would have died in vain if we fail to protect our borders and allow illegal immigration to wreck this beautiful nation. We are successful because we are free and are united by a common goal and our faith in God.

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