Out of Many, One

Posted on June 13, 2018

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

If you follow my accounts on Social Media, you will have read about particular milestones in my life on this continent, this year. On May 2nd I passed the naturalization interview, and a recommendation for approval of citizen status was given. On June 6th, at an Administrative Ceremony at the USCIS Field Office in Pittsburgh, I swore the Oath of Allegiance and became a citizen of the United States of America.

In the weeks between these two dates, I documented my American life on Facebook in a public album called “The Road to Pittsburgh.” Our family, friends, acquaintances, clients, and business partners celebrated, liked, and commented as the gallery grew into a mosaic of twelve years well lived in the Mountain State and during visits “back home.”

What defines “home,” though? Is it the place your ancestors dwelled, the place your father died, the place your children were born? Or is home the place you rest up from the toils of the day, the place where you are loved, where you can be what and who you want to be? Or is home within you?

For me, it is the place where your rights and your responsibilities lie, where sweet balance is achieved between what you want to do, you should do, and you have to do. These rights and responsibilities are clearly defined – for visitors, for residents, and for the citizens. Since 2001, I have been each of these. And from that perspective, I can tell a distinct difference in the rights and responsibilities of each group.

As a U.S. Citizen only – by birth or by choice – one has an opportunity to make lasting contributions to the community and the country, and embrace the full palette of rights and responsibilities in its full measure:

Rights

  • Freedom to express yourself.
  • Freedom to worship as you wish, or not at all.
  • Right to bear arms.
  • Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
  • Right to vote in elections for public officials.
  • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
  • Right to run for elected office.
  • Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Responsibilities

  • Support and defend the Constitution.
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
  • Participate in the democratic process.
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
  • Serve on a jury when called upon.
  • Defend the country if the need should arise, from enemies foreign and domestic.

Every citizen should acknowledge that he or she does not pick and choose, but embrace every aspect as a fundamental element of his or her life and status.

Taking a look at our history, you have to recognize that we are a Nation of Immigrants. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services – part of the Department of Homeland Security – manages the immigration process. It is – per the Director of the USCIS Pittsburgh Field Office – a long-winded, expensive, and complicated one, that takes patience, diligence, honesty, and financial resources.

In a time of instant gratification and one-stop-service, not everybody understands what it takes to chose the legal route. If you consider that even 40% of all Americans cannot cover a $400 expense, the total of $3,490.00 in fees ($2,170.00 before you can begin to work) can become a stumbling stone, making the Green Card Lottery – the Green Card Through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program – the only chance for many immigrants to a life in this country and the road to citizenship.

This month, June 2018, the administration aims to eliminate that lottery for good. Earlier, in February 2018, the USCIS changed its mission statement to remove the passage that described the U.S. as “a nation of immigrants.”

In 2005, while I was still living in Germany, we laid the foundation for the road that lead me here. I have to give credit to West Virginia’s Members of Congress at the time, Senator Rockefeller and Senator Byrd, to make sure the groom made it to the August wedding in time. Instead of a honeymoon, though, we got another medical and filed for my Green Card and Work Permit.

This is our timeline, and the fees and processing times associated with filing:

  • On July 6, 2005, the Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) was approved. [$535, 5-7 months]
  • On February 6, 2006, the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, was approved. [$410, 3-5 months]
  • On March 17, 2006, the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, was approved. [$1,225, 11-21 months]
  • On November 4, 2008, the Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions of Permanent Resident Status Received, was approved. [$595, 13-17 months]
  • On June 8, 2018, the Certificate of Naturalization for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, was issued. [$725, 7-17 months]

While I was eligible to apply for Naturalization several years earlier, work and life kept me busy through the years, and for a time the rights I had as a Legal Permanent Resident seemed sufficient to me. Late 2016 though, I decided that it was time to take on a more active role. I studied civics, reading and learning more about American history, and then filed my application to become an American citizen.

My passion for America is best expressed by Ray Charles rendition of ‘America The Beautiful’ – the moment at 2:04 when he calls to ‘wait a minute’ sends chills to my spine, every time. To understand my love for the Rule of Law, I recommend a read of Jon Meacham’s ‘The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.’ I’ve been to Washington, D.C. about eight times now, and spent hours at the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the National Archives. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have grown dear to me, and I proudly salute the flag and the republic for which it stands.

Don’t be mistaken, though, it is not the symbols that instilled this pride, but the fact that for 241 years, despite slavery, Jim Crow segregation, Hiroshima,  internment camps for Japanese Americans, and Charlottesville, the American Spirit remains unbroken. I intend to no longer serve as a scratching post for the dis- and uninformed, and the bad intentioned, but pursue the goal of being a beacon of light for democracy, freedom, and brotherhood in challenging times. To stand against abuse of power for political, selfish, or criminal reasons, committed by enemies foreign and domestic.

I am very fortunate to not walk this way alone, but to share it with a smart, eloquent, and truly patriotic individual. The evening of the day I became an American Citizen, my wife wrote these beautiful lines, and shared them on Facebook:

“At the citizenship ceremony today, there were 27 people of all ages from 17 different countries, who chose to become Americans. It’s not an easy process. Most of us, lucky enough to be born in this country, do not realize what all these inspiring individuals have gone through to achieve this privilege.

What I witnessed today, was one of the most patriotic and moving ceremonies we have in this country. Of those 27, 4 were Caucasian; the others were the many shades from around the world. One’s religion was not stated, but from the various native clothing worn, it was obvious that a wide spectrum was represented. It was stated many times today, that we are a country of immigrants. It is what makes us special and unique in this world.

I felt today a wave of hope and prosperity come over me, that I haven’t felt in a long time. Our country will survive, but it will not be the same. It will be many shades of the skin. It will be beautiful! It will be that shining beacon on a hill, welcoming all the huddled masses that Lady Liberty will hold tightly in her warm embrace.” –Marianna Kiel

I hope my current and future words and actions put meaning into the sweet hours spent on June 6th, 2018, where I took that sacred oath. Let’s grab a coffee or a beer sometime, celebrate our similarities, respect our differences, and share our stories. Because you are, just like me, out of many, one.

I am citizen #401×0042 and proud to be an American.


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