NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’ve written before about a friend of mine from college who struggled to stay in the U.S. after her student-visa expired. She was a British citizen, but had grown up in the U.S. because of her father’s banking job in New York. Then, as now, I don’t know how her story ended. Graduation came before her residency-status was resolved, and we’ve since lost touch over the years that followed.
Fast forward four years. It’s Independence Day 1995, and I’m working a holiday news shift. My assignment is to cover a ceremonial naturalization ceremony at the Tompkins County courthouse in upstate New York. That afternoon 14 people were taking the oath to become American citizens.
I had a misperception about the event. I expected to see low-income, just-starting-out foreigners who were starting new lives in the United States. Wrong. Upscale suits for the men and fancy dresses for the ladies were the order of the day. These were not migrant farm workers or just-off-the-boat newcomers. More than one of them were represented by lawyers. When I interviewed several of these new Americans they all talked about how proud they were – but some also talked about how long and how expensive the process was.
I had an Ellis Island of 1912 picture in my mind. Reality was that most new citizens were high-tech workers – computer engineers, scientists, and such, who wanted the economic advantages of staying in the U.S. Others were becoming Americans through marriage, which was also a drawn out and not-automatic process.
As we prepare to announce an immigration reform and amnesty program, I wonder about these people. Do they feel like suckers, having waiting long and paid much for what will now be given away to others? Or do they feel that being an American citizen is so transformative that it must be shared with others?