“I wasn’t born here.”
A lot of people found that a bit surprising when I told them because they said I don’t really have an accent and I seem to be ‘cultured-up’ very well, but then I’d tell them, “it doesn’t matter where I was born, I am a U.S. citizen now just like any others.”
Even though that sounds like one easy sentence to say, it took me over 10 years to be in the position to say it.
Did you guys know- I was actually rejected the first time when I applied for U.S. citizenship in 2010?
Even though you might be thinking- “permanent residency” should be permanent right? No it actually isn’t. And as the immigration laws become sticker, the validation duration of a green card become shorter.
As a requirement for citizenship for green card holders, they must live in the U.S. for 5 consecutive years. My sister became a U.S. citizen in 2010. As always, she has always been my role model and the path finder since I was little. At the same time, in a less polite way to put it: my sister was also sort of the “guinea pig.” She had to figure out everything by herself then go through the process on her own, and if she succeeds, she pass down her knowledge to me. I can give you a few example, she had given me insights on coming to the U.S., taking AP classes, taking SAT exams and subject tests, and last but not least- applying for citizenship. Upon receiving her citizenship, she urges me to start applying for naturalization too.
Around that time, I realized that my green card was expiring, and there are only three resolution to an expiring green card: 1) You leave the U.S. 2) You apply to renew your green card. 3) You apply to become a U.S. citizen. Guess which one I chose?
And of course, I followed my sister’s path to become a U.S. citizen. She gave me all the information on the application process, including submitting an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), getting finger print, interviewing and testing by a USCIS official, and last but not least-making an oath upon receiving the naturalization certificate.
Even though my sister went through the process smoothly, I went through quite a tough ride. First thing, the application came with a huge financial cost. I was grateful that my mom was able to help me, but watching that big chunk of money leaving us was staggering. By the way before you submit your some-what 10 pages application, you better make sure you read and RE-read the guide to naturalization handbook, which was about 60 pages long. I am not fooling you, you can go on the USCIS link here and find out for yourself.
Second, the forensic (finger print) can only done in Atlanta, which means driving to 3 hours to press your fingers on a machine for a few seconds. Keep in mind that I didn’t even own a vehicle back then. Oh and you thought the wait line at your local DMV was bad? It took me an entire day of waiting and I actually had an ‘appointment’ that the USCIS assigned to me months in advance.
Third, interview was also only available in Atlanta; in addition, it was not like your typical–“tell me a little about yourself” chit-chat, like why would you like to become a U.S. citizen? or what do you like about the U.S. etc. Instead, the questions I was asked were, “Were you affiliated with the Nazis or any terrorist organizations? Have you ever committed prostitution?” Having an older man asking me that question was understandable in this circumstances, but still extremely uncomfortable, considering that I only just turned 18 during that time.
Fourth, testing about American government, geography, or American history was extremely vague. Just letting you know, they can literately ask you anything about any of these subjects, and you won’t be able to get naturalized if you miss too many questions.
The last and the worst part—–hopefully you an use my heart-wrenching experience to enlighten yourself next time when you thought that you had the worst day of your life——-I was rejected. That means all the money I spent, all trips I made to Atlanta, all lines I had to wait, all the uncomfortable questions I had to answer were essentially wasted.
The biggest part that traumatize me was that I was rejected by a country that I loved and admired so much.
The reason why I was rejected? I thought I had met the qualification of living in the U.S. for 5 years, but it turns out that I’m a few months short. I arrived in the U.S. in summer of 2006, and my application was submitted in early spring of 2010, even tough by the time I was interviewed, it was already fall of 2010. Now I know you guys might be asking, what about all the previous stay in the U.S. I mentioned in my earlier blog My Journey to the U.S. ? To be qualified as a U.S. citizen, you must stay within the U.S. territory for 5 continues years, if you leave the country for over a certain amount of time, the years will be reset. I thought having a re-entry permit would make an exception, but I missed the fine detail that the re-entry permit only counts towards green card, not the naturalization itself.
I did make a plea to the USCIS agent that I was very young back then, and I had little to no control over in making decisions on where I stayed. He said he would ‘take it into consideration,’ and then he was getting ready to interview the next applicant. It was clear that he had no extra time to spare to review my case right now. A USCIS agent works with dozens of immigrants like me each day, but I work with one USCIS agent once in my life-time, and to see him closing my case like this was agonizing. I went out of his office crying, and everyone else was looking at me. It was embarrassing but I couldn’t help it. The more I tried to get a grip of myself, the worst it became. I spent longer time in the bathroom crying my eyeballs out than talking to the agent in his office.
My adversity didn’t end there. Keep in mind that my green card was still expiring, and my drivers license was also expiring as well. Before I could renew my drivers license, I had to submit an application to renew my green card. That process was significantly easier than naturalization, but it costed another chunk of money out of my mom’s pocket.
Rejection of citizenship was far worse than rejection of any college admission, social activities, or any of my romantic relationships. It took me quite sometime to reclaim my once fiery passion and admiration for the U.S. But hey, I recovered from all the rejections back in the days, why is this citizenship rejection going to stop me now?