Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Becoming a citizen

I went with my friend Liz yesterday to watch her take her oath of
citizenship. Even though she probably would have become a US citizen at
some point anyway, she actually didn't have much of a choice. She's a
teacher here, and if you apply for a teaching license in New Jersey,
you must sign this statement: "I realize that if I do not become a
United States citizen within the next five years, the New Jersey State
Board of Examiners may revoke any license issued to me." So to keep her
job, she had to become a citizen.

Her appointment was for 8:00 am at INS in Newark, so we got there
early. Four and a half hours later, she was a citizen -- literally the
very last one to receive her papers on a very long day, when she had
been one of the first to arrive. (There is no concept of "first come,
first served" at INS, I guess.)

Interestingly enough, here is what you do NOT do when you become a

1. Recite the pledge of allegiance

2. Sing the national anthem

Here is what you DO do:

1. Recite the oath below

2. Watch a video of Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" (and sing
along if you want to)

The Oath of Citizenship

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national
importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature."

Were any of you US citizens aware that we are supposed to be bearing
arms on behalf of the United States when required by law, and
performing noncombatant service and "work of national importance under
civilian direction when required by law?" I certainly wasn't. Or maybe
only naturalized citizens are required to do this??

You also get to watch a video of George Bush saying "God bless you and
God bless America." (So much for separation of church and state.) At
least we had an immigration official with a sense of humor, because he
said, "After the President speaks for two minutes, the screen will go
black. Don't forget to clap."

I also expected an inspiring speech, but basically all we got was a
reminder to register to vote, and a warning that you are now stuck in
the United States because the government took your green card, and you
don't have a passport, so don't plan on going anywhere (even for a
family emergency) until you get your passport ... which, by the way,
takes 4-6 weeks.

Despite the delays and the bureaucracy, though, I will say that every
single person we came into contact with there was extremely nice,
polite, pleasant and helpful. That was a probably the nicest surprise
of the day. I guess Tuesdays must be "oath of citizenship" day, so
there aren't any major problems or arguments going on, and there is a
nice energy to the place (or there would be, if you didn't have to wait
four and a half hours - which, by the way, apparently is "short,"
according to one of the workers there).

So, all in all, a lesson in democracy and bureaucracy. And now Liz can
do two things: vote, and keep her job as a teacher.

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