Monday, January 8, 2007

Fish or Cut Bait

Well, my Green Card expires in a year and a half (give or take a few weeks). So the question of what to do about it looms larger. It would seem to be a good idea to start acting now, rather than procrastinating on it.

At the end of the day, I have three options:
1. Move back to Canada
2. Renew my Green Card
3. Get a US citizenship.

This is my second green card: my first was a provisional. If you understand how the system works, you can probably figure out on your own how long I've been living in the US, but for everyone else, it's been just over 12 years. Twelve-and-a-half, actually. That's a long time.

August 8, 1994 I moved from Vancouver Island to St. Louis, MO. Or at least I crossed the border on August 8. I was fresh out of University and 22 years old.

Since then, I've gotten married (been married more than 11 of the 12 years I've been here), and we've had kids, a couple dogs, and a house. I had one career, then abandoned it for another. I've been self-employed, I've worked twice as a State employee, and I've lived in several cities. I've done my second career persistently enough to turn down job offers under six figures. It's been a good run.

I've lived my entire adult life in a foreign country.

But the USA I live in now is a little different than the one I first met in 1994. Those were the pre-PATRIOT Act days, when non-citizens enjoyed "equal protection under law". Now my credit report shows I'm not a citizen. When I applied for a car loan last year, I was told "The only problem I can see here is that you're Canadian". Things have changed.

So we're at a decision point. Rationally, there's no reason to believe we'll ever actually move to Canada. Let's face it, whatever problems I might face as an immigrant here my wife will see up there. I have the advantage of being Caucasian here, but she has the advantage of being a visible minority and a woman up there.

As much as I'd love to move back to Canada, I see nothing to indicate it'll ever happen. It just looks like we'll be in the States for the forseeable future. There it is, I came out and said it.

The USA is a good place to live. It's not perfect, but no place is. We have different problems here than the Canadians do, but I don't think they are really any worse (probably not any better either). True, people here can die for lack of health care, and the violent crime rate is unbelievably high. On the other hand, the Canadians seem pathologically determined to run their country into bankruptcy. Yes, everyone is theoretically covered by health insurance, but the coverage is inadequate in some cases. The violent crime rate is much lower, but the Canadian justice system seems designed to ensure the maximum number of violent criminals is on the streets with a minimum time behind bars, regardless of whether their behaviour has changed in any way.

So compared to Canada, the USA is not significantly better or worse. We're close neighbours with different housekeeping problems, but we're neighbours in the end. And we're close.

Of course the question everyone asks is "Why don't you get dual citizenship?" Well, that's a good question, really.

I actually spoke to an immigration lawyer about this, who confirmed what I'd already found out: the USA doesn't recognize dual citizenship, so they more or less ignore other countries' citizens. Canada says that someone who is born there is a citizen until they actually renounce their Canadian citizenship, which requires a formal process. So since the US won't actually make me turn in my Canadian passport and the Canadians really don't care how many other citizenships I have, what's the problem?

The problem is, the oath of citizenship in the USA starts: "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 sounds pretty much like I would be taking an oath to actually renounce my Canadian citizenship.

Now the immigration lawyer I spoke to said essentially the same thing other people have said: no one actually enforces my renouncing of my Canadian citizenship. No one actually follows me to make sure I go to the Canadian consulate and renounce it.

But that sounds a little ethically grey, doesn't it? I guess it all hinges on the words "entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity". Does that mean I can still be a Canadian citizen, but my loyalty is only to the States? Or does that mean I have to formally go and renounce my Canadian citizenship in Canada: telling them I have no intention of living as a Canadian any more?

I suppose if the judge, an INS officer---or even an immigration lawyer---were to say "Don't worry about it, just remember where your loyalty lies", I would take the oath without a second thought. If, on the other hand, the USA actually means it's an exclusive deal, then I have to be absolutely sure before I take such an oath.

In actual fact, my Canadian citizenship is more or less meaningless now. I haven't worked or lived in Canada since I was a University student: my whole adult life has been in the USA. Pragmatically speaking, all my citizenship does for me is allow me to cross the border into Canada hassle-free. On the other hand, when I come back into the States, I get hassled about my Green Card. I guess you really can't win.

But cutting ties with the country where you were born and grew up is not done as easily and lightly as I would expect. I have trouble picturing going home, to be accepted only as a tourist. I mean, they already think I'm a tourist when I go home, but to actually tell the border officer "I'm an American; I'll be here a couple weeks" seems strange. I'm sure Americans would find it no less strange to say something like that coming into the USA, too.

I frankly don't want to give up my Canadian citizenship. It's got nothing to do with the USA: I was born and raised Canadian, and I would have to think long and hard before renouncing a citizenship that is of no practical value to me.

On the other hand, the USA has become home. I have no idea how to do some tasks in Canada, because I've spent my adult life here. And the USA has been a good home: Americans are generally friendly, and they've been very welcoming. Sure, there are the RV drivers with heavy tans from Texas or California who speak loudly about themselves; but they're not the norm. (Not even in Texas or California!) No more than beer-bellied, loud, rude Quebecois in a Speedo is de rigeur for Canadians. (Not even in Quebec!)

But if we decide I should naturalize, I'll have to do it with iron resolve. Taking an oath is a serious thing, and I would have to do it seriously. Like a marriage: you need to treat it like irrevocable, regardless of the divorce rate.

So what should I do? Stay here, accept the inevitability of it, and get a US citizenship? Or pack up and go home? Or try to defer a decision a little while longer, renew my Green Card, and think about it some more?

I have no idea.


Gwen said...

Difficult indeed. I can't help you, as I've never lived out of the country so long. But doesn't it give you a bit of a thrill to see the maple leaf (feuille d'erable) flying in the clean air, hear "O Canada" ("O Canada") sung on Hockey Night in Canada, see Peter Mansbridge each night on the National (le National)?

It would be awfully hard for me to "renounce all allegiance and fidelity" to Canada, I must say. But you're right, it doesn't hold much practical value to you, and the lack of US citizenship does cause you some trouble. On the other hand... well, I don't know. Tough.

Shan said...

I had to mull it over before commenting. Then, I typed a big, long, thought-provoking, convincing comment, and blogger crashed on me when I tried to post it. So here is the expurgated edition.

Firstly, with regard to your concerns about how your wife might be treated in Canada, I don't think you'd have a problem, unless maybe you moved to Quebec.

Second, a bunch of left-wing-bleeding-heart-liberals aren't all bad - we make for a nice society overall (at least, that depends on your definition of a nice society).

Third, I think it would be great for your family to have the experience of living in Canada. We are a different society to the US. Plus, university is WAY less expensive here - hence that national bankruptcy you mentioned.

I would be dismayed if you renounced, completely and absolutely, your allegiance to Canada in favour of US citizenship. Especially if they draft your pasty ass, which they would TOTALLY do if they had a chance.


In conclusion, money isn't everything, and we have gay marriage here - what's not to love?


Come home.

But then, you knew I'd say that, didn't you?

Ames said...

Though hot American blood pulses through my veins, I am in agreement with Gwen and Shan. I would have to be drinking some serious Kool-Aid to give up my citizenship. The U.S. has some serious faults but, alas, it is my country. (I wish I could type this with my had over my heart. I feel so disrespectful. I'll quote the Pledge of Allegience twice this morning.)

Shan said...

The US should issue to every child, upon starting kindergarten, a string of small beads interspersed with larger, less frequent beads. Each small bead would represent one repetition of the pledge of allegiance, while each large bead would represent a Gettysburg address. Then you would know how many you had to say each day. They could assign repetitions to people as reminders of where their loyalties lie, like if you were to let the flag in front of your house touch the ground, you would have to do ten Pledges and a Getty, or if you were heard criticizing the war effort you would have to do three whole trips around your beads, you know the sort of thing.

I think that's really quite clever.

We could have one for Canada too, except it would be a hemp string of beach rocks and each one would represent either a joint you'd have to smoke, or a cup of organic, sustainably-harvested, fairly-traded granola you'd have to eat.

clumsy ox said...


That's the funniest thing I have read in a long time!!!! We don't have socialized medicine down here, so I need to take it easy and not get a heart attack from this stuff!

OK, as far as a future here is concerned. I actually like the USA. But I like Canada too. My turmoil has three parts:
1. I have no intention of taking an oath of allegiance without following through. I just can't do something like that lightly.
2. I like the USA. I have friends here, my wife is an American, almost all my friends are American. This is really almost as much my home as Canada.
3. I like Canada. I hate the thought of never going home. I think it would be great to let my kids live there for a couple years. I think it would be good for the whole family to live on the other side of the 49th.

But in the end, our efforts to move home have all come to nought. My house hasn't sold, and we've just had to accept that NC is where we are for now.

So what to do? Accept the current reality, or try to overcome it?

It would be easier if either the USA or Canada were a place I don't like. I THINK I prefer USA to Canada, but the whole "it's home!" balances that out a little.

I honestly don't know. I feel I could become a US citizen without any real regrets or anything (I've lived here for years, I know the way this place works), but it would be a huge emotional toll to cut ties with home.

Ames said...

Shan!!! You read my mind!!! I was thinking the same thing: a Patriotic Rosary. We are on to something. The beads would definitely have to be red, white and blue.