4th of July and Immigration**

**A little off topic and not about health or wellness, but it came up in conversation the other day with a foreigner, so this is a timely occasion to write about it.

On this 4th of July, we think about our freedoms. We think about food and friends and celebrating. We think about having the day off to do what we want. We love this day, hopefully, because we live where we live by choice.

But what about the reason for Independence Day? Do we take this seriously? Do we honor those who served and who continue to serve to maintain those freedoms? Do we tend to take our freedoms for granted? What about all of those trying to immigrate—do we understand why they want to be here?

As a naturalized US citizen and having gone through the immigration process, I do not take any of this immigration debate lightly…on both sides of the issue.

Patriotism and immigration are not really “party” issues. They are human issues. I feel for the families, but also know that there are legal ways to go through the process which may not be financially feasible for many. It’s a process which, back then, took many years – first temporary residency requirements, then permanent residency requirements, then the process toward citizenship. I think it took nearly 10 years to know I was here “for good.”

I had to go through the painful government red tape of becoming, first, a temporary resident, then a permanent resident, and then a citizen. Having been a US government employee and knowing the quirks of Department of Defense regulations currently in some of my military work, jumping through the hoops of government regulations and laws can be a rough process to navigate.

I was pretty young, maybe 15 or so, when I started going through the process. The process has certainly changed over the years, and I understand why people who want to immigrate to the US do so without following this process. I’m all for the government controlling this and maintaining oversight, but having a bit more information about the process may make us a bit more empathetic about what people and families go through to try to live in this country.

By the way, our process is not a lot different than trying to become a citizen of other countries who have restrictions and stringent laws about this as well.

I recall the whole ordeal to be quite the demeaning and difficult process until I sat in front of the judge amongst many others in the US Court House.

I had to get HIV tested. No choice. I had to get tested for syphilis. Seriously, of all things, syphilis! No choice. I had to get tested for pregnancy. No choice. By the way, I was admittedly a late bloomer, so these tests were essentially irrelevant and a waste of money, but you’re herded through with everyone else….and there are “protocols.” And yes, you can get syphilis and HIV from other sources, but really, what would they have done to anyone testing positive for these as a minor? Kick out the minor and let the parents stay? It just never made any sense to me. I was subject to a medical examination by some doctor who was probably trying to meet a quota in some occupational health center (as dirty and filthy as they come and in the worst part of town) who did not know anything about my medical history (I have none but that’s irrelevant, and it certainly was not verified through a records check, etc.). And oh, we had to pay for all these tests, the mandatory medical evaluations, and the entire immigration process.

Let’s see, what else? The immigration facility where we were “processed” at the time was a huge building in South Phoenix. If you know anything about South Phoenix, you will know that this was an area of cheap land at the time. We were herded amongst others who were also going through it…French, Spanish, Eastern Indian, Middle Eastern, Africans, etc.

Some of the things I remember: Everyone looked anxious. And the waits were always long. And quiet. Everyone was on their best behavior. And armed officers were everywhere. I think feeling like a criminal or feeling like you were doing something wrong is the emotion that would be appropriate labels to describe it.

The employees were, well, government employees. Burned out, not there to provide any customer service as we know it and expect it, and really couldn’t care about the people in front of them. I recall having to write the sentence a couple of times. A plain English sentence. Try to write a sentence in front of some immigration officer who will make a decision to kick you out or keep you in! You will look at the sentence, and it will look wrong. Even after I had two degrees and finally was about to go for my US citizenship, still, that darn sentence. Can you write an English sentence? Did you go to school here? Demeaning. Look at my GPA. Look at the transcripts. I speak English!

I am sure there are people who are getting naturalized today. Pledging allegiance to one country and giving up the rights of citizenship to a native country does not come without pains. And they have been through a lot. They made the choice. They stuck out the years of waiting and hoping and filling out forms and being interviewed and investigated and praying it would finally end. They went through a bunch of stuff that was worth it to them to be here. To work here. To worship or not to worship. To raise families here. To hopefully contribute. To hopefully not have any regrets.

I am very proud to be an American. Today’s a great day to reflect on that.

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