Immigration to the United States:When Will I Finally be a Citizen?

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Today was supposed to be a day that I did a boring task no one likes. I got up a little earlier than normal, so I’d have enough time to do my hair and add a little makeup because right after dropping off my son at daycare, I’d be headed to my mundane, possibly time consuming task.

What task you ask? Renewing my driver's license.

Renewing my License

Even though I hated having to do it, there is a huge part of me that breathed a sigh of relief because this mundane task in the past was arduous and stressful. You see, I’m a naturalized United States citizen and before, when I’d had to get or renew a driver’s license, there were all these other steps, forms and things that had to be done. Funny enough, I was recently featured by another blogger on my story of relocating from Jamaica to the U.S., but in that blog post, I focused on what it was like adjusting to a new place. This post is not nearly so happy or optimistic.

If I'm being honest, during that time, whenever I had to do anything involving the government, I was stressed the night before and unable to sleep because the entire process was so long, drawn out and difficult, but not this time.

Today, I was a citizen and I had even checked carefully on the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) website to ensure things would go smoothly. It said that if there had been no change in name or address and if I was a citizen, I simply needed to report with my current license. Even though I could have done the renewal online, I decided to invest the time to have everything squared away quickly and get my temporary license immediately.

So, like I said, I woke up a little earlier, put on a little makeup, dropped off my little one and started the 15 minute drive to the DDS facility.

Efficient DDS

Once, I got there I was pleasantly surprised, the paper forms and clipboards were gone. I was directed to a computer where I filled out my application form. Next, I went to a machine where I received a ticket with a letter and numbers. As I walked to find a seat, my ticket was called.

Hmm, impressive. I went to the counter, handed my ticket to the customer service agent along with my driver’s license and marveled at how much more efficient the DDS was compared to my previous visits. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was a citizen now.

That’s when I realized that my agent had started speaking to the agent right next to her and I heard the word citizen mentioned. I tried to focus on the words they were speaking and realized she had said, “She checked that she’s a citizen, but she’s not.”

Not a Citizen

I couldn’t even stop myself. Before I knew it, I was answering. “I checked that I’m a citizen because I am. I have been since 2015. I had to go to the Social Security Office and DDS after becoming a citizen to update all this information. Is there a problem?”

“Ma’am, according to our records, you’re a permanent resident. I need to call this in.”

At this point, she went to get a phone and continued to speak to the agent next to her. On my end, I was becoming flustered. The flow of emotions and memories of over 18 years of being an immigrant and of years spent dealing with immigration, citizenship, immigration officers, a detention room, a strip search and airport issues swam to the surface.

Then, I started thinking of the 4 years after marriage dealing with huge financial expense, not being able to work, fingerprinting, eye scans, driving to interviews and testing. This was all supposed to be done. We did all the right things, I passed the test, and I’m a citizen now. I somehow started to feel like the same scared teenager, who was alone without her family, wondering what she had done wrong, wondering why she was being treated that way.

As my internal struggle raged, they continued their conversation. I finally mustered up the nerve to ask, “What do I need to do at this point?”

“Well, do you have any documentation you can bring in?”

“Yes, I have everything you can imagine. What do you need? Passport, Naturalization certificate…? My question trailed off as she said, “Passport.”

“Ok.” I felt defeated. We had gone through countless hours, days, months and years of the immigration process to get to the point where I was a citizen and here, 4 years after I had been granted citizenship, I was having to go through more hoops.

As I got in the car, my fingers dialed automatically.

“You were right. I should have brought my passport. Why is this happening again? They say I’m not a citizen. The computer screen said that I wasn’t, even though we did everything they told us, even though I updated everything. I have to go home to get my passport and then come back.”

My husband just said, “Babe, I'm sorry. I think you should go ahead and try to take care of this today to make sure that it doesn’t get more out of control.”

“I’m headed home now. I’ll keep you posted.”

Welcome Back to the U.S.

As I hung up, I could feel the tears brimming at the surface. I remember distinctly coming back from visiting my family in Jamaica as an undergraduate one Christmas. Everything at the Jamaican airport, Norman Manley international, went well. Everything was fine until I got to the Atlanta airport. I was accustomed to the eye scan, fingerprinting, checking my luggage and detailed questions about every aspect of the trip, but this time I was asked to leave the customs line and follow them to a room.

It was cold. There was nothing on the walls except for a flag and a picture of the president. The room had an awful red/orange color on the walls. It had several rows of chairs, and this is where I was directed. Looking around the room, I could see another section of the room with a glass window and a separate smaller room. A female officer came to get me, escorted me there and then proceeded to do a more detailed search. That’s as much as I’m willing to say about that, so I can keep the tears at bay. Finished, I was taken back to have a seat and I saw that my luggage was now in the room as well.

I remember thinking how worried my parents would be. I always called them as soon as I landed, so that they knew I had made it safely, and so they wouldn’t worry. No one told me anything. I overheard them saying something about student visa documentation and some other words I couldn’t quite make out. I summoned the courage to ask one of the officers walking by if she could tell me why I was in the room and she replied that there were two international student identification numbers coming up when they searched for me and that was indicative of some type of problem.

I asked quietly, “Has anyone contacted my school? My international student adviser always tells us to call her, no matter when, if there’s a problem.” Actually, she made a point of meeting with us before we traveled to walk us through the forms, print out what was needed and make sure we had everything in order.

I fished in the bag I always carried with my passport and other documentation and gave them the letter she had typed, where she had her cell phone number printed as well.

It was taking everything in me not to cry, but I just wanted to leave this place. I wanted to go back to my dorm room, climb to my bed on the top bunk and cry.