This is a story about what this immigrant went through on the way to citizenship.
After several trips to California from Canada in the 1940s, my family made what I thought would be the final journey across the country on Route 66 in June 1952. I was 12 years old at the time and had no idea what lay ahead.
In late 1953, my father was caught working with only a visitor's visa. That was a huge no-no. An Immigration and Naturalization Service agent came knocking. About that time my mother and father had separated.
I remember the INS agents sitting at our breakfast table and telling my mother and I that we had two choices. One was that we could be deported to Canada at U.S. government expense, as my father had been. That choice came with the penalty of not being able to return to the U.S. for five years. The other choice was to return to Canada by our own means. If we did that, we could apply to come back in one year. My mother and I chose the latter. We left for Canada on a Greyhound bus in June 1954. In September 1955, mother and I were back in California with permanent residence papers.
In December 1965, while still a Canadian citizen, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. I trained for nine months at Fort Lewis, and then did a one-year combat tour in Vietnam. I received an honorable discharge. I was proud of my service then, as I am proud of it today.
Shortly after my discharge from the Army I contacted the INS and inquired about obtaining citizenship. For whatever the reason, when the INS learned that I was a Vietnam veteran, I was treated with total disrespect and disdain. After that experience I did not look into citizenship again for 30 years.
I began the citizenship process on Aug. 17, 1998. It started with filling out what seemed like a ton of paperwork. In the almost three years that I waited to be sworn in, I was required three different times to report to an INS office in Van Nuys, where I spent the better part of a day, with several hundred other people, just to update my fingerprints. Is that security, or what?
On Dec. 15, 1999, I had a hip replacement. On Jan. 14, 2000, I was summoned to the federal building in downtown Los Angeles. My wife pushed me up Hill Street (and it is a hill) in a wheelchair. This appointment was for me to prove to them that I could speak English, knew something about the history of the United States and had some knowledge of how the government works.
I did not get sworn in until April 13, 2001, almost three years after I first applied.
And now it's 2006, just five years later; the government of this country is on the verge of literally handing out citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.
I have absolutely no regrets as to what the INS put me through. Becoming a citizen was one of the proudest days of my life. The harder you have to work for something the more you value it.
It is written that the No. 1 duty of a citizen is to obey that country's laws.
Our forefathers must be turning over in their graves.