If you read my last post you may have been left wondering, well, whom exactly did I vote for?
The answer, I am sad to say, is that I do not vote. Shocking, right? How could an overly opinionated person like me not vote? As that is becoming a Frequently Asked Question™ and the answer is surreal and complex, I’m going to explain it here once and for all.
First, I must explain that exactly like Donald Trump, I come from an immigrant family. In fact, I come from an immigrant family and an emigrant family. In fact, I was not born in the USA; I am what the US Citizenship and Immigration Service calls a "resident alien" and I have been most of my life.
Why is this? Well, I seem to be cursed with a very weird family tradition. Let me start by explaining the stories of two other members of my family.
My mother’s mother was born and raised in Leicester, England. While cheerily romping around Europe drinking tea and fighting literal Nazis as all British people tended to do at that time, my grandmother met my grandfather in Caserta, Italy. He was a Californian, also out fighting Nazis. They worked in the local palace as part of some joint command center there. Anyway, they got married, moved back to southern California and had a daughter, my mother. Here’s the interesting part — because my mother’s mother was British you’d think my mother would get automatic British citizenship. But no, at that time, men could convey citizenship to such foreign born children, but not women. This flagrant sexism was eventually repaired in British law, but not retroactively.
The next story concerns my son. As I am a 100% born-on-the-island British citizen, I definitely should be able to convey automatic British citizenship to my son, right? Wrong! I was not married to my son’s mother when he was born (gasp!) and apparently England does not like the "natural" children of stupid parents. Well, did not like, past tense. You see, because it was completely medieval and ridiculous they just recently fixed that too. But not retroactively.
With that context, we can appreciate my more complex story better. My mother’s unambiguous American citizenship should confer itself to me as well, right? Wrong! Because people very often flat out disbelieve me when I tell them this, I’m going to include the exact relevant passage from the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Take a look and note that this excerpt was edited such that everything in it is relevant.
INA: ACT 301 - NATIONALS AND CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES AT BIRTH Sec. 301. [8 U.S.C. 1401] The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth: (g) a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States ... of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States ... for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years: Provided, That any periods of honorable service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or periods of employment with the United States Government... by such citizen parent, or any periods during which such citizen parent is physically present abroad as the dependent unmarried son or daughter and a member of the household of a person (B) employed by the United States Government..., may be included in order to satisfy the physical-presence requirement of this paragraph. This proviso shall be applicable to persons born on or after December 24, 1952, to the same extent as if it had become effective in its present form on that date...
This is saying that my mother would have had to live in the USA from at least age 11 to 16 (strangely, she could have lived in Cuba for her first 10 years). But this is the code as it stands today. What makes this so tricky to research is that this code does not apply to me because when I was born a different code was in effect. When I was born, the residency period was this.
Immigration and Nationality Act § 301(g); 8 USC § 1401(g). For children born prior to the enactment of Public Law 99-653 on November 14, 1986, the citizen parent's U.S. presence requirement is ten years, of which at least five years had to have been after the parent's fourteenth birthday.
Ok, my mother still could have lived her first 9 years in the Soviet Union, but back then she needed to live in the USA from age 9 to 19 before leaving to have a foreign born child. Unfortunately my mother who had lived in California all her life left when she was 17.
She had just precociously graduated a year early from high school and my grandfather was working for the US Navy as a researcher in the Navy communications labs in Point Loma, San Diego. Here’s one of my grandfather’s patents from that time which is assigned to the Navy. Perhaps because of his English wife, my grandfather was sent to England on a scientist exchange program. What were they going to do with my 17 year old mother, just leave her? No, she went along with the rest of the family.
There in England, my mother went to some kind of college, had some kind of job, and carried on being a normal human. She met my father who was going to engineering school and they got married. A couple years later, they had a child. That’s where I take the stage. When I was 18 months old, my mother moved back to the US with her husband and baby (who, according to greencard mugshots, was adorable).
Now looking closely at the law again there is a provision to allow time spent away from the US to be considered time spent residing in the US if the person in question is a dependent of someone on US military or government business. And my grandfather clearly was. However, it seems my mother was married 5 months before turning 19 (not at all unusual at the time) meaning that even with the provision for being in the household of a US government employee, she was still 5 months short of the overly long residency requirements. How do we know those requirements were extreme? Because they reduced them. But not retroactively!
We know that they can favor enacting such changes retroactively because the part about giving residency credit to dependents of US government personnel stationed overseas is indeed explicitly retroactive. Unfortunately that falls just short of helping me. And the reduced time requirements are mysteriously not retroactive.
Ok, so I am not automatically a citizen and the changes to immigration law in my lifetime have just barely failed to magically turn me into one. At this point people are usually in disbelief. They always say, but your mother is American, you can "just apply for citizenship". Indeed, how un-foreign is my grandfather’s family? My grandfather was born and eventually died in California. And the same with his family far back into the history of California. My relatives donated the land for California’s first state park. My uncle is American. My sister and brother, nephew and niece. My wife. My son. Yes, one could certainly imagine this plausible. But it’s not.
Alas, but there are problems with what is called naturalization.
I haven’t checked the exact wording in while but when I first looked into it, I would have been required to swear to kill communists (perhaps certain of my American relatives?) and other such disgusting un-American bullshit. This oath business has actually been the subject of recent right wing trolling and, as a fierce conscientious objector, the more complex aspects of this issue annoyingly apply to me. Too annoying. Any oath beyond a simple implicit promise to follow the rules in the same way as any other human in America, fundamentally violates the first principle of what being American is all about.
I would have to, in theory, renounce my UK citizenship which I’ve grown fond of for sentimental and pragmatic reasons. Though without the EU, maybe that’s not such a loss. Quick side diversion: Did I vote to stay in the EU? Well, no. The last time I looked into voting in England it seemed that I was required to have a British "locale", basically a place in England I was from. But I left at 18 months of age. Deep down, I beleive that I am not from anywhere. My English relatives complicated that more by all moving away from the one place I did visit and know as a child. I didn’t live in the city I was born in and know nothing about it. Because I have no reasonable point of origin in England, it seems that I’m effectively disenfranchised there too.
It’s not cheap. $680. How many people would vote if they were hit up for large bills at the polling station each time? I won’t even list separately the insane amount of paperwork, tests, oaths, appointments, lines to wait in, etc. While I deeply sympathize with the plight of normal immigrants, since the US is my home and, historically, my family’s home, I feel somewhat indignant about this. I would feel better donating this time and money to deserving immigrants rather than to my own ridiculous situation.
For me the requirement that utterly precludes this avenue of citizenship, if done properly, is that they require you to list every foreign place you’ve ever been which, for me, is as good as rendering naturalization impossible. I had circumnavigated the globe before I was 5. I’ve been to dozens of foreign places I will never remember and many times more that I do. But not with exact dates and supporting documentation. Is it unreasonable that I buy my shoes in the foreign country that I can see from my balcony? Do you have a record of all of your trips to buy shoes? Apparently the US wants to discourage the very cosmopolitan.
And finally… Bloody cheeky buggers! This well-meaning, polymath genius, Nazi-fighting, towering intellectual bad-ass decides to dedicate the rest of his life to his country so that we could eventually enjoy things like democracy and wi-fi and submarine launched nuclear war (the best kind it turns out), and the country rewards him by disenfranchising his only grandchild? How thankful am I that this betrayal of my grandfather and his patriotic service can be corrected by me grovelling to the perpetrators? On behalf of the great American who was my grandfather let me say to the latest US Immigration and Naturalization Act: Fuck you! Who would be proud to be a citizen of that perfidious country in those circumstances? I’m allowed to say that because an American legacy I have inherited is being an impulsive hothead. I’m told that’s very popular right now.