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Homeland Security, Formerly INS

An Experience in the Light of Possible New Legislation

Hendrik Bergen


After living and working in the USA for almost 38 years, my wife, Joke, and I decided to become American citizens.  Every 10 years we had to renew our
“green cards”---they are not so green anymore---and circumstances no longer gave us reasons not to take the step.  Contrary to many other countries, the Netherlands does not allow dual citizenship for people born in the Netherlands.  There are a host of exceptions, but in our case, that is the law.

In January we applied for citizenship, and along with completing Form N-400, we each had to pay $680.00 to make our request valid plus $20.00 for pictures plus $10.80 for postage to a certain lock box.

Early in February we received a notice of action with an invitation to appear at the USCIS---United States Citizenship and Immigration Service office---in northwest Houston at the end of February.  We thought that was a fairly quick response, and a 180 miles roundtrip was not too bad.  It was a short visit though; they only wanted to fingerprint us and take pictures, and they gave us procedural information and told us what to study for our
Civics and English tests. Being in the U.S. for so many years, we were exempt from the English test, and out of the 100 questions about U. S. government and history, we only had to study 20 of which only 6 out of 10 had to be correct..

Then the wait started, but finally we were invited to come to San Antonio in early May. I called and asked why we could not go to Houston; Fayette County, where we live, is in the San Antonio district. Hence, our mileage went up to 298 miles, and we had to stay in a motel because of the early  appointment time.  Joke and I were interviewed separately, and she was out in 15 minutes. I, on the other hand, got grilled. The main issue was my frequent travel.  One has to list all overseas travel during the last five years.  Due to my retirement, I had only ten trips to list.  However, the real question is how many overseas trips you have made since obtaining the green card.  For security I took all seven of my passports, and fortunately I had detailed information of all travel because I had my expense accounts.  First, the Citizenship and Immigration lady checked the last five years’ travel against my passports. At the airport, immigration stamps your passport in a random fashion, so entry stamps are not always easy to find, but she succeeded.  Then she asked the question about previous travel and whether I had stayed out of the country for more than three months.  I then knew what she was fishing for, my assignment at Shell in the Netherlands between 2002 and 2007.  These were not normal trips, so I explained my travel for Shell.  Sure enough, she tapped her computer and out came all my travel since 2000!  Bottom line is that they know everything but want to hear it from you.  Still, she went over all that travel and asked questions about each trip. In the end, I guess I got a bit cocky and answered questions such as “have you ever been convicted,” “do you owe the IRS money,” “have you ever tried to apply for a government position,” etc., “No, but you already know that.” She just smiled and cleared me.  Joke was waiting downstairs, wondering whether only she had passed, and I had gotten deported.

Then, finally, in early June we got the invitation to go to Corpus Christi---a roundtrip of over 400 miles---to take the Oath of Allegiance.  Again, we had to stay in a motel to make it to the ceremony on time.  When we surrendered our green cards, I joked that they could expect a travel bill from us.  Joke nudged my ribs and reminded me that I was not a U. S. citizen yet.

The ceremony was worth the long trip. There were 75 candidates from 26 different nations, most of them from Mexico.  The small number, compared to between 1,000 and 2,000 in similar events in Houston and San Antonio, made this a classy event, and we received our certificates of citizenship directly from the judge!

Next thing was a U.S. passport, which set each of us back another $25.00 for the county clerk and $110.00 per person for the passport plus photos. Now, I’m not sure of the total cost to become a U.S. Citizen; I’ll leave that to the reader to calculate.

These days, there is much discussion about reform of the immigration laws and who is eligible and who is not.  But more importantly, regardless of the reasons for support or opposition to reforms, if the Federal government follows the same procedure we went through and the costs associated with it for 11 million or so potential citizens, what will be the true effect of the new law? I doubt that the U.S. government has the same extensive information about these individuals as they had on legal aliens like Joke and myself.  For these reasons, I cannot believe that the government has the manpower or that these 11 million people all have the means to pursue citizenship, at least not the way we acquired it.

Since most of the readers are born citizens, I thought it would be informative to explain the procedure and the possible effects of a new immigration law.