People who don’t know me well don’t realize I’m not American. I have no accent, am among the most patriotic people you could meet, went to college and law school here, interned for a senator, clerked for a federal judge, worked on a presidential campaign, spent time in Iraq, and speak and write about the U.S. Constitution for a living. I was born in Russia, however, and immigrated to Canada with my parents when I was little. “We took a wrong turn at the St. Lawrence Seaway,” I like to joke.
The upshot is that, much as I’ve wanted to be American since about age eight — when I discovered that the U.S. governing ethos was “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while Canada’s is “peace, order, and good government” — I am a Canadian citizen. And, because of this country’s perverted immigration system, none of the time I’ve spent in the United States (my entire adult life save a 10-month masters program in London) got me any closer to the unrestricted right to live and work here (a “green card”).
Don’t worry, I’ve always been legal, through a combination of student, training, and professional visas, but those were always tied to the school or employer, hindering the types of professional activities I could engage in hanging a sword of Damocles over my life. If I lost my job — as so many lawyers have, for example, in this economy — I would have to leave the country where about 95% of my personal and professional network is located.
When I came to Cato, the opportunity presented itself to finally be able to petition for a green card. (I’ll spare you the overly technical and exceedingly frustrating details.) Along the way, I even got a certificate saying that the U.S. government — or at least the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (what used to be the I.N.S.) — considered me an “alien of exceptional ability.” I didn’t let this go to my head; when lawyers and bureaucrats come up with a term of art, it means less in real life than, say, one of you readers emailing me that you liked something I blogged here.
Anyhow, not expecting any action on my green card petition for at least another year (based on the processing times posted at the USCIS website), last night I came home to an unmarked envelope in my mailbox. It was my green card! — complete with a little pamphlet welcoming me to America.
This is quite literally the key to the rest of my life in this wonderful country. Those who know me well know how huge a deal this is for me personally, how long it has taken, and how many arbitrary and capricious obstacles our immigration non-policy places in the way of “skilled workers.” (Three years ago I attracted media attention during the Senate immigration debate with the soundbite, “if this reform goes through, I’m giving up law and taking up gardening.”)
I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve met — including, in significant part, through the big-tent movement for liberty — and I am eternally grateful that this day has finally arrived. Believe me that I will never take for granted the great privilege that is permanent residence in the United States. My sincere hope is that America remains a beacon of liberty and that shining city on a hill.