Monday, June 7, 2010


Well, it seems that all is well citizenship-wise. I went to my interview, passed the interview, and have been "recommended" for citizenship; I won't actually become a citizen until USCIS has reviewed my interview and until I have taken the oath. The interview itself was odd and strangely nerve-wracking. Nerve-wracking because even though I met the paper requirements and am a competent speaker and writer of English, I didn't think that I could take anything for granted. I was also slightly worried that I would flunk the exam.

The interviewer reviewed my N-400 and re-asked me some of the questions on the form.

The form itself is complicated. Here are some of the things I find particularly difficult.

(filed under General)
  • 6. Do you have any title of nobility in any foreign country?
  • 7. Have you ever been declared legally incompetent or been confined to a mental institution within the last five years?
My answer to this is no -- on both accounts. But what if I were to answer yes? These are eligibility requirements. I don't think the US disallows nobility on principle, so it must be that there is something about nobility that requires further consideration/examination. Would you have to document it? Does being noble complicate the question about giving up loyalty to any other country? Is it something about using (or not) a noble title in the US? Is there a distinction between being a Saudi prince, European gentry/royalty and African royalty/tribal leader? Is it about giving up status and privilege in order to live among and as one of the people? About a nobility that descends by blood and thus cannot be eradicated vs. voluntary conceptual affirmation of citizenship? Curious.

Even more curious is the immediate slippage from nobility to "legal incompetence" and "mental institution." Don't know what to make of that. Some thoughts. You can be declared "legally incompetent" and not be "confined." I cannot believe that having spent some time in a residential care facility invalidates (deliberately used) your capacity to be and value as a citizen. And if it doesn't, why does immigration need to know? USCIS doesn't ask about all medical conditions requiring residential care.... And what of "legal incompetence?" I have no idea what the implications of this are for immigration. I know a little bit about what it entails in the area of family law and medical self-determination, but immigration? Beats me. Suppose, however, that the answer is yes. That you were declared "legally incompetent" midway through the application process and that at the time of interview, your status was not determinable and that you might never be able to affirm your desire to become a US citizen. Does that invalidate your application? How much does being able to communicate that you still wish to become a citizen affect your application, if, say, you would qualify on all other grounds?

(filed under Moral Character)

22. Have you ever:
  • a. Been a habitual drunkard?
  • b. Been a prostitute, or procured anyone for prostitution?
  • c. Failed to support your dependents or to pay alimony?
  • d. Sold or smuggled controlled substances, illegal drugs, or narcotics?
  • e. Been married to more than one person at the same time?
  • f. Helped anyone enter or try to enter the United States illegally?
  • g. Gambled illegally or received income from illegal gambling?
I've talked a little about the alcoholism thing before. I still don't know whether alcoholism can be counted as a disability and thus entitles you to protection under disability rights laws, but I do think that alcoholism is not a moral concern.

The prostitution one was hard. I was asked whether I had been a prostitute but not, I think, whether I had procured anyone for prostitution (I don't actually remember this). Again, the question is so what -- I think I understand why prostitution occupies such a place in the American cultural imagination of immorality. But is being a prostitute necessarily immoral? And look at the language -- if it had said "sex worker" would the valence of the question be the same? Some people choose sex work; others don't. And for those who don't, the morality of the question is hardly the point. Surely, there are other issues to attend to? I suppose that if you could document the ways in which you were forced into sex work, you might be able to make your case, but again .... the deck looks stacked to me. (And who says women can't procure...)

Polygamy in the US is illegal, granted... but why is that a moral thing that pertains to citizenship? There are other possibly interpretable as immoral/historically interpreted as immoral things that are/were illegal in the US, none of which affect the capacity to be a citizen. Is stealing worse than polygamy? The form asks if you've ever been arrested/detained/convicted, thus, for say, stealing or murder (crimes that are against the 10 Commandments and are as much a part of Christian morality as the conservative definition of marriage); the weight therefore depends on whether you were caught. Not whether you ever did it, as in the case of polygamy.

(filed under Oath Requirements)
  • 37. If the law requires it, are you willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States?
  • 38. If the law requires it, are you willing to perform noncombatant services in the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • 39. If the law requires it, are you willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction?
In my interview, these were interesting questions. I affirmed that I would be willing to bear arms. (I don't think there is any other acceptable answer if you don't have a history and documented tradition of pacifism). But then the disability stuff kicked in. I looked down at my chair. And the USCIS man thought it was a gesture of sadness? Anyway. He started talking about the "wonderful" things people do nowadays. And how I could fly a drone plane. He then asked if the chair was permanent....

The values by which we construct citizenship are just that. Values by which we construct citizenship. It's neither an absolute right nor an absolute category.

On another -- lighter -- note: Do you think the troops would want me go dance for them? I would be using my current skill set for important non-combatant service. smile. Oh! Here's another question. What do you think the politics are of sending highly skilled disabled people out to "meet and inspire" recently disabled vets? Dodgy, I would say .... but in a carefully nuanced way? Is it possible to think about a transfer of culture, skill, mentorship and friendship, without the baggage of inspiration?

But the good news is that I have been recommended for citizenship. And I am happy and grateful. Because now I can vote and change the world. Dammit.


  1. I actually just signed up to go to a veterans' hospital and talk about service dogs. I am disabled in a genetic way so it won't be the same for them but hopefully it will be valuable.

  2. Some of the questions that people are asked surprise me-- we don't "disown" citizens born here for some of these problems. With nobility, I think it might be that there could be a very big PR/international relations problem if we just allowed a dignitary or young princess to renounce his or her title permanently. I'm surprised polygamy is included under moral character rather than under general--it can be a logistic difficulty since it's not legal here, but that's imposing US government mores on other cultures in an absolutist way.

    I am very enthusiastic about the idea of introducing vets to disability through dance and other positive means (here people bring service dogs to the vets' hospital as well). To be slam-dunked into disability when society tells you it's a bad thing takes quite an adjustment--everything that shows disability in a highly positive light can help, plus relieve the depression of being in rehab. I think everyone would benefit.

  3. Interesting that the interviewer mentioned the drone plane. I come from a family with a long history of service and would have loved to have served, but they are strict about the physical requirements, even for a JAG lawyer or an analyst. Having a missing toe or something does not prevent service, but being in a wheelchair definitely does. In the event of a massive callup, I don't think they would call up the otherwise-capable PWDs, and if they would, they would probably give us scut work like packing parachutes because they'd assume that we couldn't do anything else (because disability=low intelligence).

    As for dancing for vets with disabilities, I think it would be wonderful, but I think, despite the number of veterans with disabilities, military culture actively reinforces the belief that a person with a disability is a bad and lesser person. I don't think the culture would take well to portraying disability in a positive light, even to help the vets, because of its investment in the importance of a "perfect" athletic body.

  4. First of all, thank you for sharing. These questions are fascinating. I shared them with my mom and her response was, "This is today? Not 1920?"

    Second, the legally incompetent thing? Whoa, that would be interesting for me. I've signed over my legal power of attorney for a couple of months at one time because I was physically incapable of signing things when I was a quadriplegic. Would that have disqualified me from citizenship? (I'm a "natural-born" citizen so it's not an issue.)

    Third, congrats! We're going to be lucky to have you. :)