CLI: Chad Adams, Director, Center for Local Innovation
Paul Purdue, illegal immigration activist, recent immigrant, current U.S. Citizen
CLI: What made you decide to become a US Citizen?Purdue: When I first arrived in America, it was only on a temporary basis, at the request of my future wife to give America a try before we made a firm decision on whether or not to stay in America or return to Ireland.
After getting over the initial culture shock (like driving on the wrong side of the road!), I grew to like it here more and more and to appreciate everything America had to offer. I remember the first time I was in a grocery store. My wife asked me to pick out a loaf of bread and I was so overwhelmed by the variety of choice, that all I could do was stare at the hundreds of loaves. It was probably around then that I decided to begin the process of changing my status and working towards getting my green card.
Once I attained my green card, I was very happy. But I soon realized that in order to fully appreciate this great country, I would need to go all the way and get my US citizenship.
I wanted to participate more fully in the political process, including voting - a right granted only to U.S. citizens.
CLI: Immigration is a dominant issue in national and state politics right now. You have gone through the process of becoming a citizen, so your viewpoint is somewhat different. How do you feel about the immigration debate?Purdue: I feel that the current immigration debate in America is a sellout to the citizens and the legal residents of the United States in order to obtain votes.
I realize that the immigration process is difficult and at times expensive, but as a US citizen, I am pleased that the process is as difficult as it is, because if you want to acheive citizenship, you should have to earn it. That's not to say that there aren't things about the process that I wouldn't change, but overall I respect the process and the importance of properly vetting each applicant, no matter how long that takes.
CLI: The process to become a citizen is arduous, taking seven years, lots of study and personal sacrifice. What are some of the more difficult parts of the citizenship process?Purdue: Without a doubt, the most difficult part is the waiting. The former INS, now under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, and known as US Citizenship and Immigration Services, has no telephone number available to any of their local offices where an applicant can speak with a real agent who can provide them with information regarding the status of their case.
Currently there is only a toll-free number to call for general information and forms; and while you can speak with a real person, they can only provide you with vague answers to general questions and have no direct access or knowlege regarding your individual application.
For me the second most difficult part was the endless trips back and forth to Charlotte for background checks, fingerprints, interviews, etc. It can be quite expensive when you factor in lost days on the job in order to make these trips, in addition to the expense of the forms themselves.
One form alone cost $470.00! From the time I began the process until I finally achieved my citizenship, my wife and I had probably taken fifteen trips back and forth to Charlotte for travel permits, work permits, medical screening, etc. In addition, they are very stringent in how they set appointments for these matters. You are to come at the exact specified time, no earlier and no later. And should you be late or miss an appointment, they are quick to remind you that by doing so, your application process can be set back to the very beginning.
CLI: At one point, you were having to pledge not to accept any assistance from the government, but weren't allowed to work either. Tell us more about what was happening then.Purdue: I arrived in America in November of 1998, and my wife and I were married a little over a month later. Because of the change in HER status, it required that she file a joint tax return for that year.
Unfortunately, I had only just applied for my change of status, and I was not allowed to work until it was approved. I was then issued a work permit. So, I had to apply for a Federal Tax ID number in order to file a tax return on wages I had not and could not earn. I actually had to pay taxes before I earned my first dime!
Once you do apply to change your status, you have to sign a sworn statement that you are not and will not be accepting any sort of local, state or federal government assistance in any way. This would include food stamps, unemployment, health care, etc. Essentially, my wife had to become my "sponsor," and had to submit her own affidavits showing her current wage, length of employment and anticipated length of future employment.
She basically had to prove that she could provide for the two of us so that at no point during the entire process would I ever become a burden to the United States government, regardless of whether I contributed to our household income or not. However, once I received my green card and my status was changed to a Resident Alien, I no longer needed her sponsorship, which was a relief to us both.
CLI: Much of the debate today centers on the issue of amnesty, what are your feelings on that issue?Purdue: I am opposed to amnesty in all it's forms.
Why should we reward people who break the law? Amnesty only sends the message to other people wanting to come to America that, if they can get here illegally, it will only be a matter of time before they are given amnesty. It also takes away any incentive they have to abide by the laws and go through the legal immigration process.
People who come here illegally only want to take from America and not give back to it. They will never assimilate, they will never learn the language, they will never pay taxes, and they will only take advantage of the good will and public assistance offered by the American people.
Illegal aliens seem to be getting preferential treatment over the people who are actually trying to go through the process legally. Paying a $2,000 fine seems insignificant compared with the $6,000+ that it cost me to do things legally.
CLI: If you were reforming the citizenship process, what aspects of it would you change? What do you think needs to stay the same?Purdue: First of all, I would assign each applicant a case worker that has a real phone number and a real address who will be with you through the entire process - someone that you can contact and speak with regarding your individual application.
I would eliminate as much of the duplication as possible. One travel permit should be enough. One set of fingerprints should be enough. One physical should be enough. Fingerprints don't change. When I was fingerprinted for the fourth and final time, I jokingly asked the immigration officer if my fingerprints changed every 18 months. Her reply was "No they don't change every 18 months - only the price does."
Secondly, pass legislation that gets rid of the benefits given to "anchor babies." In Ireland and Australia, anchor babies are no longer allowed. Once the mother is able to travel, she and her child are returned to their country of origin. The anchor baby will only be allowed to return once he or she has turned eighteen.
Other than that, I think the process is a good one. I think it should stay lengthy and difficult. Nothing worthwhile comes to anyone without a little hardship and sacrifice. This should be no different.
CLI: Much of the debate today focuses on Hispanic immigration. Local, state and federal government agencies are spending increasing amounts of money to accommodate the Spanish language into their services. How do you feel about that?Purdue: I am totally opposed to any of the taxpayers money being used to facilitate integration of the Spanish language into American Society.
The reason the debate focuses on Hispanics is because they are the largest growing sector of illegal aliens in America. But illegal aliens come in all shapes and sizes, and speak many other languages. Why do we only focus on the Spanish language? What about my native language, which is Irish? What about the Russian immigrants? Or the Chinese?
The simple fact is that when you go through the process, and it comes time to take your final citizenship test and interview, it is all given in English. You have to be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of English in order to become a US citizen.
English is the language of America. English is the language of commerce. English is the common language that unites us all as a people.
All European countries recognize their own native language as their official language. While personally they may be bi-lingual or multi-lingual, their governments do not recognize any other languages as a native language. Bi-lingualism or multi-linguilism is causing the destruction of the American way of life because, if people cannot communicate in a common language, it leads to segregation.
And despite America's hesitance to declare English the official language, at the end of my citizneship ceremony, we were all asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, recited in English, not Spanish or any other language.
CLI: Many immigrants have come here to better their lives and the lives of their family. Of those who have come here illegally, they have known for decades that the United States has been reluctant to enforce immigration law. How should the government deal with what is happening?Purdue: The first thing we need to do is secure our borders with a dedicated military presence.
Another effective way to curb illegal immigration is to take away those things that make it attractive to those who want to come here. Stop all forms of public assistance to anyone who is here illegally. That includes health care, education, free housing and employment.
Impose a stiff penalty on employers that hire illegal aliens. Impose similar penalties on those who provide them with housing. Stop providing our schools with bi-lingual teachers whose only function is to assimilate the children of illegals. Change the laws regarding "anchor babies," and return them and their parents to their country of origin, only allowing their return upon their eighteenth birthday.
Stop providing courthouses with interpreters for the growing number of illegal aliens who are committing crimes and draining the resources of the Indigent Defense Fund. The cost savings from defending and incarcerating them could be better and more wisely spent sending them back to their country of origin.
CLI: Wow, you've made a lot of powerful points. Any final thoughts that you would like to leave with readers?Purdue: America is not without it's faults, but without a doubt, it is still the greatest country in the world. It is the last bastion of freedom and liberty.
While citizens of other countries are quick to criticize us, I would bet that given the opportunity, they would all trad places with me in a heartbeat.
Yes, it was a long and difficult process to become a citizen, but I am grateful for the opportunities and the bounty that is America. I am grateful to all of my family and friends, including you Chad, for making me feel like a member of the American family. I will always be proud to be Irish, but I'm damn proud to be an American.
Paul Purdue, Biography:
Paul Purdue is a 48 year old native of County Cavan, Ireland who emigrated to America in 1998. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his wife, Sue, and his two Scottish Terriers, Jack and Charlie.
He works at his own business, restoring antiques and building miniature grandfather clocks. He received his US citizenship on January 21, 2005 (one day after George Bush was sworn in for his second term) and since that time has become quite active in local and state politics.