On Saturday, Tanith Belbin, a Canadian-born figure skater, became an American citizen. She was sworn in at a USCIS office in Detroit one day after President Bush signed an appropriations bill designed to speed up the naturalization process.
According to this article
, the new measure allows Belbin and other people "of extraordinary ability" to take advantage of changes in immigration rules that speed up the process. Since 2002, individuals like Belbin have been allowed to apply for a green card and visa at the same time, rather than waiting 18 to 24 months. As a result of the measure, Belbin and her ice dance partner Ben Agosto will be eligible to compete in the winter Olympics in Turin Italy.
I first heard about Belbin and her bid for US citizenship while watching a figure skating competition on television. The announcer did not explain her situation in detail, but simply stated that Belbin was waiting on President Bush to push through her immigration case over the holidays so that she would be able to represent the United States in the upcoming Olympics. Not knowing that Belbin had to abide by the old immigration rules, I was quite put off by the thought of a figure skater (from Canada nonetheless) jumping to the front of the line because she had a chance to bring home a gold medal.
I followed the story about Belbin for a week, grumbling when I would hear about her on the radio, grumbling even more when I saw the new label on the Diet Coke bottle - a greyscale picture of a figure skater with the words "proud sponsor of the US Olympic team". Daily, I have checked my case status online with the USCIS and, daily, I have been disappointed to see that no changes have been made. In fact, I still smart from being treated poorly the last time that I dealt with the USCIS office in Chicago and am so tired of living in "immigrant limbo" that I would like to throw up my hands in frustration and jump on the first plane back to the Motherland. That is when I realize just how stuck in limbo I am. My life in Canada stopped the day that I came here, and my life here has not had an opportunity to begin.
Perhaps this system is somewhat better for those of "extraordinary" ability who can capture the media's attention, but for ordinary me, it has been terrible. I think back to the timeline that our immigration lawyer had estimated - working by this date, green card by this date, life returning to normal by this date - and realize that another deadline has passed and I am still known as "that immigrant girl".
Hopefully 2006 will bring some welcome changes.