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A woman holds an American flag during a U.S. citizenship swearing-in ceremony in Phoenix, Ariz. in 2007. (JEFF TOPPING/REUTERS)
A woman holds an American flag during a U.S. citizenship swearing-in ceremony in Phoenix, Ariz. in 2007. (JEFF TOPPING/REUTERS)

Expats debate: It’s harder for me to be a U.S. citizen because I’m in a same-sex relationship Add to ...

Moving to a new country is a big step, and then there’s the decision to permanently settle down. We asked our Canadian expats in the United States to tell us what made them finally takenthe citizenship oath – if they did.

This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.

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Leah Taylor, adjunct professor in Augusta, Ga., from Ontario:

Even though I would love to become a U.S. citizen (assuming I can have dual citizenship), I am in a position where the chances of me being able to apply for citizenship are almost impossible, simply because I am in a same-sex relationship.

I am here on two temporary TN visas, both dependent on the jobs that I hold. My partner Jessica and I dream about the day where she would be able to sponsor me as her wife to live here with her as a permanent resident and eventually a citizen. I want to be able to contribute to this country where the woman I love comes from. I want the opportunity to feel stable enough here to purchase a home, start a small business, and find work opportunities that are not strictly confined by the TN status requirements. We can’t do any of these things right now – my legal status here is just too tenuous and this puts us in a sort of limbo in terms of building a life here.

Ben Wright, web co-ordinator in Atlanta, Ga., from PEI:

I became a citizen so I could serve on a jury and vote, both of which I see as moral obligations for someone like me who plans to live here the rest of my life.

On top of that, I have two kids who were both born here. I’m proud of their Canadian heritage but I’m also proud that they’re Americans. When I was deciding whether or not to apply for citizenship I tried to imagine how a conversation with them would go if I didn’t apply and they asked me about it.

“Daddy, are you an American like us?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I couldn’t think of a reason to give that wouldn’t either be a lie or ridiculously selfish. If The United States is good enough to be the home of my wife and my children it’s good enough for me. I have a great life here and have been given tremendous opportunities that I wouldn’t have had at home. Becoming a citizen is my way of giving back to the country that has already given me so much.

Derek Congram, archaeologist in Honolulu, Hawaii, from Ontario:

I have chosen not to become a citizen in the U.S. I love my work and would not have the same opportunities in Canada, but I continue to feel that the U.S. is not, nor can be “home” for my family. The public education system in the state where we live is terrible, health care costs are very high, and a non-resident alien my wife cannot work here. I have excellent career prospects in the U.S., but the situation is quite negative for my family. For that reason, our family sees our presence in the U.S. as temporary.

Miles Mahaffy, engineer in Milwaukee, Wisc., from Montreal:

I really felt like I an outsider when I was unable to voice my opinion through the election process. I received my citizenship just prior to the last presidential election and it really felt good to vote for what I thought was a change in direction for the country that I was living in and calling my home. It brings a sense of acceptance in the community when you are engaged in politics and society.

Colleen Pendergast, self-employed former teacher in Mass., from Edmonton:

Besides the ability to vote, my reason for choosing to take citizenship was simple: I wanted to go back to Canada. I also wanted to keep my options open if I chose to return to the U.S. in the future. Technically, as a permanent resident, I wasn’t allowed to leave the U.S. for more than 6 months collectively (for the entire 18 years I had been here … oops) and now I am not bound by that rigid requirement, though I know I am still bound by other custom laws. I have been making progress towards living in both countries for half the year. It takes time, but my citizenship was a part of it.

What did I give up? This is part of the oath that I had to take and it was a tough pill to swallow, to be sure, “that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;” That was the hardest part for me, renouncing my home country that I personally feel is a country with better foreign policies, better domestic policies, better social stances, and right now, a better economy. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I was coming from a nation where I needed to leave in order to gain a better standard of living, but I wasn’t.

Carla Swanson, in Big Lake, Minn., from Saskatoon, Sask.:

Two things stood out for me during the citizenship ceremony. The first was the moment the President of the United States came on the video screen and immediately addressed us as “My fellow Americans.” The second was the high number of Somali and Ethiopian immigrants becoming citizens that day. There were about a thousand of us all together, but people from these two countries made up the largest groups by far. That was especially interesting for me because I worked a lot with Somali residents on behalf of the Congressman, along with many Hmong and Hispanic people. Minnesota has the largest Somali and the largest Hmong populations in the U.S. last time I checked.

Chloe Wolman, in Los Angeles, from Toronto:

I never wanted to be a citizen. It was important to my mother, who has been a citizen for more than a decade now, and I frankly couldn’t think of a legitimate reason not to go through with it. So, after a fairly well organized and easy process, I went from being a green card holder to an American citizen.

It didn’t really hit me until I went to the swearing-in ceremony how important it actually was. There was this sea of more than one thousand people waving tiny American flags. People were crying and cheering and families were completely overjoyed. I think, in our rush to criticize the United States, we forget just what a privilege this is. There are millions of people for whom the United States is a true safe haven compared to their countries of origin. As Canadians, we were already very fortunate so it’s easy to look down our noses and point out what we believe are the failings of the country to the south. But then here we are, a group of expats. There are thousands of us and we’re here for a reason. There are opportunities we couldn’t get back home. There are things America gets right.

I know I’m lucky. I have been given a great opportunity and I did take that for granted. Now, not only do I realize that but, with respect to the legitimate criticisms we Canadians make of the U.S., I have the opportunity to help make changes. I can vote. I have a responsibility to vote.

Some quotes have been edited and condensed.

Have a question for our expats? Please fill out our form, email us or leave a comment below.

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