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Becoming an American citizen can be expensive

I am a Canadian who traveled to San Diego in the autumn of 1990, seeking adventure.

I had a few months to kill, and instead of spending that time in the cold wintery north, I accepted an invite by a friend of mine to join him on an odyssey into the unknown of Southern California.

My physiological batteries needed recharging, and this trip was just what the doctor ordered. In my quest for the reason behind everything, I found something I didn’t even know I was seeking — a wife!

I found myself instantly becoming not only a husband, but a step-dad, as well. Nicholas, who was 9 at the time I married his mom, adapted easily to his new situation. Justin, a 15-year-old, was a different story. He was the man of the house and I was about to rock his world in a big way.

We had our head-banging sessions on more than one occasion. I hated to lose, and so did he. But over time, it all worked out, and today, almost 28 years later, Justin and his brother, Nick, continue their journey through life as my sons.

The day after Kerry and I got married, I headed to the immigration office to begin the process of applying for my green card. That’s right, I was going to be an American citizen with dual status.

When I left the immigration office that first day, I did so with green card in hand.

That was easy, I mused as I made my way home. Over the next two years, I made multiple trips to Immigration. I answered hundreds of questions during the vetting process and, of course, I was required to pay some sort of administration fee every time I met with my immigration case manager.

Kerry even had to raise her right hand and swear that she would make sure I wouldn’t be a drain on American social services and that she would support me. The day finally arrived when Uncle Sam gave us his blessing. All I had to do was get a job and stay in the country until my swearing-in ceremony. I wouldn’t even be allowed to visit my family in Canada. Those were the rules.

Then one day, I got a phone call that I never expected, a call that caught me totally off guard.

“Ring, Ring ... Hello? Oh, hi, Dad. How are things going up there?”

He wasted no time is telling me that he wasn’t doing so well. I listened, hanging on to each word as if it were his last. When Kerry and I were married, my dad was too sick to make the trip south for the wedding. I had no idea how sick he was until then.

My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mouth dropped as Dad described his prognosis. It wasn’t good. He didn’t have much time left. Kerry was on the phone as well, and together the three of us said what needed to be said, and with that, the call ended and my crying began. My new family embraced me, sharing my pain.

I immediately contacted Immigration and spoke with my case manager, explaining to him the details of my situation. He understood and promised to help me get a temporary pass, allowing me to leave the United States. By the time the paperwork was processed for my pass, my dad had passed away. It all happened so quickly. This would be the first and last time Kerry would see her father-in-law, at his funeral.

Yes, becoming an American citizen can be expensive. I paid with time I lost with my father, time I would never get back.

Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.

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