By Gerard P. Howells
I was born 29 years ago in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. I first set my sights on moving to the United States at the age of 16 after reading its founding documents and Thomas Paine’s seminal work, Common Sense. I was attracted, more specifically, by the focus on individual freedom and the enumeration of natural rights that I knew to be essential to the human condition.
It was not, however, until a decade later in the year 2010 when this goal began to become a reality. I was accepted to attend an educational institution in Salt Lake City and hoped to find a way to stay on a permanent basis. Shortly after arriving I was fortunate enough to meet the woman who would become my wife in 2012, after a brief stint back in the UK due to financial difficulties related to being in the United States on a student visa. Under current U.S. law, foreign students are only legally able to work for up to 20 hours per week at the educational institution they are attending, or at a limited number of other institutions approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
Following my brief return to the land of my birth I returned to marry the woman I love. We began the process of adjusting my immigration status in November of 2012, the week after we were married. After a great deal of frustration with discerning what forms, evidence, documentation and (of course) fees needed to be submitted, we found it necessary to enlist the help of a very capable immigration attorney. We got all of the paperwork in order, and around $7,000 and a year later I have my green card. Others are not so fortunate, and must spend much more money and time traversing the complex system of laws and regulations.
The process involved a number of in-person appearances at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) office in downtown Salt Lake where I entered a cellphone-free zone and passed through security screening. Fingerprints were taken, as were photographs. The whole process felt like what I imagine, having never been arrested, being booked into jail is like.
Of course, I had my fingerprints taken at the U.S. embassy in London when applying for my student visa, and every time I’ve entered the U.S. as a tourist. But this time it was a little different. I placed my hand on a glass plate and was then instructed by the agent recording my biometrics to “relax” and told not to “resist” or “fight” her while she rolled my fingers over the scanner in a less than gentle and obviously agitated manner. The result of this was that I felt as if I had done something wrong and was being punished for it, even though I hadn’t.
The months following my initial appearance at USCIS were very uncertain and nerve-wracking. A number of notices trickled through the mail, updating us on the bureaucratic progress—but none assuaged the constant worry that I was somehow going to be declared unfit for approval and deported, being torn away from my wife, friends, and new family. To make matters worse, I was unable to work until August of 2013 when I received temporary work approval, a common interim step for those in my situation. The wait was extremely frustrating for someone who, prior to immigrating, had been employed full time in an increasingly specialized computing career for close to a decade.
In my mind, the whole process runs counter to the notion of being innocent until proven guilty. I realize that there are some people—many people, even—who have historically abused the rules regarding marriage-based immigration by fraudulently marrying U.S. citizens. However, given the philosophical basis upon which the United States was founded, the treatment received by those of us who have spent years, sacrificed financially, professionally, personally and in other areas of our lives to get here, does not provide a very appropriate welcome consistent with America’s founding values.
I don’t know why I was surprised—after all, the creep of collective justice throughout the western world is evident to those of us who love liberty—but I feel that I have become wiser, more skeptical, and discerning of what I see as examples of such injustices within society as a result of going through this process.
Far from being discouraged by the shattering of my admittedly self-applied rose-tinted lenses, I feel a renewed compulsion to stand up for the values of Constitution and its framers. I feel that we as Americans, be it by choice or by circumstances of birth, can make a difference by reading, discussing, and ultimately standing up in favor of the cause of liberty. What we need is an intellectual revolution based on the principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Liberty is too precious to be tangled up in multiple layers of bureaucracy.
It is alarming to me to hear some who have never been without the liberties guaranteed here argue against their existence. I think that through education—especially from people like me who have lived under semi-socialistic systems of government where the police need no reason to pull you over and demand your papers, your salary is garnished as a form of “social justice” and your right to self-defense is severely limited—we can achieve a more liberty-loving society where the rights of individuals are fully respected and, as long as they respect the rights of others, people are free to fully enjoy their life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.
Millions of immigrants seeking a free and independent existence, have sacrificed far more than me to make it to this shining city on the hill. Now that I am here, I plan on contributing to the cause of liberty and endeavoring to make Utah and the United States a better place than the place I left.
Gerard Howells is a British ex-patriot and computer specialist now living in Utah.