Hanging Out in Rockford: I am a citizen of the USA — part one

I am a citizen of the United States of America. I became a citizen when my mother, Alice (Waters) Leifheit naturalized on Oct. 6,1953. I became a citizen because I was her child younger than 12 years of age, that was the law at the time. I was born in Exeter, Devonshire, England, an Irish citizen. My mother was poor and never processed my U.S. papers.

This has only presented a problem a couple of times in my life. Once when I was in college and I went to the federal building in Chicago to get a third-class radio operator’s license, they wouldn’t let me have one. I went to another floor of the federal building, and the clerk there acknowledged my citizenship, but could not give me anything to prove it, so I went back to Beloit College without my license. Many years later when I was attending law school at N.I.U., I was unable to obtain a student loan for the same reason, although I had previously received one and repaid it (for my undergraduate studies at Beloit). Evidently, that law has changed also.

My son has lived in Budapest on and off since 1991. He really likes it there and intends to make it his home. I have never visited him there. His mother did about eight years ago. It is high time I do also. I decide to go there for my 58th birthday. I set out to get my passport. This turns out to be an involved process because I don’t have my American papers. There is going to be a delay of 22 months just to get my U.S. papers, and after I receive them I will be able to apply for my American passport, and that will take some time also. So I am looking at at least two years before I can visit my son. I am disappointed to say the least.

I don’t remember who suggests the idea of re-establishing my Irish citizenship and getting an Irish passport. Perhaps it is my son. He knows about it. If you can prove your parents are of Irish ancestry, easy for me, you can re-establish your Irish citizenship. There is an additional value to my son. He can then claim Irish citizenship through me and enable himself to work anywhere in the E.U. without a work visa. A double bonus. The whole process starts in Chicago at the I.N.S., now a division of Homeland Security. I have to get my old green card re-instated. Marco Lenais of La Voz Latina helps me with this idea.

This is really a good thing for me to see. I can’t believe how badly we treat immigrants. The people at the I.N.S., with few exceptions, are rude beyond belief. People are herded and treated like cattle. The tone of voice is almost always condescending. No one cares that you have driven 100 miles or more. The pay window is closed in my face. I run into only one person who does not have this attitude. She is an immigrant herself. She goes out of her way to find my original green card registration. From there, I am able to go to the Irish consulate in Chicago and obtain my Irish passport. Then I have to return to the I.N.S. to have my passport stamped for re-entry to the United States. (“Don’t leave the States without your paay-pers,” the Irish girl at the consulate warns.)

Finally, all of that accomplished, I set out to see my son in Budapest. I have a wonderful time. But now the trip is over, and I am looking forward to returning to the United States. I say good-bye to Drew in front of his apartment in Budapest and take the cab to the airport. My eyes well up with tears as we pull away form his apartment building. There is a wreck on the freeway, and we have to take surface streets. I worry about whether we will be on time, but everything works out OK. I board the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. Everything goes smoothly, until I get to Frankfurt.

On the way to Budapest my passage through Frankfurt was so uncomplicated that I remarked about it in this column. I attributed the scare stories to over-active journalism. Now, on the way back, the scare stories don’t seem so out of line. We have to empty all our pockets, take off our outer garments, and even our shoes. Nothing like this has happened previously anywhere on this trip. I am confused by this.

Finally, I board the United 777 that is to take me to Chicago. I am seated next to a German businessman who lives in Taiwan, his name is Peter. He is traveling for pleasure, although he usually travels for business. He has a couple of hundred stamps in his passport, and he is using up about 50,000 frequent flier miles he has accumulated. He wants to use them up in case United decides not to honor them as part of the bankruptcy. He has a connecting flight to Los Angeles, he has an hour and a half to connect. From there, he is going to Hawaii to skin dive. I tell him I am going home. More next week.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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