- Posted January 1, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Jumping through hoops at American Citizen Services
My son was born out of wedlock to a Filipina girl. I was eager to secure his birthright to US citizenship, but one needs to schedule an appointment months in advance and there was never an opening when I could travel. If they’re so backlogged that it takes months to schedule appointments, a supervisor should help clear the backlog.
I went to the Bangkok embassy and had four documents notarized for $200. Why four fees? If I sign a document in three places, there is only one fee. If I sign four related documents, whatever associated liability may exist for the notary does not quadruple.
I paid the fees and copy charges and sent my girlfriend $210 for embassy fees, plus money for taxi fares and a sitter. She took our son to the embassy with a cousin and a babysitter. But they refused to accept her application, citing a lack of proof of prior relationship. She had photographs of us together and records of money transfers from before she was pregnant. We may have been a little thin in the billets-doux department, but what does it matter? Whether we shared an unrequited love for years or met the night our son was conceived should not matter.
I was incensed and called the embassy. Did they have a checklist of items we were required to provide? No, it was simply left to the officer’s discretion. They could have opened a file and allowed me to submit further proof or required DNA tests. Instead they sent everybody home empty-handed.
The notarizations expired in 90 days for reasons that mystify me. There was no way to schedule another appointment in that period and my girlfriend felt humiliated and refused to return alone.
Eighteen months later I was able to schedule an appointment while free to travel. We set out early to avoid traffic and arrived at 6:30. The door was unlocked at 7:45 and the first in queue were the first seen. We waited nearly four hours for our turn. Twenty-two adults and eleven occasionally boisterous children waited an average of perhaps two and a half hours. That’s over eighty hours of lost productivity or leisure time every workday.
The Paperwork Reduction Act established oversight for government documents. Perhaps it is time to address the time we are required to wait in queue.
My son has my mouth, my chin and my hair, but without the grey. His mother looks more Thai than Filipina. One can see a little of her in his eyes and nose, but he is light complexioned and looks more European than Asian. Assuming normal gestation, our passports show we came to Bangkok together a couple of weeks before he was conceived and she didn’t return until she was several weeks pregnant. I couldn’t deny the child is mine if I wanted to. Yet what seems inescapable isn’t convincing to consular employees.
I had no further evidence of prior relationship, but this time it wasn’t an issue. But they demanded DNA tests of all three of us.
She wanted to go shopping. I wanted to ponder how I might come up with the extra grand I expected the tests to cost in 90 days. Fortunately my situation isn’t as desperate as that of some expats for whom a thousand dollars represents a month’s salary. One wonders how our nation’s interests are served by imposing such a tight deadline. But the ability to impose deadlines is one way to show who’s boss and the more unreasonable the deadline, the more imposing one seems.
My girlfriend talked to several other parents. Each of them had also been required to submit DNA tests. While not statistically compelling, it suggests nearly all applicants are required to submit DNA tests. Then why compel us to wait months to schedule an appointment, wait hours, provide photographs, birth certificates, passports, hospital records, old love letters and detail how we met?
The first priority of any bureaucracy is self-preservation. One can hardly be surprised when bureaucrats maintain labor-intensive procedures that have outlived their utility. The second priority is avoidance of responsibility. Bureaucrats are loath to take personal responsibility, preferring to hide behind regulations. It shouldn’t be surprising they would rather require a definitive test than accept responsibility for a judgment call. But if they aren’t willing to take responsibility, why do we need them?
And why require a test for the mother? As long as the father is a US citizen, the child has a birthright. I’m at a loss to conceive of a scenario that might lead to a mismatch between the DNA of the mother and child that isn’t improbable or ludicrous. But the consular official felt the question was of sufficient import to check the box that costs me an additional $150.
Applicants are required to choose a lab accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks and have the kits sent to the embassy. The embassy then schedules an appointment. The parents go to a hospital and pay a fee of $38/case in the Philippines ($129/person in Bangkok). They take a receipt to the embassy where a hospital clinician collects the samples under the watchful eye of a consular official who sends the samples to the lab. Assuming positive results, the embassy issues the CRBA and passport, which are sent to the parents by courier. The courier has a desk at the consulate and the parents pre-pay. All of this needs to be arranged within a 90-day window.
If there is a way to further complicate the procedure, it escapes me. Notice how simple it all is for consular employees. They never handle any money except their $210 fee. And it’s not the embassy’s fault the fees are so high. We’re free to shop around. They don’t even play the bad guys and tell us the costs to our faces. When the documents are ready, they simply ask the courier to walk across the hall.
Now consider how complex it is for applicants. A second trip to the embassy is an all day nuisance for local residents, but a major undertaking for residents of remote provinces. Why require a hospital clinician? If properly trained police officers can collect DNA samples, t embassy officials can handle it as well. But this would require leaving their bullet-resistant glass cages to mingle with the unwashed masses they serve. Segregation of responsibilities is an effective means of preventing collusion, but it’s easier to bribe a hospital clinician than a consular employee.
ACS could stock kits and negotiate more favorable prices by ordering in volume. They could even require petitioners to go to an Internet café and pay the vendors directly. This would mean arranging to collect samples every day, which would be a little less convenient for consul employees and might require charging a little more than the $128.50 fees enabled by economies of scale in Bangkok. But it seems preferable to taking time off from work and travelling to the consulate a second time.
A private company couldn’t survive with such disdain for the convenience of its clientèle. But our embassies have a monopoly. And isn’t it fun to make people jump through hoops?
My quotes ranged from $735 to $1,070. I chose a company that quoted $850 because they were familiar with State’s expectations. With taxi fares, sitters, clinician fees and courier costs, the tests will cost about $1,200. With the costs of my girlfriend’s first trip and what my trip to Manila would have cost if I had only stayed for the appointment, total expenses will exceed $3,000 for a service with official fees of $210. Fortunately, I didn’t have to fly in from the States.
While $3,000 doesn’t quite bankrupt me, it does put me in a bad mood. I wonder how an expat living on a teacher’s salary could handle the expense and if our State Department isn’t denying some children their birthrights by making the process unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive. We talk about immigration reform for those who entered the States illegally or overstayed their visas. And yet we make the process of establishing citizenship legally by birthright overly complex.
Immigration reform should begin abroad.