February 21, 2008

U.S. Citizenship for about 150 Bucks
Lima, Peru

When I envisioned our interview, I imaged a private setting, perhaps sitting in front of a desk, behind the closed door of a quite office. The reality is that our interview took place behind an inch or two of bulletproof glass, with a small waiting room watching our backs.

Registering a 'birth abroad' isn't a particularly simple process when both parents aren't citizens themselves. First, a trip out the local U.S. embassy is required (from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.) to wait in line to pick up a hefty packet of paperwork that must be submitted when you return for a scheduled interview appointment.

The paperwork and interview are there to ensure that I'm not trying to pass my U.S. citizenship to a foreign child that is not my own. It's also there is ensure that I'm willing, under oath, to financially support the child (which is actually an optional part of the registration process, but will ultimately deny the child citizenship).

Birth abroad document checklist

There were three big hurdles that I needed to jump to complete the registration paperwork for Aidric:

  1. Prove that you've lived in the United States for five years, of which at least two have been since age 14.
  2. List every single entry and exit from the United States for your entire life, including the city, country, dates of duration, and purpose for every location visited while abroad. Additionally, list the city, state, and dates of duration for the time you were physically present in the United States.
  3. Since you're not married, prove the existence of your relationship with the mother prior to the child's birth to help establish a creditable case of paternity.

As a traveler abroad, how does one go about proving that they were physically present in their home country for at least five years? I carry no such evidence on my person, as the request is particularly irregular. You'd think that as a U.S. citizen with a U.S. passport, that my citizenship wouldn't be questioned. What if I was a citizen who spent his entire childhood in the U.S., only to spend his adult life abroad? Would my child born abroad not be eligible for citizenship?

Taxes, Transcripts, Torture

"Taxes and transcripts" is what the woman inside the bulletproof enclosure told me. I could attempt to prove my residency by submitting tax records and school transcripts.

Now, it's a good thing that my dad taught me quite a few things about finances, and record keeping. It's also a good thing that some of the few remaining possessions I've got lingering around my parent's home are filed tax returns, and sealed envelopes of my undergraduate transcripts (which I'd order some years ago for use with the Department of Defense application process).

Lord only know what ugly turn this process would've taken if dad wasn't there for me to dig these items up in his attic, scan them (transcripts and the coversheets from five years of federal and state returns), and e-mail the images to me for printing. …Hugs and more hugs go out to you, dad.

As for listing every city and country and the date I was in it while abroad, it's a damn good thing I keep a very accurate record of that. What an absolute nightmare this requirement would've been without that particular timeline to reference and dump into a spreadsheet. Also, I most certainly didn't grow up in the same house my entire life—we moved around a lot. More kudos goes out to dad for filling in the dates and cities we lived in while I was a kid.

Proof of my relationship with Tatiana, 2006-2008

Tatiana and I had to go back through her passports as well, and piece together the entries and exits for each of her trips into the United States.

As for proof of our relationship, I assembled and printed up (at the local mega-grocery store) a collection of photos from our first meeting in September 2006, again in January 2007 and April 2007, and from our time together in SE Asia and Lima in 2007 and 2008. There were actually not an overabundance of photos of us together, as we both don't enjoy handing our cameras over to a stranger, even if to just take a quick snapshot.

Birth Abroad Registration Interview

This morning we woke up at the crack of dawn—far too normal thanks to Aidric these days—and headed off to the U.S. embassy for our assigned interview time. Tatiana was dressed in the most conservative outfit I've seen her in, and Aidric was in a particularly docile mood. I wore sandals.

Even by crazy Lima taxi speed/driving method standards it took us the better part of an hour to get to the embassy—this city isn't the friendliest to get around in (quickly).

Guards, gates, metal detectors, more guards, and waiting… Government and waiting go hand-in-hand.

Upon arrival I was told that the passport registration paperwork I'd completed was now out of date, as a new form had been issued since I picked up the packet about three weeks earlier. Also, the price had gone up $3, from US$147 to $150. It was a good thing I brought a backup $20, just in case the fees had changed. (Point, Craig)

I moved from the payment window, to the administration window (where my documents were checked and several questions were asked). It was apparently her job to prepare the paperwork for the interviewer, and to highlight the relationship details that needed to be verbally cross-referenced.

She got to the point in the packet where I listed out my travels abroad—all five pages—and watched her jaw dropped. I explained the relationship history with Tatiana, and how Aidric was conceived in Miami in April, and how she traveled to the Middle East, and then to SE Asia to meet up with me (only to eventually return to Lima via the United States).

Pregnancy calendar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

She was visibly overwhelmed by the amount of travel we'd both done recently, and the unusual timetable and locations our relationship has taken place in. She fiddled for a few moments with a little circular calendar, which I could only assume was the same variety of pregnancy conception/delivery calculator that I saw in Cambodia, before she said "I'm really going to need some time with this—take a seat.

Tatiana and I watched as a couple with a baby was having a really hard time with the interviewer we were in line to see. They both looked to be Peruvian, and were not doing well with the verbal interview, by the look of it.

When it came time for us to step up to the window, I greeted the woman with a strong, friendly "howdy", like I do with every person I want to instantly impact with telling piece of USA vernacular—like a delightful brick to the head; you just can't miss it.

I did almost all the talking, the interviewer was more interested in taking a look at Aidric, and briefly asked Tatiana if she spoke English. I told her a condensed version of our story to date, and she furrowed her brow when she looked at the multiple pages of travel I'd submitted.

"If you don't mind me asking—what is it that you do that allows you to travel so much?!"

Under normal circumstances, "international arms brokering" might've been my sly response, but I opted to give her the "I liquidated my life at age 25 and started living out of a backpack" explanation.

She flipped through our photos, and I told her about Tatiana backpacking pregnant, and the multitude of doctors she'd seen, across multiple continents, as well as our rational for not having Aidric born in the States.

She looked at my large packet of tax returns and transcripts, and seemed particularly pleased with the transcripts (as we all know that tax returns really don't prove physical presence, even though they were listed as an item to me that could be used to prove such things).

I guess I really didn't expect many questions to be directed to Tatiana, as the interview was really about Aidric, and the passing of my citizenship to him. Tatiana's maternity is unquestioned—although by the look of our son you might think otherwise. (…Tatiana says I just used her to clone myself)

The interviewer was satisfied with what she'd heard, and we were both instructed to raise our right hands and swear an oath before signing documentation. Tatiana did this once, and I did it several times, before signing each document.

Surprisingly, the entire process really only took about 40 minutes—which was pretty quick. I was told that Aidric's consular report of birth (stating that he became a U.S. citizen at birth), as well as his passport, would be ready to pick up in two weeks (March 6).

A weight has been lifted off my shoulders. This was one of the last big impediments to getting out of Peru, and a big deal for Aidric. I'm quite happy.

The Final Hurdle

Upon closer inspection of Tatiana's Chilean passport (before I left for Ecuador), I discovered that it expires in April of this year. This is a very bad thing, as it contains her 10-year U.S. visa, and traveling into Europe (or pretty much anywhere) on a Peruvian passport is not an enjoyable experience. A Peruvian passport is pretty much good for travel in and out of Peru only.

Actually, both Tatiana's Chilean and Peruvian passports expire in April, but she was good enough to get a new passport for both Aidric and herself while I was out of town (new passport books while you wait, in an hour!).

Tatiana knew her Chilean passport was expiring, but what she didn't know what that three years ago the Chilean embassy in Lima stopped issuing passports—it's done entirely in Chile now, and submissions for an update to an expiring passport would take a month and a half to process.

Had she known this, she would've submitted it months ago—but now she's left with no other choice but to travel to Chile to get a new passport, or wait needlessly in Lima.

So, some in the next week, Tatiana will be traveling to get her new passport in northern Chile, and visit/stay with family and while she's doing it. We verified with the offices there in Arica, and it should only take a week for her request to process.

I have absolutely zero desire to spend 18 hours on a bus (in each direction) and US$100 (round trip) to sit in ugly Arica for a week. Hell no. Even if the bus fare were free (which it probably will be, thanks to her father's connections), I still won't go—it's business, not pleasure, she's got going on down there.

Besides, it sounds like she's going to be accompanied by her 23-year-old sister for the trip, which is good, because I'm done looking at the coastline on this side of the continent.

…Hurray! We're outta Peru in early March!

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