my trip to the us consulate

Or, how the United States wasted a day of my life.

Did you know that Americans with dual citizenship must declare the U.S. to be their “primary citizenship” (whatever that means) and must use their U.S. passport to enter the United States? I did not, but I have heard rumour that if a border guard catches a non-citizen in even the tiniest lie, you can be banned from entering the United States. Which is why, every time we cross the border, our family reports our citizenship as accurately as possible: one American, one Canadian, and one dual citizen. And we hand over Kid’s Canadian passport, and all is well. Not one time has a border guard mentioned that Kid needs a U.S. passport. Nonetheless, my rule of thumb is Don’t Antagonize the Border Guards, so as soon as I found out about the rule, I started doing the paperwork to renew Kid’s U.S. passport, which expired in 2009.

The online renewal is not available for kids. Instead, both parents have to accompany the kid in person to get a passport renewed, in our case at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. You have to make an appointment in advance, and they have 6 appointments available each day, only between the hours of 8:30am and 9:45am. They are closed on weekends, U.S. holidays and Canadian holidays. Which means we have to pull Kid out of school and both of us have to take time out of our work days.

But wait, there’s more! You can’t bring a camera to the appointment. Or an mp3 player. Or a cell phone. Or a computer. Or any food. And you can’t store these things once you get there. So, if you take public transit to your appointment, you must have someplace to drop your stuff before you go in. Luckily, Husband’s work is nearby, so that’s where we left our things.

We hadn’t ever been to the Consulate before (who has?), so on our walk from Husband’s office, we were unsure if we were going the right way. “I would check the map on my phone, but it is back in the office.” But we made it anyway. After the x-ray machine and the metal detector, one guard pointed us to another guard who opened the steel door to let us into the elevator to our appointment.

All that security, oddly enough, made me feel quite unsettled and unsafe. I wasn’t afraid of a terrorist attack but of all the guards with guns who might see the need to use force at any turn. Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened. Everyone was very polite and seemed to work very hard not to provoke an overreaction.

We submitted our paperwork, paid the fee, and then Husband and I were required to raise our right hands to swear an oath that Kid was ours and that all the information we provided was true and correct. Seriously, we were asked to raise our right hands. It was like Durkheim and Weber got Goffman on a conference call to brainstorm the ideal way to use ritual to legitimate your bureaucratic authority. So, raise our right hands we did, and we swore that Kid was our kid, and then we were free to go on our merry way.

By the time we got back to Husband’s office, collected our iPhones, iPad, and lunch, took the train back to Hamilton, and got Kid to school, it was 2pm. And there is another work day down, just because the United States can’t play nicely with the other passports in the yard.

9 thoughts on “my trip to the us consulate”

  1. A long time ago – back in the 20th century – my passport was stolen on the Paris metro. I spent days dealing with the French bureaucracy. I would go to one commissariat only eventually to be told that I need to present myself before some other bureau in some other part of town, then told there to go another, and so on. By comparison, the US Consulate was quick and friendly. I filled out the forms, returned, as instructed, in three days, and got my new passport. (Plus, one of the other people waiting in the room at the consulate was Archie Shepp — a name which will mean something only to old jazzers, but for me at the time, it was pretty cool.)


  2. If you and your anchor baby don’t like complying with some reasonable bureaucratic and security requirements and feel the need to mock the solemnity of our oaths, maybe you’d be more comfortable north of the 49th where there’s less security theater and more Tim Hortons.


  3. I also learned that if I were to choose to become a Canadian citizen, the United States may or may not rescind my U.S. citizenship. I would just have to apply for a passport and then see if they let me have one. Comforting!


    1. emphasis on the “may not.” i would be shocked if they actually revoked your citizenship for acquiring dual-citizenship in a friendly country for which dual citizenship is common. i mean, if they haven’t revoked anwar al-awlaki’s citizenship i wouldn’t be worried about acquiring dual citizenship in a country with whom we have a free trade policy and integrated strategic air defense.


  4. Just to be clear: I’m joking about the possibility that there’s a method to our madness around citizenship in the US.


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