Moving across borders for love

By Caitlin Kelly

I fell in love in September 1986 when I opened my downtown Montreal apartment door to a tall, bearded, blue-eyed medical student from New Jersey, whose name, (which I won’t reveal) is shared with a cocktail. (No, not Tom Collins!)

But the week before we met, and we were soon seriously discussing marriage — a first, for me — he had accepted a four-year residency position in New Hampshire, a 3.5 drive south.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...
Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and in another country.

I was extremely lucky. As the unmarried child of an American citizen, my mother, I was able to get a green card quickly and easily and move to the United States legally to join him. Even more unlikely, I found a three-month, well-paid journalism job in the  same small town as his program.

English: the forests in new hampshire in autumn
English: the forests in new hampshire in autumn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But after it ended, reality hit. Hard.

I had no friends, family, income, history or job prospects. He was rarely home, and when he was home was exhausted and grouchy. The huge gang of lovely friends he’d made in Montreal? Gone and not replaced with anyone new.

Instead, homesick and bored, I commuted those 3.5 hours north every Monday for three months to teach journalism back in Montreal.

After 18 months of miserable, lonely, broke, isolated and career-threatening rural life, we moved to suburban New York.

We married three years later — and he walked out two years after that.

Anyone who moves to a foreign country for love takes an incredible leap into the unknown.

I know that several Broadside readers have, or are about to, done this. I also know it’s worked out well for two of them, and I have my fingers tightly crossed for Ashana.

But good Lord it’s scary!

Maybe not for other people.

It was for me. I remember, as if it was yesterday, feeling like a raindrop falling into the ocean. At 30, I was leaving a country in which I’d built a good national reputation as a journalist. I was leaving behind dear friends, a culture I knew intimately and liberal social and political values I mostly shared.

I was leaving behind a country whose entire population is that of New York State, barely 10 percent of the United States. How could I ever re-establish an identity or a career?

Seal of New York.
Seal of New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I married the first time, (worried on several counts), I consulted a local lawyer — $350/hour in 1992 — to ask what, if anything, I would get in alimony or support if we divorced. Zip! Nada! Rien!

Wow. Since I was very far from home and wasn’t working and didn’t have a place to run back to in case…

Good thing I asked, and demanded a pre-nuptial agreement that allowed me to stay in my home and re-establish myself financially after two years of not working.

Had I not made that scary cross-border leap, I would not have published two books on complex national American issues, written 100+ stories for The New York Times, met my lovely second husband or enjoyed my river-view apartment.

But…it’s been quite a bumpy ride. I’m lucky I still have dear friends back in Toronto and other parts of Canada I’m in close touch with, and visit a few times a year. I am rarely homesick, but I do miss some cultural touchstones and a shared history.

I also still struggle mightily with the power here of the religious right, their relentless assault on women’s reproductive freedoms and laissez-faire American capitalism, which enriches so many so effectively — and buries millions more in low-wage jobs and medical fear and debt.

Have you changed countries for love?

Would you?

How has it turned out?

Faisal Shahzad's Protective 'Normalcy' — An American Wife, Kids, U.S. Passport

I find this ironic.

Much has been made of the fact that this man — who allegedly parked a truck in Times Square and hoped to blow it up — is a U.S. citizen, someone who obtained both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the United States. His wife is a U.S. citizen and he has two kids — all of whom now live in Pakistan.

He had hit all the middle-class, conventional metrics that typically reassure Americans someone really is an OK guy: marriage, parenthood, home ownership, undergrad and graduate degrees (an MBA, even) from American colleges. And naturalization.

Americans are very big on legal aliens —  those of us who legally work and live here and pay full taxes and follow American laws and customs — becoming citizens. The very word “naturalized’ — no matter how its inherent patriotism quickens the heartbeat for some — is deeply offensive to me. It suggests we “aliens” (love that word, too) are somehow “less than” because we can’t step into a voting booth and won’t be called to jury duty. That’s about it, except for all the goverment jobs (even Census work) and grants and fellowships we are denied access to without citizenship.

But simply acquiring a U.S. passport, clearly, is no guarantee you’ve just handed the keys to the kingdom, as it’s viewed, to the people you really most want as your permanent neighbors.

So much for that.

Writes conservative columnist, Michelle Malkin:

America’s homeland-security amnesia never ceases to amaze. In the aftermath of the botched Times Square terror attack, Pakistani-born bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad’s US citizenship status caused a bit of shock and awe. The Atlantic magazine writer Jeffrey Goldberg’s response was typical: “I am struck by the fact that he is a naturalized American citizen, not a recent or temporary visitor.” Well, wake up and smell the deadly deception.

Shahzad’s path to American citizenship — he reportedly married an American woman, Huma Mian, in 2008 after spending a decade in the country on foreign student and employment visas — is a tried-and-true terror formula. Jihadists have been gaming the sham-marriage racket for years. And immigration-benefit fraud has provided invaluable cover and aid for US-based Islamic plotters, including many planning attacks on New York City. As I’ve reported previously:

* El Sayyid A. Nosair wed Karen Ann Mills Sweeney to avoid deportation for overstaying his visa. He acquired US citizenship, allowing him to remain in the country, and was later convicted for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that claimed six lives.

* Ali Mohamed became a US citizen after marrying a woman he met on a plane trip from Egypt to New York. He became a top aide to Osama bin Laden and was later convicted for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa that killed 12 Americans and more than 200 others.

* Embassy-bombing plotter Khalid Abu al Dahab obtained citizenship after marrying three different American women.

She goes on to name many others.

Now that the state of Arizona is stopping anyone who looks Hispanic to prove their legal right to remain in the U.S., maybe people are looking in all the wrong places.

Shahzad, as the BBC and this Pakistani newspaper have reported, comes from an educated family, his father a retired Air Force officer.

It is comforting, and apparently falsely so, to believe that would-be terrorists are only found barefoot and economically desperate in dusty foreign villages. If the charges prove to be true — and even if this one is not — they may well be sitting next to you at your kids’ soccer match or at the playground or sitting in the same college classroom.