Why I Came to America
I was born and raised in Manchester, England. After living in London for four years, I decided to move to the U.S. in December 2019 to pursue career opportunities and to be close to my husband’s family. No financial, political or other stresses instigated the move. I came as a free, unhurried person and the permanent residency process was mostly smooth, albeit lengthy.
The waiting was the hardest part. I waited for a few years to be granted my green card which my husband (a Canadian citizen and a U.S. green card holder) sponsored me for. The state of being an immigrant or a permanent resident is a journey. With the various hoops and hurdles I had to jump through, my eyes were opened to the difficulties involved in becoming a U.S. permanent resident. My confusion only grew when faced with political differences in my new home.
One element of my move most unites me with my fellow émigrés: the inability to vote. Despite living and working in this country and contributing to the American economy, those who enter the U.S. as non-immigrants, asylum seekers and undocumented, do not have a voice in this country.
Like the early Americans who cried “no taxation without representation”, it can be easy to feel disenfranchised from the citizen population. Transitioning immediately from a highly-engaged voter in the UK to a person whose political stance is essentially irrelevant has been jarring to say the least.
I keep coming back to the oft-quoted words of Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Although simple in its formation, this quote speaks volumes to my feelings around the impact and importance of voting: voting gives the enfranchised great power coupled with great responsibility.
Ron Hayduk, Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University, said it best,
“Historically, the acquisition of political rights, including voting rights, has been a vital tool for disempowered groups to achieve economic, social, and civil rights. Non-citizen voting would enhance the visibility and voices of immigrants, making government more representative, responsive, and accountable.”
I take pride in working within a political system, fully contributing to wider society, whether that be by paying taxes, supporting local businesses, befriending neighbors, and through my job at Bridge within the professional global mobility community.
Although it can be frustrating to not be able to vote (especially for someone with a background in political activism in England), even as a non-voter, it is critical to be educated in the mechanics of the government where I now live. Being informed gives me the ability to intelligently engage in political conversations. Since childhood, I have educated myself on the governmental systems which govern my life. Even as a non-voter, perhaps especially so, it is critical to understand how I fit into this system and to understand my rights.
In addition, the form of government (parliamentary government versus a democratic republic) differs greatly from where I grew up, both in terms of its makeup, as well as the manner of election. Members of UK parliament are elected by constituents from particular constituencies. These members in turn vote for the head of government, the Prime Minister.
This differs vastly from the U.S. system which has a complex system of voting known as the Electoral College, in which votes are weighted based on the state. The physical vastness of the U.S. and the inevitable differences in political affiliations between the states and nationwide communities are part of the very fabric of the governmental system. Besides for this direct form of voting, the behemoth U.S. has a robust division between state and federal law which was unfamiliar to me coming from the (relatively) small island of England.
Importance of Identity and Having a Voice
Politics is at the forefront of one’s individual identity in America. Although this is also the case in the U.K., it is to a lesser extent and is far less divisive. This is not to belittle or to treat lightly the important political issues which divide and have divided the political parties (not to mention the fiery debates around Brexit!). However, the lines are more blurred, especially as all the main UK parties champion a mix of liberal and conservative policies.
Amongst U.K. political parties, policies can be interchangeable, whereas it seems that the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. would abhor any similarities with each other and take pride in championing extremely different fiscal, social, and policy approaches. In addition, U.K. parties’ willingness to adapt or reform policies depending on voter mood, whereas U.S. party policies seem harder to adapt, with parties being more steadfast and overall atmosphere more polarizing. I have seen this take place countless times before my eyes.
In the U.K., I politely debated the pros and cons of policies such as Brexit with friends and families, with mutual respect and understanding. In the U.S., however, I have frequently seen vicious and virile debates take place between people in which their very humanity seems to go out the window. Care and concern, respect and regard have been less present.
What the Experience Taught Me
My story is more than an individual’s account of immigration to the U.S. Rather, it is part of a larger story. My experience has taught me the following lessons:
The immigration journey can be long and involved, with numerous forms and fees along the way. Do not despair or delay: realize from the get-go that the process will take time and plan and budget accordingly.
It is critical to understand the immigration procedure as this will help make the process and transition as smooth as possible. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security that administers the country's naturalization and immigration system will change fees and remove services such as premium processing with little notice. The better informed you are, the less stressful the process will be and the smoother the ride.
Recognizing your resilience as an immigrant, from familiarizing oneself with U.S. pop culture, food and language (yes, it’s spoken and even spelled slightly differently in the U.K.!), to more pressing things such as how to navigate your new home’s political system is important and shouldn’t be understated.
Looking back on the eight months I have lived and worked in my new home, I appreciate how far I have come, what others have to endure to live and work in the country, and am humbled by how much more there is to explore.