“It’s your first day as an American, and you’ve already gone viral,” I told my husband.
My spouse, who has little use for social media and has never tweeted, looked at me like I was crazy. I had tweeted a photo of the welcome letter he’d received that morning at his naturalization ceremony in St. Louis. Labeled “a message from the President of the United States,” it was a beautifully written, undated form letter given to new American citizens.
It was signed by Barack Obama.
“My British-born husband takes his oath of citizenship today,” my tweet said. “In the packet for new Americans, the welcome letter from POTUS is from Obama.”
He’d done a double-take when he noticed the signature, wondering if he’d misread it. Then he Googled Obama’s signature to compare, and sure enough, it was from 44 -- not 45.
We laughed about it, and apparently the internet found it pretty funny, too.
By the end of the weekend, the tweet had been liked more than 175,000 times. Several sites posted “stories” about the snafu, simply reprinting my tweet and some of the rather hilarious reactions to it. The Hill asked the White House for comment, but had not received a response.
George Takei posted one such story on his Facebook page, noting that it was “probably better this way” -- as opposed to what such a letter from this new administration might say, I suppose.
I was contacted by Buzzfeed and Mashable, who wanted more details: Was it an oversight by the current administration? A petty retaliation by an office worker? A typical delay in turnover from one administration to the next?
The packet and letters are distributed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In a statement sent to The Hill, USCIS Press Secretary Maria Elena Upson said that around 200 Obama-signed letters were sent out due to an administrative error.
The unforced error sparked lots of theories and wishful thinking by those who feel alienated by the current administration. Of course, it also prompted some ugly messages from trolls who said my husband should be “deported.”
For the past 17 years, I’ve asked my husband to give up his British citizenship and become an American.
After all, he’s lived here nearly his entire life, arriving when he was just 6 weeks old. Both his parents, now deceased, were Americans. He and two siblings were born in the U.K. while his father, a physician, completed medical training there.
His mother was an American by birth whose family roots in the Midwest went back many generations. His father was a naturalized citizen. All his siblings eventually filed the paperwork to become American citizens, but he was a holdout. Despite marrying a native-born American and having our children here, he held on to the notion that it might come in handy one day to have a U.K. passport.
He had been a permanent legal resident in America his entire life, and the only things he couldn’t do were vote and serve on a jury. For all intents and purposes, he felt like an American, and that was good enough for him.
It wasn’t enough for me.
In this political era, I wanted him to have all the rights and protections conferred upon citizens. So, after years of debate, he finally agreed.
It was a beautiful ceremony, complete with courthouse singers who sang one of the loveliest renditions of “America the Beautiful” we’ve ever heard. Then, like I always do, I teared up during the national anthem. It was more than just that swell of emotion that comes whenever I think about the ideals this country was founded on. It was witnessing this room full of hopeful new Americans, many of whom risked a great deal to come here and share in our vision of what we can be together.
I was so proud to see my husband, who has quietly given so much to this country, finally become a citizen.
His considerable professional contributions are outweighed by projects like the one he undertook a year and a half ago, when he spent his weekends rehabbing an old house his family owned. He fixed it up so that a newly arrived refugee family could have a place to make a fresh start. He’s always finding small, and large, ways to give back without ever seeking credit or anything in return.
He may have just recently made his citizenship official, but he’s long been an example to me of what makes America great.
The first thing he did as an American was register to vote.