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Citizenship is a privilege, not a right

My high school yearbook says that "Gordon is going to move south and become a dentist!" Moving south meant the United States for this Canadian.

Well, I never ended up going to medical school, but I realized my lifelong dream in 1999 when I moved to Columbia County with my wife and our daughter, who had been born 1 1/2 years earlier in Nashville, Tenn.

When I became a teenager, the United States was where I wanted to spend all of my adult years. My grandparents were "snowbirds," living in Canada for six months and Punta Gorda, Fla., the other six months of the year. The free stay with my grandparents allowed my parents to take my brother, sister and I to Florida at least every other year.

My favorite part of the trip was the drive there and back. I fell in love most of all with Georgia and the Carolinas. But throughout the United States, I became enamored with the people, family values, patriotism and pride of country, and the wonderful history and American dream.

The United States is truly the greatest country in the world: the freedoms, the opportunities, the heritage. What a privilege to be able to participate in the American Dream! I chose to go to a school called Liberty University, a school that focused on the great history of this nation, its original values and purpose, and its great heritage of Christian faith - that all of these wonderful rights were endowed by our Creator, so that no one could take those rights away.

I married Sharon, a wonderful American girl I met at Liberty, and immigrated her to Canada to start the first five years of my career. But we had made the decision to immigrate to the United States once we were to begin a family. We moved to Nashville in 1997, but had already spoken to my future employer in Georgia. What a privilege to be able to raise a family in this wonderful nation!

The immigration process was not easy. In 1998, while I was making the transition between employers in Nashville and Augusta, I was turned away at the border by an immigration officer who refused to grant my new employer's desire to hire me. The Employer Work Visa had worked seamlessly before, but as I found out there is a lot of "grey" in the immigration code, open for interpretation by many in the process. Sharon and I decided to begin the Spousal Sponsorship at that time, which would grant me my Greencard after approximately three years.

The Spousal Sponsorship also meant that I had to leave the country to await new paperwork to be processed, so I spent Christmas of 1998 in Canada, working a temporary job, away from wife and new daughter in Nashville. It was a very tough three months, but I knew a new job awaited me in Augusta and in January of 1999, I made the move with my family following two months later.

However, I have not complained during this immigration process, even after my father-in-law needed to become involved in the signatures to ensure that if I accessed any support from the Federal government that it would be paid back. The reason is simple: It is a privilege to be able to be in this great country, to have the honor of participating in the great American Dream. It is not a right!

When our Founding Fathers and many presidents since implemented the American immigration system, it is clear that it was intended to ensure education and assimilation of future immigrants into becoming Americans who loved their new country and would contribute to it. If our borders are not protected and the immigration system is flaunted, it is more than this nation's security that is at risk. It is her sovereignty that is at stake.

Illegal is illegal. I knew that if I disregarded the rules of my initial Work Visa, my Greencard application and my Greencard, that I would not only be breaking American laws, but that I would be jeopardizing any future re-application after I was told to leave the country. If I chose to ignore those laws, then all of my actions related and unrelated would be breaking American laws, whether accessing work, health care or education. I would have to lie to all those with whom I came into contact about my legal status.

One of the proudest moments of my life will take place later this year when I complete the citizenship process and swear an oath to my new country. What an honor it is to raise a family in this wonderful land! What a privilege it is to work and contribute to the great American Dream. But it is not a right - it is a privilege!

(Gordon Renshaw, director of Columbia County's Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled to complete the requirements of American citizenship this year.)

Web posted on Thursday, May 11, 2006

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