Escape From the USA
Becoming an American citizen is a prohibitive, bureaucratic nightmare. So is trying to leave. I know. I’m trying to.
Breaking up with your country is, for me, like breaking up with a long-term boyfriend. First, there’s a creeping discontent, a sense that your plans and values have diverged. Then there’s a period of self-questioning, delaying, hoping things will improve. Sometimes, this can last years. Then, finally, you make the gut-level decision to end things, and you feel that tremendous swell of relief. You’re free.
That is unless you’re trying to break up with the United States of America. If you’re breaking up with America, it will cost you a small fortune, you’ll want to hire a lawyer, and you could get stuck in a bureaucratic purgatory for years. So it’s more like a divorce than a breakup, really.
It’s a well-known fact by now that the United States has made it punishingly difficult to immigrate here. Less widely known is that it has also made it arduous to leave. More so than almost any country on earth. If you, as I do, want out of your U.S. citizenship, it’s a complicated, emotional, and expensive ordeal that can take years. So, while the partisans clash about refugees and undocumented people trying to enter the United States (even while illegal border crossings are actually at a 46-year low and otherwise immigration is stable), those of us who want out, permanently and officially, are trapped — and that’s especially true if you’re not rich.
I should start by saying I did not take my decision to renounce my citizenship at all lightly. I have lived here since I was four years old. I am a fourth-generation New Yorker on my father’s side. It’s not patriotic hyperbole to insist that I would not be who I am if I hadn’t grown up American. I thrived in New York state’s public schools through 12th grade, and then I also went to college and grad school in the Empire State. During high school, I worked at the West Point Officers’ Club, where I poured champagne for elderly colonels — and once served a canapé to George Bush Sr. I have gloried in more than a dozen of our national parks and lived in six of the lower 48 states, plus Hawaii. Ask me where home is, and I’ll picture the snug, green…