Saturday, March 01, 2008

Just a little out of my way

Yesterday we drove to Grand Junction, a four hundred mile (650 km) round trip (see the map below), so that I could be fingerprinted for my citizenship application.

I find several things about this annoying.

First, the appointment process. This consists of sending you a letter with an allocated date and time. No pretence of trying to match their availability with your convenience. If the allocated date and time don't work for you then you can ask for it to be rescheduled. But that just results in them sending you another appointment time to which you've had zero input.

Second and more importantly, why do I need to drive four hundred miles for this in the first place? The fingerprints are submitted for checking to a national database that is used basically by every law enforcement agency in the United States. My local sheriff's office (five mile round trip) has the capability to capture and submit prints in the standard format.

And third, why do I have to be fingerprinted again. I submitted fingerprints to the same agency when applying for my green card. Why not just use those (fingerprints don't age the way faces do)? There are lots of functions within the Department of Homeland Security which are integrated in name only, but these two, Immigration and Naturalisation (now called Citizenship) were part of one organisation (the INS) long before DHS was even a bad idea in some neocon's crazy mind.

Apart from those frustrations, the service was excellent. I expected to arrive to find a situation that would make queuing at the driver licensing office look good but was pleasantly surprised to find that there was not a single other applicant in the office and so I had a total wait time, even though I was early, of zero minutes. In fact in the 15 minutes I was there it was just me. Hard to reconcile this with the reports of enormous backlogs in naturalisation processing and advice from CIS itself that the expected wait time for my interview is somewhere between nine and twelve months.

The very nice woman taking the prints had a hard time though. She's trained to take prints from people who've typically never had their prints taken before, or if they have only once or twice in their life. No I'm not a hardened criminal in the habit of being fingerprinted. It's just that I design biometric systems for a living, and in the process of testing and demonstrating such systems I've probably taken my own prints hundreds of times, so I found it really, really difficult to adjust to having someone else guide my fingers during the capture process.

Fortunately we took the opportunity while in Grand Junction to visit Home Depot. We've been thinking for a while about remodeling our kitchen but the price we got from a local kitchen store was just too much in relation to the value of our condo or what future potential buyers would be willing to pay extra for. Looking at the products available at Home Depot convinced us that we could do it at a price we can live with (about half of the previous estimate). Now we just need to decide if we can live with the disruption.

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