Jane Boyles understands the value American citizenship in a way that other Americans may not. And well she should. Boyles is a naturalized U.S. citizen who now lives in Clarke County. On Tuesday, Boyles is recounting the twelve years of interviews, government forms, tests, and fees that it took to gain her citizenship for Debbie Christakos’ sixth grade history class at Johnson-Williams Middle School.
“Mrs. Boyles has had an amazing journey,” Christakos tells her students as Boyles prepares to deliver the lecture that she has given for many other students over the years. “You think that homework is tough? Just wait until you hear this.”
“There are so many rights and freedoms that we have here in America that sometimes we don’t even realize that we have them,” Jane Boyles tells the students as she begins to speak, her English-accent immediately captivating the class’s attention.
“All of you have these wonderful rights because you were born in this country. But, the process that I went through to become an American citizen was a little different from yours. I’m sure that you can tell from my voice that I wasn’t born in America.”
Boyles was actually born in Eastbourne, East Sussex on England’s south coast and later, as an adult, moved to the nearby town of Worthing where she took a job at a multi-national engineering firm in 1979.
“I loved my job there,” Boyles told the class.
Unbeknownst to Jane, her life was soon to be forever changed.
About the same time that Jane joined the U.K. branch of the firm she worked for, a young engineer named Jerry Boyles had just joined the American side of the company.
“We spoke once or twice a year,” Jane recounted. “We didn’t know each other at all outside of working together.”
But by the early 1990’s, Jane and Jerry found that due to events in their personal lives, they were both single. The two began to talk more frequently on the telephone. Then in 1993, Jerry traveled to London for a company meeting and asked Jane to have dinner with him.
“At dinner, Mr. Boyles told me that he had decided to set-up a business in the United States and asked if I would like to help him run it,” Jane said. Jane and Jerry’s business and personal relationship soon progressed and a year later, in 1994, Jerry flew to England and proposed to Jane.
“That’s when I had to make a decision,” Jane told the students. “Would I continue to live in England, or would I leave and move to America?”
Jane Boyles chose to make the journey to America.
“I decided to sell my house, pack my furniture, leave my job, and come to the United States,” Boyles said.
Boyles explained to the students that because she was not a citizen of the United States, when she arrived here she immediately had to apply to the US government for permission to stay beyond the three month maximum allowed to tourists.
“Our first job was to get me a temporary visa,” Boyles said
During her talk to the class, Jane Boyles regularly pulls sample items from a flowered canvas bag that contains photos, passports, an American history study guide, and two three-inch thick binders filled with hundreds of documents that she filled-out in her quest to become an American citizen.
At one point, Boyles shows the class a carbon-copy of a government immigration form.
“I know that it may be hard for you to believe,” Boyles tells the class. “But at the time I was applying to become a citizen there was no Internet and we used carbon paper to make copies of everything. Then we had to put things in the mail and wait weeks for an answer back.”
Boyles said that while she was able to apply for American citizenship by virtue of marrying an American citizen – an act that the US Government investigates very closely in an attempt to identify sham marriages intended only to win citizenship for the foreign member of the couple – there are other paths to citizenship as well.
“Each year the U.S. Government holds a citizenship lottery where people wanting to immigrate to America enter their name in the hope of being chosen,” Boyles explained. “The people who are chosen then have the privilege of applying to immigrate to the United States.”
Boyles said that the immigration process was, at times, a little intimidating.
“The scariest thing that happened was when I had to have my fingerprints taken,” Boyles said. “I was called to the Sheriff’s Office in Berryville and each of my fingers was covered with black ink and then pressed on a form. I also had to have an FBI background check to make sure that I wasn’t a criminal back in England.”
Boyles said that a chest xray, blood work, and a physical examination were also required to make sure that she wasn’t sick or bringing a disease like tuberculosis into the United States.
In 1996, with Jane now living in the United States on a temporary visa, she and Jerry discovered not only that they were expecting their first child, but that Jane was due to deliver the baby in May around the same time that she was to be interviewed for a permanent visa that would allow her to say in the country indefinitely.
Letters and calls to the Immigration and Naturalization Service went unanswered for weeks. Concerned about their new baby arriving at the same time as Jane’s permanent visa interview, Jerry reached out to Congressman Frank Wolf for help.
“Congressman Wolf was our last hope of getting our interview before the baby was born,” Jane said.
Not only did Jane and Jerry hear back from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service soon after speaking with the Congressman’s office, rather than interviewing the couple in standard INS interview cubicles, Jane and Jerry were escorted “upstairs” to the executive office suite.
“I had brought along a huge amount of documentation to prove that Jerry and I had a legitimate marriage,” Jane said. “I had copies of our bank account statements, utility bills, credit card statements – even the deed to our home. I knew that the government had to be absolutely sure that I was here in the U.S. for the right reasons.”
Jerry had so much documentation that he had packed it into a small overnight bag that he carried into the interview.
But rather than the hour-long interrogation that the Boyles were expecting, the INS officer finished with his questioning after only a few minutes.
“Mrs. Boyles, we are finished now,” Jane recalled being told.
“That was much easier than I expected,” Jane replied.
“Well, I see that you’re about to have a baby and that you’ve got a suitcase,” the INS officer replied. “I don’t want to delay you from getting to the hospital for your delivery.”
The Boyles and the INS officer shared a laugh when he learned that the baby was still several days from being born, but with the interview complete, Jane received her conditional residency visa on May 3, 1996.
Her first son, Joshua, was born six days later.
As pleased as Jane was to finally have her visa, the “conditional” aspect meant that she had to reapply again in two years or face possible deportation back to England.
“If I didn’t reapply the sheriff could then show up at my door, tell me to pack a suitcase, then take me to Dulles Airport where I would be put on a plane and sent back to England,” Jane told the class.
After two more years passed, and now pregnant with their second child, in 1998 Jane had to repeat the entire visa application process –more fingerprints and another FBI background check – before she finally gained her permanent residency status.
“I love this part,” Boyles said as she read the permanent visa document to the class of sixth graders. “You are now deemed to be a lawful, permanent resident of the United States. This meant that I could stay here forever!”
With her US residency now secure, Jane said she felt that she could finally breathe a sigh of relief. But when her children started school she decided to take the next step in the citizenship process.
“I found that although I could stay in the United States, I still wasn’t allowed to vote for my local school board member or for the Board of Supervisors,” Jane said. “The thought of not being able to vote really bothered me and I decided to change that.”
So, with the desire to gain full US citizenship rights, Jane learned that the basic requirements included being eighteen years of age, permanent residency in the US for five years, good moral character, and a basic knowledge of US history and government.
“I knew that I qualified for the first three requirements,” Boyles said. “But I felt that I needed to do a little work on the last requirement.”
Jane said that in order to improve her knowledge of US history – US history isn’t emphasized in English schools, especially the Revolutionary war because “we lost” Boyles said – she went to Winchester and picked up a book called “Ace Your American History Exams.” She then made flashcards with answers to the one hundred questions that she needed to learn for the U.S. citizenship examination.
“My boys were small then and they were also using flash cards to learn their lessons in school,” Boyles recalled. “They thought it was so funny for me to be using flash cards to study too.”
After having her third set of fingerprints taken along with yet another FBI check, Boyles passed her citizenship examination on February 13, 2006.
“I was so nervous I don’t remember which questions the interviewer asked me,” Boyles said. “But I passed! Then I received a letter asking me to report to the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg, Virginia on March 31, 2006 to be sworn in as an American citizen.”
Jane said that she was a little nervous about the swearing in ceremony because the U.S. Oath of Allegiance requires new U.S. citizens to formally renounce all allegiances to other rulers and countries. For Boyles, this meant her alliance to Great Britain, the land of her birth, and to England’s titular ruler, the Queen of England. Boyles also knew that once she finished saying the Oath of Allegiance with the words “So help me God,” it also meant that she would be an American citizen and could officially say the Pledge of Allegiance – something that she was precluded from doing before that time.
“It took twelve years to get my citizenship and I was as happy as I had been in years,” she recalled.
But one last step remained in order for Jane to complete her long journey to becoming a United States citizen; Boyles wanted to be able to vote.
So as soon as the citizenship ceremony in Harrisonburg concluded, Jerry and Jane calculated that they had just enough time to get to Berryville before the voter registration office closed.
“I walked into the Registrar’s office and said ‘I’m a brand new American citizen and I want to be placed on the voter roll,” Jane said. She left the office with a Clarke County voter registration card and the knowledge that she now had an official say in her new country.
Boyles said that her twelve year journey to citizenship was well worth all of the work and effort, although moving to another country was not something that she had given much thought to while living in England before meeting Jerry.
“I had never ever considered moving anywhere!! I had a wonderful job, a lovely house, I was single and enjoying it. So, when Jerry and I began talking and long-distance dating, I never even considered anything coming of that!” Jane said. “However, once we became closer over the months and had decided to get married, I absolutely knew that moving over here was the right thing to do. I have never had any second thoughts since.”
Boyles also says that she found a way to be comfortable honoring both her new home and her place of birth; dual citizenship between Great Britain and the United States.
“It really isn’t hard maintaining allegiance to the U.S and to the U.K. I feel completely at home here, and in fact, call America my home now – I do not refer to England as my ‘home,’” Boyles said. “So, my allegiance to the U.S. is natural. It is also easy maintaining my allegiance to the U.K .- I am a Royalist, so keeping an allegiance to the Queen and Royal Family is easy for me! Also, being able to continue to be true to the U.K.’s laws is easy for me! The U.K.’s Oath of Allegiance and Pledge are very much more simple than the U.S.’s:
The Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge:
I swear by almighty God, I do solemnly, sincerely and truly, declare and affirm, that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her heirs and successors according to law.
I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen.
“So, the acceptance and maintenance of both U.S. and U.K. allegiances has been straightforward for me!” Boyles said. “I love both countries!”