MYRTLE CREEK — When Roger Phillips became an American citizen last month, he did it for love.
And not just love of his new country, but also of his wife.
Roger and his wife, Diana, met online in 2004. In British slang, they lived “across the pond” from each other, the “pond” being the Atlantic Ocean. He lived in Sittingborne, England. She lived in Bakersfield, California.
Phillips had filled out a questionnaire about what he was looking for in a girlfriend, and he had checked nearly every box — height, weight, hair color and so on he wasn’t particularly fussy about. But quite by accident, he failed to check the box for redheads.
Diana sent him a message: “What’s wrong with redheads?”
You might say it was love at first sight, though there was a bit of a delay at their first meeting that gave Phillips pause.
As he waited at the Los Angeles airport for her, Diana was stuck in traffic. Roger wondered if she had changed her mind. Typically, on a first date, he would have a Plan B, someplace to go if it didn’t work out or his date didn’t show.
This time, he didn’t have an exit strategy. Fortunately, Diana did finally arrive. Knowing she was late, she parked at the curb and dashed inside. By the time they returned to the car, a man was writing out a ticket for illegal parking.
They planned a road trip to see the sights in America. Roger had to adjust his ideas of what he wanted to see. He hadn’t been able to imagine the distances involved, coming from a country that is geographically so much smaller. They visited the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon “just took my breath away,” he said.
A year later, they were married in Bakersfield, and Diana moved back to England with him. He was working as a systems auditor for the National Health Service. They agreed that after he retired, they would move to America. She missed America, and her family.
“It was a great experience,” Diana said, “but I couldn’t wait to come home.”
In 2009, they did. Roger obtained a green card and they settled in Myrtle Creek because he liked the town. It was a big change, but a positive one.
“It’s been a very welcoming experience. I haven’t met anybody that has not been kind, friendly and outgoing,” he said. Many ask him where he’s from, and say they love his accent.
The only downside has been the occasional mistaken guess that he might be from Australia.
The path to citizenship hasn’t been easy. Even obtaining a green card took about nine months. The citizenship procedure included several trips to Portland, and the memorization of a large book filled with information about the way America’s government works, along with general knowledge useful to a new citizen. There’s also an interview with an immigration officer.
It’s not as tough as the test for British citizenship, which involves learning a history that spans several thousand years, but it’s still a challenge. The easiest part, for a British man seeking American citizenship, was the demonstration that he could understand the English language.
Finally, with all the hurdles passed, Roger joined about 25 other people of 14 nationalities last month at the federal courthouse in Eugene. They were sworn in as a group in a public ceremony. The judge gave a speech about the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen, and the new citizens received certificates and took the oath of allegiance.
Roger said going through the immigration process this way wasn’t speedy, but it was legal, and that’s the way it should be.
“It should be the same for anybody,” he said. “You take your place in the queue, you make your application.... I don’t believe you should jump the queue.”
Becoming a citizen was a once in a lifetime experience, Roger said. When it was done, he said, “I suppose I felt relieved that everything was all over.”
Diana said she’s noticed since her husband became a citizen he has become more active in the community, joining the Elks and the Democratic Party, for example. Roger agreed.
“I’m no longer an alien,” he said.