PART I: THE I-130 FORM
– September 30, 2014
Around one million people obtain Legal Permanent Residence in the United States every year. This average has been stable for decades and consists mostly of Chinese (40%) and Mexicans (13%). Europeans make up 8% to 9% and I am one of them.
Partner Immigration to the United States is a complicated and uncertain process for the applicant. There are some guidelines and rules, like which forms you should fill out and what documents you ought to bring along, but generally you are at the mercy of the officers you deal with. You can be deported at any time during the progress for any reason or none. Waiting lists are long (9 months to a year) and qualification hard to obtain.
Fingerprinting is part of the personal exam along with photographs, birth certificate scrutiny, a declaration of good conduct (applied for at justice department in home country), medical exam (eeek, needles) and the infamous USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) interview with the officer assigned to your case. For this interview you should bring pictures going back years to prove you know one another. The officer may call your parents or former employer to investigate your story’s sincerity. Both parties are then asked to swear the oath and answer questions about each other in separate little interrogation rooms.
I had my medical done in a defiled building somewhere in the impoverished Latin-American neighborhood of L.A. On the ground floor I could see into a waiting room packed with Latinos of all ages, many of them spread across the floor as if they’d been there for days.
Elevator – 7th Floor
Paint was coming off the walls and papers were stacked up everywhere. The lady was very friendly and not accustomed to see a white person in her humble laboratory, where hygiene standards were not very closely adhered to. She carefully investigated my medical passport, gave me a test shot for Tuberculosis and took some blood for HIV and Syphilis analysis. That rhymes.
Because our initial research showed us how complicated this was all going to be, we decided to consult with an attorney. With his explanation of the fragility of our case, we chose to hire Mr. Diamante to help guide us along during this process. His office is based in downtown Los Angeles, California and he deals mainly with Mexican families (he is himself Argentinian).
Now, you need to understand that Latin-Americans have a specifically unspecific way of going about things. When accustomed to European order and preciseness, one may feel a little discouraged by the working methods of a Latin-American. Fortunately I have spent many years in the culture and can relate to the manner in which they operate. And hey, he’s charging 40% less than the up-tight Stanford graduates who offer the same service.
The first time we come into the office, the waiting room is filled with Mexican families rambling in Spanish and parents holding their wailing children tight because the large glass table had broken into shards.
Three months later, there is still no table in the waiting room.
Every time I call up it sounds as if a United Nation’s conference is being held at the other end. I feel awkwardly intrusive of their business when coming in for a scheduled appointment and for some reason the receptionist is constantly looking for the Attorney’s calling cards. The day we signed our contract the unshaven attorney hung half-way down his chair, displaying dirty cuffs, a crooked tie and greasy hair.
After the initial explorations of what lies ahead (which was completely different from what we’d been reading online) our case was entrusted to Sergio, one of two paralegals there. Sergio is always available to answer our confused phone calls, read our nervous e-mails and reply with unambiguous reassurance.
We sent in our application for adjustment of status (from non-immigrant to immigrant) on Tuesday September 23rd, 2014. Next up: confirmation that our petition has been accepted and a summon to verify my identity by fingerprints.
PART II: FINGERPRINTS
– November 29, 2014
5:00 am Is way too early to drive from Sandpoint ID to Spokane WA. Especially the day after thanksgiving.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with the primary responsibilities of protecting the United States and its territories from and responding to terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are a part of the DHS, which was activated only weeks after the September 11 attacks, 2001, in a direct attempt to centralize other bodies formerly directed by different departments.
The building seemed what you would imagine a Russian Embassy to look like; square with tiny windows all over. Don’t tell them I said that. Upon entering we were politely yet firmly requested to remove all metal objects from our bodies and let bags roll through the scanner. Phones and cameras are not allowed inside the building. Just imagine what damage you could do by taking photographs of paper stacks and elevator shafts.
At 8:00 a.m. I was the first to be fingerprinted by a friendly and helpful middle-aged man, who on all counts was perfectly average. First I filled out a form.
Hair color: Bald, Blond, Brown, Red, Amber, Silver, White, Unknown.
Oh, how tempting it is to select the last option.
He put on his special blue surgical gloves, and sprayed something cold onto my hands. He managed my fingers to get perfect copies. First a regular print of the tips, then the whole finger and lastly they were rolled side to side, only avoiding the part where the nail is.
Meanwhile all I’m thinking about is how my prints were collected by police after a break-in at a friend’s house in Orange County. I was not the burglar, but my prints were on the window.
I ask whether these prints just go on file for my immigration and he looks at me from the corner of his eye and grins.
“These are sent to the FBI to see if you’ve been a good girl.”
I giggle, assuming he’s being silly. He looks at me blandly and I realize he’s dead-serious. I stop giggling. I feel kind of special for my picture and prints to be considered by an internal intelligence agency.
PART III: THE INTERVIEW
– January 25, 2015
Our attorney has prepared us for this interview through a phone meeting, so we feel quite confident, though “nervous” is still the key word to describe me. It is completely up to this officer to decide if I would stay or not.
Fortunately Mr. Schneider implied we could be calm and that this will only take a few minutes. “It’s just a matter of going over some paperwork together.”
We had gathered all distantly relevant letters, documents, pictures, prints, copies we could fathom. Six folders, organized into a dozen subcategories (taxes, relationship, forms, certificates, community, personal info, law office, USCIS, health).
For the first time since September, we were looking at the lengthy forms we had sent in. I-485 for Adjustment of Status is colored green, as is the resident card itself and therefore gets called a Green Card. Really, it’s that simple.
We stood up, raised our right hand and swore to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God. My first oath feels weird.
Almost sarcastically he leafs through our file which he’d pre-marked with a red pen. Like teachers do to your tests in school.
“What does this say… bla bla bla bla. I’m skipping that. Hmm, that’s not important.”
Officer Schneider then let us cite our full names, place of birth, address etcetera. After this he picked some random questions from the form, like “Have you ever sold or trafficked drugs or been arrested regarding a drug related offence? Have you been married before, are you married to another person now, or have you had a different name in the past? Have you ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, or do you intend to engage in, or have you ever solicited membership or funds for, or have you through any means ever assisted or provided any type of material support to terrorism?”
Questions were many and usually pretty vague, like “Are you a member of any organisation or group.” Like what, the church?
In the end it felt as if I had laid claim to be absolutely perfect on every count. I’ve never done any drugs, stolen a roll of candy (just imagine!) or held a weapon. Right. I am immaculately law-abiding. Please let me stay? Oh, and I love Baseball and that thing with Iraq, I thought that was really clever.
We made jokes throughout and he was very relaxed. I was too but David seemed a bit tight. A lot depended on this interview. It was up to this one man to grab the red stamp ACCESS DENIED, and we would be really screwed.
Then we were asked to relay the story of how we met and why, when and where we decided to get married. He didn’t need details, just an overall description.
“I guess that sounds sort of realistic” he said, looking thoughtfully at his desk.
Our one kilo of paperwork was never referenced. In fact, all he checked were our passports. “Yep, that looks like it’s you.” We were out in less than fifteen minutes.
Ten days later we received my Green Card (Permanent Resident Card) in the mail. This offers me all rights and obligations of any other American, except the right to vote in national elections. Two years from now we will request an extension and shall have to prove we are still happily married. After that, I can become a citizen. Laws of the U.S.A. and the Netherlands allow me to keep Dutch citizenship and hold two passports. Which is nice.
One of the letters we received said:
A green card is a ‘privilege’ and not a ‘right’. You must maintain your green card to continue to live and work in the U.S. and eventually become a U.S. citizen. You are expected to respect and be loyal to the U.S. and obey the laws.
“Your rights include:
- Own property in the U.S.
- Attend public school and college
- Join certain branches of the U.S. armed forces (yay)
- Purchase or own a firearm, as long as there is no state or local restrictions prohibiting that”
Welcome to the United States. You are now obligated to love your country.