I have debated for almost two years whether or not I would tackle Immigration on my blog. I began to think it would be a losing battle, or perhaps I did not have all of the information, or maybe I would be prejudiced due to my personal situation.
What a disservice to people who may stumble upon my blog.
The truth is - IMMIGRATION is a major factor in my life, and honestly - most of our lives and of our neighbors around us.
If you asked me whether I believe undocumented immigrants should be granted amnesty - I get torn on the issue. One part of me believes that no Human Being should be denied the right to a better life. Sure, call me naive, but all of my ancestors are NOT from America. There was a time when this land held an "air of opportunity" and the message, "Bring me your poor, your sick... " rang loud and true.
Now - the traditional sense of what America stood for has changed. We drew this imaginary line in the sand and said, 'Pay - Process - and maybe you can stay.'
There is a HUGE misconception about immigration. Most people, when asked, believe you can just get in line, pay some fees, fill out some paperwork and you will eventually be admitted to the states. It's simply not true. It is extremely difficult, very expensive, and over 1/2 of the time you will be denied entry. (EVEN for a tourist VISA.. depending on which country you reside in.)
A friend of mine and I went to see a really good movie last night, "A Better Life." Take just 2 minutes and watch the trailer.
In this movie, a well-meaning man came to America for a better life. Yes, he came "Illegally" ~ which means, no - he did not have permission. He worked for over 16 years, hard - long hours. He did not commit a crime while in the country, outside of living undocumented. All he wanted was a better life for his son. Throughout the movie, he would repeat why he did what he did. How he humbled himself, and worked hard.
When the movie first began, I will admit, in my head I thought - well.. maybe he should have tried SOMETHING- some way to get documentation. Especially after living here 16 years. Then about 15 minutes into the movie, you discover he paid all of his savings to an Immigration Attorney who basically ripped him off and took his money. BTW - this is VERY common. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard of people turning to immigration attorneys, who know for a fact they cannot help a certain person, and just profit from the misfortune.
Later within the movie, the father is detained and deported swiftly, separating the father from the son. It is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the movie. After about 30 minutes into the movie, you begin to hope and pray everything works out for this family. You begin to curse the system. You wish for something more, better reform, amnesty granted -anything but for this to happen to anyone else.
As you know, I am married to an immigrant. I did not start this blog until almost 2 years after the process began for me. Perhaps my stories and my sanity would have been better if I had an outlet like this one to document my experience.
In a nutshell - It was hell.
The egyptian and I did the entire process legally. I filed for a K-1 Visa which ended up costing well over a $1000. I sent it in late April of 2008. The pack was as thick as a huge coffee table book. I had to provide phone records, cards, emails, pictures, detailed information, tax forms, paycheck stubs.. many, many things - all just to petition for the opportunity for my fiance to get permission to MARRY me. All the while, he is sitting in Egypt, waiting, patiently. The last time I had seen him was back in November of 2007 in Egypt. Christmas came (as well as post travel bills, and presents..) Then I had to save up a little. In February I contacted a Visa Processing Firm that helped me through the process. All of our paperwork was completed by early April. Then finally I had enough money to send everything off.
We did not hear from the government until August of 2008. The letter I received was simply a confirmation that they received my packet. It was not until late September that the government approved the PETITION. Which means, they granted me an opportunity to move forward with the process. That did not mean he would be able to come over.
In October of 2008, the egyptian was asked to go have numerous physical tests and provide tons of documentation to the American Embassy in Cairo. That process costs hundreds of dollars. Finally in early November of 2008 (one year since we had last seen one another,) he was granted an interview at the United States Embassy in Cairo. He waited in a lobby for almost 8 hours. No food or drink allowed. Finally, he was called for his 5 minute interview. They asked ridiculous questions, and he had to answer with a sense of humor. The girl looked at him and said, "Okay - I am going to approve you."
He was elated. He was told his Visa would come in the mail in about 2 months max, maybe within 30 days.
But not so fast. He was a man, muslim, living in the middle east. This was only the beginning.
We went through 6 months of waiting. He went through nine different security clearances in Washington. We had to call in favor's with friends who knew people (Congressmen.) Finally a call was made. His visa was in EGYPT at the embassy. To expire in 4 days.
Talk about flipping out.
We debated understanding what that meant. Technically the Visa is for 6 months, which means when he got approved the Visa time began elapsing. Should he come or should he get an extension. We knew we would have 90 days to get married (according to law) - but with travel and what not, could we make it happen? I called the Embassy, and of course they told me to send him BACK to have it fixed. He and I debated, and both agreed - they could not be trusted. Would they take his Visa back and would all go to waste? We took a chance and booked the flight for the next day.
His flight would take him from Cairo to Paris to Atlanta to Birmingham. We would not have any contact in that time, and we still had one more hurdle to cross. Even though you have all of this documentation, you are NOT guaranteed entry into the states. There was a chance he would be denied access in Paris to fly over, and worse yet - Atlanta Customs...
God Bless America, he was granted access, and instead of his Visa was a new stamp - a 90 Fiance Visa. The rules are: get married in 90 days and file your adjustment of status or leave the country.
We married in the mosque at the end of May 2009. (Though we had a ceremony back in Egypt of 2007 - which is why we laugh about having two wedding anniversaries.) We had our reception in August of 2009. We filed our paperwork by the end of the month. It costs ANOTHER $1300. More fingerprinting, etc.
Then the BIG day came - the Immigration Interview as a couple. Again, we had to show bank statements, photos of us together, and provide this massive Affidavit of Support. I had to sign a contract saying I would be financially responsible for my husband for the next two years. After some ridiculous questions (ever seen the movie - The Proposal??) - we left.. and were granted his US Permanent Residency (on a 2 year Probationary Basis) - aka - His green card. It actually came in the mail January of 2010.
PS - Here's ABOUT how it goes.. ;-)
Here we are, August of 2011 - about to file our final paperwork to adjust his probationary status to US PERMANENT RESIDENT. *eeek* Basically we have to prove we are still married and living in the same home. We literally had to provide two letters (Affidavits of Witnesses) to say YES, they are married and here is how we know.) Insane.
That, my dears, will cost an additional $600. And that's just giving him the right to stay here. Nothing more. (PS - it's only for 10 years.) He is not eligible for citizenship for a few more years. Which means he still has to request permission to leave the country, pay money, and he is subject to questioning. PLUS - we have ONE MORE INTERVIEW.
So - when people ask, "Why don't those immigrants just apply to move and work here?" I feel like laughing in their faces. There are only a few official ways to get in this country:
I don't count Tourist - b/c that does not allow you to stay.
I will close this little conversation with some factoids about immigration. Take a moment and educate yourself on the facts. I will write more about reforms that needed, and the reality of what's going on at another time.