Dear Homeland Security -- the long and winding road to US residency
Dear Homeland Security,
Just a little thank you note to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your involvement in my life this year.
Don’t be embarrassed. I understand with so many people to worry about, my name may not ring a bell right off the bat; particularly because most of my dealings have been with United States Customs and Immigration, one of your busiest departments. But whether or not you’re aware, through their efforts, you’ve come to know me so well, whereas I know very little about you.
Our relationship goes back three years, now. And such wonderful years. Yes, it is now thirty-six months since my husband first wrote to you as an American citizen, a Vietnam vet and a tax-payer, requesting to bring his Canadian wife of twenty-one years of married life to live with him in his home country. You see, he’d always planned on returning to the southern states, to the warmth, the Spanish moss, the oaks, the humidity, the spiders, the snakes, the cicadas, the hurricanes, all the pleasantries of his origins.
Indeed the twenty-years he spent living and working in Canada was never intended to be a permanent, life-long sojourn, as evidenced by his refusal to accept Canadian citizenship, by his dutifully filing a US Tax Return each and every one of those twenty years, and paying his Social Security as befits a solid citizen.
Although I’ve learned my word is meaningless to you, trust me when I tell you, he never stopped being an American. Any more than the other 11% of the Alberta population that is American. In fact, I've witnessed the longer they've been out, the more American they tend to become, formulating yet another tight sub-culture in the 'cultural mosaic' that is Canada.
Yes, I'm sorry. This is all irrelevant. I quite agree. Bear with me; I will get to the point.
He was as nonplussed as I when, after insisting I fly from Calgary all the way to Montreal for an interview at your Consulate General for the United States, the counsel with whom I spoke who appeared barely old enough to have graduated high school, informed me our application was being denied because my husband, a CPA was not currently working in the U.S. Of course, this could be changed, she explained, were we to provide the cash equivalent of five times the poverty level annual income for ten years, in other words, $250,000.
In the meantime, I was to consider myself persona non grata in the US and unless we dropped our application, I could not even consider crossing the border. Not to stay in my own Florida home for the winter months, as had long been my custom. Not to visit my friends. Not for any reason. No, as long as my application was open, I could not enter the United States. Not even if my husband was there. Them’s the rules.
Unhappily, not having a quarter of a million dollars immediately at hand, and with winter coming on and our Florida house beckoning me, we did drop the application, which meant the thousands of dollars already spent in pursuit of my husband’s desire to have his wife live with him in his own country was lost. We would now have to re-start the whole shebang right from the beginning. Once he was permanently installed in residence in the U.S. and either gainfully employed or producing the aforementioned $250,000.
There were other surprises along the way. For instance, I learned that despite my Canadian citizenship sworn to and taken at the age of eighteen, because I was born in Great Britain -- Scotland to be specific -- I was not considered a Canadian by the U.S. government and was now applying to enter the US as a British national. A country I left at the age of six. Yes, I was now a ‘third party alien applicant.’ Apparently I, like applicants from all over the world, was using Canada as a staging ground for entry to the US. The fact that it took me fifty-one years to fulfill this purpose was beside the point.
I am once again British. Truthfully, when one is born in Britain, one retains citizenship and one can’t get rid of it even if one wants to. That’s an act of treason. Handy during the wars with Spain back in the1500's, when the enemy would capture a British ship and all hands would declare themselves instant Spaniards. But not really a workable law today.
So in your eyes, I’m British. In mine, Canadian. But, we can work around that. Not a major problem.
Once again, I use those useless words 'believe me.' But please do believe me, when I did enter the US in October of 2010, having dropped my application, I had every intention of returning to Canada in 182 days. Truly. I swear to it. But when my husband came to Florida five months after I did and was offered an interesting and promising position in a brand new field, he didn’t want to live here alone. He’d just passed five months alone in Canada and didn’t like it. He wanted his wife with him.
I know I should have done the ‘right’ thing and returned to Canada when my six months was up, but I didn’t. After twenty-one years of marriage, we like to sleep in the same bed, eat at the same table, reside at the same address – at the same time -- and live in the same country. Surely, you understand.
The next few months were nervous ones. I thought myself an illegal in this country. And if you think about all the invective in the press, on the Internet, on everyone’s lips about illegal immigrants, you can imagine how uneasy I felt. I suppose I’m fortunate to be a little, old white lady, not subject to the racial profiling that, while denied, certainly exists. Friends who were aware of my situation strongly insisted “we don’t mean you,” when complaining about the illegals stealing all the jobs. What they meant was they didn’t mean educated white people. This I know because they admitted to it. Still, I wasn’t comfortable even though a Canadian in Florida is hardly a rare sight.
What a relief when we visited an immigration lawyer to learn I wasn’t illegal.
She explained it all rests on intent. As I do have viable grounds to be in the country – long married to an American, and my intent on entry was to leave again and I didn’t sneak across, or enter illegally and as our situation had changed in that my husband was working, I was not an illegal. There are procedures in place for such occasions. And it’s much easier once you’re in the country, not outside asking to come in.
Our friends, an American with a Brazilian wife assured us this was indeed the case. This was how they’d done it. She’d come to visit her fiancé and neglected to return. Much smoother than dealing with foreign consulates, they said, whose job it is to say no.
So, we paid our lawyer $3,500 and another $1,054 filing fees to the US government, and a little bit here and there and everywhere to get a new application rolling.
But now, I couldn’t leave the country.
That’s right. Now that we had a new application in place, I couldn’t leave the US. UNLESS, I was granted permission by means of Form 1512L—Authorization for Parole of an Alien into the United States. (Parole? I'm on parole?) We applied for that. Another fee. When it came several months later, across the bottom in bold type it warns, Parole is not admission into the United States and it is still up to Homeland Security at the border to decide if you can or cannot enter. Which begs the question: What’s it for then?
We decided I shouldn’t leave unless there was an emergency at home. You note I still say home when referring to Canada. Much the same way my husband said ‘home’ when referring to the US even after twenty years there. It's just a word. Or is it? Is there anyone who doesn’t consider where they grew up to be home? And in my case it wasn’t Britain, no matter what you say.
Anyway, I digress. One day another form came, telling me to present myself in Tampa on a certain date and time to have my ‘Biometrix’ taken. Translation: finger prints and photographs. Never mind that you already have all this from our aborted application of three years ago. I understand. You couldn’t possibly relate one file to another, busy as you are. Which might be part of your problem, perhaps.
We did this and had a lovely meal in a restaurant overlooking Tampa Bay while
in the city. By the way, your machine takes abominable portraits.
Then – oh happy day – the other application we’d made, the one requesting permission for employment for me bore fruit. I received a neat little laminated card with the most unflattering photograph on it announcing the United States Government has bestowed on me the right to work (assuming I can find a job in this poor, depressed area.) I am to carry this card on my person at all times. Especially if travelling in Arizona, I suppose. Or Ohio.
The next step was the acquisition of a Social Security Card. That was another diverting story. Excuse me, do you have time for an amusing anecdote? I hate to impose, but I must admit, humor has become an integral part of this epic. Without it, I’d long ago have sliced open my belly with the nearest knife. I barely restrained myself from drinking toilet cleaner the other day. The only thing that stayed my hand was the thought I probably wouldn’t die, and end up having to face all the inadequacies of my health insurance coverage. I am terrified of your medical system. (Well, not yours precisely. As civil servants, paid by the American people, you folks enjoy wonderful coverage. I mean as one of the millions of people carrying regular insurance and being nickel-and-dimed into an early grave.)
Which is one of the reasons I need to get all this paperwork done. I need to get back to Alberta for my long-overdue check-up. The old 50,000 mile overhaul that is not covered here and necessary to prevent me from developing serious illness that may throw me into bankruptcy court – and beyond.
Yes, yes. Also irrelevant. I’ll get on with it.
The nearest office for the Social Security Administration is in Venice, a half hour’s drive for me. Not bad. The very next day, December 27th, I drove down there only to find a note on the door the office was closed for maintenance. So, on December 28th I once more arrived and thankfully found the office open. Inside, the security person asked my business. I told her, I was there to get a Social Security Card. She gave me a number and told me to sit and wait. I did.
- United States Immigration: green card, immigrant visa and attorney directory.
Guide to United States Immigration: Information on immigrant and non-immigrant visa process and U.S. green card with immigration attorney directory.
- US Govt. Immigration
Here is the official government site for immigration. Good luck!
Finally, my number was called. The lady behind the wicket – bullet-proof glass one assumes—informed me there was yet a problem. The computers were down. And she said, ‘We need to interview you. I’ll set up an appointment.’ She grabbed a paper, wrote my name across the top and asked, ‘What is your Social Security number?’
Bemused, I answered, ‘I don’t have one. That’s why I’m here.’
With squinted eyes she studied me. “Oh…. I thought you were here to apply for retirement benefits. You do know you have to pay in for ten years before…”
‘Yes, I know,’ I answered as politely as possible, thinking ‘hell, I know I’m no spring chicken, ‘tis true, but I only just turned fifty-eight.’ And by the way, just so you know, I may never qualify for Social Security, but I do qualify for Canada Old Age Pension, and I’ve paid into my Canada Pension Plan my entire life. Add to this my husband’s Social Security and our private arrangements and I promise – again, believe me – I will never end up dependent on your inadequate social services roll. Truly, if I wanted to live on welfare, I would have stayed in Canada, now, wouldn’t I? Think it through.
Once that misunderstanding was cleared up, there remained the problem of no computer service, so we did the application manually – a shock to the poor employee, for sure. She would, she insisted, enter it all into the computer as soon as possible. I went home.
The phone rang. It was the clerk for the Social Security Administration office. She’d forgotten to ask me a load of questions. Would I do that over the phone?
Yes. No, I’ve never been convicted of a felony. No, I’ve never been arrested. No, I’ve never been on social assistance in this, or any other state. (Or country.) No, no, no, no, no. We were done.
Imagine my surprise when a mere ten days later, my social security card arrived in the mail. In bold print it says,’For Work Only’ and ‘Must be Accompanied by USCIS Authorization Card.’ But I finally had it, the magic key to the country.
Now I was able to get a Florida driver’s license, and register my car – both actions requiring a Social Security number. And no, I won’t go into further detail on the trials of accomplishing these. It wasn’t easy to register an out-of-country vehicle and required a long drive to Bradenton, the only place in this area the does inspect imported cars. And another fee. Did I mention it’s a GM, made in the US?
But I do wonder how illegal immigrants do it? Seriously. If I’m going through all this doing things more or less legally, how on earth do the dreaded illegals manage? It boggles the mind. Certainly, one must respect their ingenuity.
Now finally, I come to the point of this letter. I can hear you sighing in relief from here.
I received another form from you the other day: Form I--797C Notice of Action. I am to present myself at the proscribed time and date in your offices in Tampa (not the same one I went to before) with my husband (mandatory) and my attorney (optional.) I must bring with me a copy of this form, and all the other forms you sent me over the past year, and a list of things as long as my arm, all of which you already have. But by now understanding the nature of your filing system which apparently sits in the vortex of a sub-space black hole, we will bring it all again. Not a problem. It sits in what has become a permanent file. Also, my attorney will bring her copies of the same. In fact, we are all to meet at her office a week ahead of time to ensure we have all we need. And to do a rehearsal of the interview process.
But there is one line I truly do not understand: evidence as proof of a bona-fide marriage.
Tell me, how does on prove a bona-fide marriage?
We’ve lived together for twenty-one years. Is this not proof enough? Do you really think I married this man, shared a bed, a home, a life for two decades only to commit immigration fraud at this late stage in life? From Canada, yet! (Not Britain.)
My attorney informs me that what you want is proof we actually live together, such as utility bills in both our names, (they’re in my name because I set them up,) a joint bank account (do you know what it’s like to set up a bank account here when you have no documentation you’re allowed to live here? I did it once, when I and I alone did the house purchase transaction. That’s when we first met, if you remember, in the form of the Patriot Act – which I had to sign. It’s in my name. My husband has his own account because the complexities were just too much.) Or the house deed with both our names on it. (Okay.) Or life insurance naming each other as beneficiaries. (Okay.) At least five things that prove we are co-habiting, my attorney says.
But still, how does one prove a bona-fide marriage?
What a question.
“It all relates as to why you are requesting residency,” my attorney states.
The answer sits below.
Alberta, January 9th 2011 -28 C
Forida January 9th, 2011 +72 F
So you see, dear Homeland Security, the answer to your question, why? is right here in these photos. Need you seek greater motivation?
As to the bona-fide marriage, I submit that twenty-one years is equally self-evident, but if you truly need to see mail with both our names showing this address, I suppose after all we've already been through together, I shall endeavor to satisfy that request.
Tell me, is this to be like the movie, Green Card, where we are taken to seperate rooms and grilled for hours on each others habits -- one wrong answer and it's deportation time? This does give me pause, because after twenty-one years of living together, I've learned not to see a lot of things.
A bona-fide marriage is like that, you know.
All the same, thanks so much for this interesting year. I look forward to our next encounter. I want you to know I appreciate how hard you're working to keep undesirables and dangerous sorts out of the country. We all know the first thing a possible terrorist does is marry an American and live with them for twenty-one years before moving to suburban Florida, so I appreciate your diligence. And God forbid you become over run with post-middle-aged women stealing all the good jobs.
I just want you to know, I understand.
Lynda M Martin