This is two-part tale intended to glean lots of pity and support. No hidden agenda, no complications, just some whining and complaining. In this first part, I am avoiding my current woes and talking about past ones. NONE of the material in this post has anything to do with today’s woes, which will be covered in a post that I will publish as soon as I have finished typing up my justifications for extensive support from a worldwide network of fellow bloggers!
I wrote most of the following as a Facebook
rant note in July 2010. It was shortly after the family had been awarded Green Cards and long before I started this blog. It was a very difficult time because I didn’t know whether or not I (and/or my family) might be deported DESPITE having (a) faithfully followed the legal immigration process and (b) broken no laws at all. It’s no fun when Government officials make mistakes, especially with a Patriot Act that authorizes non-citizens to be locked up indefinitely without any right to habeas corpus. For the non-legal folks, this is the Constitutional process by which a person (it now only applies to a U.S. citizen) can appeal to the courts to seek relief from unlawful detention.
There is another blog post from the past that overlaps with this one.
You’d think I would be excited about the Green Cards (technically they are “Permanent Resident Cards” but we’ll use the old and more familiar name for this discussion). The flexibility, the options, the sense of security that comes with permanent residence rather than dependence on a work visa. Not really. The U.S. Government tore my heart out, emptied my wallet, and made mistake after mistake until my main feeling was disillusionment coupled with the ongoing fear of deportation for some or all of the family. I’ll bet you think I’m kidding around the deportation thing.
After applying for permanent residence and being accepted, the Immigrant Visas (which allow Green Cards to be issued) can be issued in one of two ways. If you stay in the USA, a Change of Status process takes place that simply issues the Immigrant Visas and Green Cards after an interview process. If you agree to leave the USA, then a U.S. Embassy overseas issues the Immigrant Visas and the Green Cards are posted out some week later, after you return to the USA. At the time I was considering my options, my father-in-law was terminally ill in England, the Change of Status process was backed up for two years and, once in that Change process, it’s hard to leave the USA until it’s finished.
We opted for consular processing. Again, it should be simple:
1. Go to the U.S. Embassy in London (in my case). They put an Immigrant Visa in our passports.
2. Have the Immigrant Visa endorsed at the U.S. border (in Washington DC, in our case)
3. Wait for a few weeks and get Green Cards in the mail
So, how many ways can this be screwed up?
Let’s start with the U.S. Embassy. Since I had an active work visa already and all of the family had dependent visas, they were supposed to cancel these “without prejudice” (they become invalid because the Immigrant Visa takes precedence). After that, they should have attached a new Immigrant Visa in the passport of each family member. Simple? No! The Embassy forgot to cancel one of the visas in Amélie’s passport. Not that we noticed, we were busy looking at the nice new Immigrant Visas.
At Washington Dulles airport, the border people wanted their chance to make some mistakes. First, one of the two Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers didn’t notice that the work visa in Amélie’s passport wasn’t canceled properly. She endorsed the *work* visa in Amélie’s passport rather than the Immigrant Visa. The next officer, who was supposed to check everything, didn’t notice her error and made a big one of his own, which we will come to shortly.
Once the 4 different officers had talked to us at the airport, we were allowed in. We were residents! … Not really! But we didn’t know that at the time…
The kids needed Social Security Numbers. We waited in their interminable queues. That’s when we discovered that Amélie’s passport had not been stamped properly. The SSA officer pointed out the problem and said we needed to go back to the airport to get it fixed. It sounded like only a stamp was needed and all would be well.
I took Amélie and her passport to the airport on the weekend. They told us to come back between Noon and 2pm, Monday to Thursday. To clarify, when they mess up the visa at the airport, they refuse to fix it unless I return during their tiny time slot. That is, THEIR error is MY problem. Ouch.
I had no choice. I took time off work and took Amélie and her passport to the airport again. The rather dismissive officer showed little interest in the problem at first. After we had waited outside his office for an hour or so, he came back out and asked for ALL of my passports. Fortunately, I brought the heavy folder of immigration stuff, with everything in it. Another 30 minutes later, he returned to let me know that, when we had entered the USA on our Immigrant Visas, we had not been “admitted” on the computer system and that was why we had not already received Green Cards in the mail. This was the big error that the second officer at the airport made. I was told the problem had been fixed. (I checked: yes, he had put the right stamp in Amélie’s passport).
So, the Embassy erred. At the airport, when we arrived, everyone involved made mistakes. But the dismissive guy said he fixed it all up.
To me, this begged some questions:
Why should I believe only the *last* guy I spoke to — what if he made a mistake too?
What if SOME of us were already correctly admitted and he somehow “unadmitted” them?
I decided to try to find out if we had now been properly processed. US CIS (the people who issue Green Cards) said they didn’t know if we were in the country or not. (What?!) They said, we are just a Call Center and do not have access to that information. I pointed out this was the only contact number for the entire department, so maybe they could initiate an inquiry to find out if we were now legally admitted to the country. No they could not and what was I thinking to ask them to take helpful action of any kind. They said I had to take it up with CBP, that is the airport ‘border’ people who already screwed up multiple times.
Since going to the airport again was inconvenient, I tried the web-site. The phone number said to call between Noon and 5pm. When I did call during that time, it said to call back between noon and 5pm. So much for that option.
The CBP web-site also had a “complaint” option, so I tried that. I explained the sorry state of affairs and said that no-one had taken the time to show me any actual evidence that I was in the country legally. Apparently an endorsed visa in a passport means nothing. I explained that, for all I knew, I could get a 5:00am knock on the door and be deported; my work visa was no longer valid and I had no way of knowing if I had “immigrated” or not.
When the CBP people wrote back to ask for more contact details without suggesting they would fix the problem, it was unclear if the request was to ensure they knocked down the right door at 5:00am to take us annoying foreigners out of the country.
For some time after that, I was left with no information from anyone whether or not I was here legally. I had no idea whether or not I would be handcuffed and removed from the country without notice. This actually happens to people. No chance to organize belongings. No chance to come back and sell off personal property. You are g-o-n-e and lose everything. Marvelous. Try sleeping at night with that thought…
A few weeks later, we started receiving Welcome Notices that said that US CIS had received our paperwork from the port of entry (the airport). We kept getting them. Clearly there could be only one file per person. In the end, the 5 of us got a total of 9 Welcome Notices. Even something that simple has to be fucked up by the Government apparently. When they arrived a couple at a time, it made me wonder again if only some of us were now here legally. Should I leave the front door unlocked at night to make it easier for the ICE folks to get in??
I realized a few weeks later that I could track the US CIS progress using the web-site I had once used for Work Visas. It said that 3 of us were in the Document Production phase, which implied the printing of Green Cards. Yay! 2 of us were not. Fuck — what did that imply? Then it changed some days later: 2 of the ones being printed switched BACK to “Post-Decision Activity”. Did that mean the Green Cards were now canceled for 2 of us? Was this the result of the CBP officer “fixing” things at the airport, or me making inquiries? Were the ICE agents already on the way?
More fretting and worry. Note this took place while on the last two doubled-up Courses for my Masters degree *and* while I was recovering at home from some minor emergency surgery. Would I get pain pills and bandages in prison before I was deported?
Suddenly, without any warning or updates to the US CIS Web-site, all of the Green Cards arrived in the mail over a couple of days.
As I said at the beginning, you’d think I would be excited about it. Umm, not really. It took months after arriving in the country to discover that I was legally in the country and would not be deported.
After all the trouble, stress and cost that was poured into this, I am so angry at being treated so poorly for so long by the U.S. Government that I am completely disillusioned. I followed the rules and went broke in the process. Everyone, from the Green Card lawyer to the misleading information provided at almost every stage by the Government, cost me dearly. Just one error by the U.S. Embassy in London cost me over $6000 in a combination of unnecessary changes to return flights and lost income.
I am no fool, I am not prone to wild mood swings nor flights of fantasy, and I am not naïve enough to think that the U.S. Government can do everything efficiently. Yet this was managed so very poorly, why did I bother? I started planning a long time ago to move to Canada as a backup plan in case the U.S. Government wasn’t able to process my paperwork because of one pointless hiccup or another.
In the meantime, behind the scenes, many kind people campaigned on behalf of me and my family, including a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Representative. With all that help, I succeeded (but it didn’t stop the dangerous errors). I don’t think that ‘ordinary’ people can navigate these waters; the price is too high. In fact, just today, I got an e-mail from someone else at my company asking for assistance with his immigration effort. I haven’t replied yet, but I had a bitter laugh at that.
You won’t have noticed that, when politicians talk about “immigration reform”, they talk about finding a way to make legal residents of people who crossed into the USA illegally. No-one spends any time talking about how to make residency possible for the ‘serfs’ who enter the country legally and apply using the formal processes for residency. No, those silly people, those future voting citizens, they seem to be a much less powerful group. It beggars belief.
The Canadians recently approved my immigration application. They managed to achieve what the USA achieved in a fraction of time, with almost no fuss at all. Do you think I should opt for the mild but wet Vancouver, or the colder but small and pretty city of Ottawa? Either would be nice … eh?