Would you like to come to my Pity Party (Part 1 of 2) ?

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?

About Single Dad

I married young. Now, after more than 20 years of marriage, 3 wonderful daughters, and many ups and downs, my wife has decided the marriage is over. The "About Me" and "My Background" pages on my blog have more details.
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21 Responses to Would you like to come to my Pity Party (Part 1 of 2) ?

  1. Vancouver kicks Ottawa’s ass….just saying 🙂 The girls are wayyyy more fun 🙂

  2. Caroline says:

    Might I suggest you go for Canada and then sell the rights of your story to a good film producer. It has the makings of a great movie. The humour of it would be brilliant!

  3. Lady E says:

    Wow, I don’t envy you…But our first world countries are notoriusly atrocious towards foreigners. Well, maybe the Canadians have got their act together, but I know at least France is dreadful.
    Anyway, it can only get better now xx

    • And, in France, you expect people to speak French! They don’t worry about that over here.

      I have more trouble ordering in a restaurant in the USA than I ever had in Switzerland.

      Mind you, that’s partly because the Swiss don’t let you modify your order; you have two options: take it or leave it.

      In the USA, it’s much more complicated to order: “Can I have the whomping burger, with extra swizzle sticks, the lettuce trimmed and on the left-hand side of the plate, the meat cooked to 173F but don’t lose the juices, the buns toasted toasted only on the inside, and put the pickles in the hair of that rude woman that bumped me when she went by earlier.”

  4. TikkTok says:

    OK, that flat sucks.

    But, your aggravation is why (in addition to lots of other reasons) I wholeheartedly believe that ILLEGAL ALIENS should NOT be given amnesty. It flies not only in the face of reason, but also is terribly disrespectful to all those coming to the country LEGALLY and trying to wade through this shit.

    We here are STILL trying to get rid of driver’s licenses for illegals, and let me tell you, it is a HUGE problem (because now we’ve given them “legal” identification that gets used for other purposes) for a variety of reasons.

    We’ve got numerous first and second generations Americans from Mexico here (stating the obvious, I know, lol), and they are beyond pissed with the perks the illegals get when they have had to wade through this crap to do it right.

    The American government is broken. It sorely needs an enema.

    I’ve got a Canadian friend, who was also dealing with the green card issue (although I thought her husband was American, so not sure what’s going on there) in the midst of her 11 year old’s rare, stage 4 cancer diagnosis, chemo, radiation, and subsequent amputation. You’d think people would have enough decency to cut some slack, but no, she had that piled in with all the other stuff she had to worry about, you know, like her daughter potentially dying from this rare cancer, not to mention having to have her leg amputated…..

    I would probably go for Ottawa, but if I had my choice, I’d probably do PEI just to get away from it all. Although, Nova Scotia is nice, too…….

    • Thank TT. You have my permission to start the administration of enemas to Government employees (but not contractors because I might get caught up in the net).

      Regarding the Driver Licenses, that’s a self-inflicted problem for the USA because they end up being used for almost every purpose EXCEPT driving! Airport security, verification of your credit card, rental of equipment to shampoo carpet, etc. If valid ID and a Driver License were different documents, there could be a different discussion.

      PEI … must be Prince Edward Island. And Nova Scotia. Aren’t they even colder than Ottawa?!

  5. Pingback: Would you like to come to my Pity Party (Part 2 of 2) ? | Four is a Family

  6. Vancouver is awesome…and the lack of sun and moisture off the Pacific will be good for your skin.

    When my STBex immigrated, I did all of his paperwork, using a BIG book from the public library to guide me through the forms. My STBex decided to gamble and submit his paperwork without running his paperwork past an attorney. We had no problems or issues, and a few years later, he successfully received his 10-year green card. That said, I would not suggest the DIY strategy for most immigrants. Unfamiliarity with the legal system, the immigration process, and the culture could really cause major problems for someone (and their family), and unless you’re extremely detail-oriented, and diligent about checking for errors the process can be a nightmare.

    At least if you go to Canada, you will get health care. I would think that would be the biggest draw for me.

    • Yes, as you correctly point out, my pale skin would do well in the damp winter climate of Vancouver (or Seattle for that matter). Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there is a misunderstanding among us folk from other parts of the country? Isn’t the North-West reasonably sunny in mid-summer; it’s only winter that’s dreary?

      Theoretically, the lawyer knows the ‘tricks’ that avoid an audit and the delays that come with that. in my case, he did. But his dumb, stupid, idiot paralegal made errors that caused me to be rejected TWICE before finally getting accepted the third time. Calculating dates…seriously, how hard is that??

      • If by “reasonably sunny” you mean the amazing weather we get from July 5th until about September 15th, then yes. The rest of the year we get dreary winter and seasonal affective disorder.

        • July 5 to September 15 doesn’t exactly compare well with the sunshine of a place like Denver or Boulder…

          One day I’ll have to find out if “seasonal affective disorder” was chosen because it has the most suitable acronym ever, or if it has a great acronym by chance alone. I doubt it was chance.

  7. mysterycoach says:

    I was born in PEI Tikk 😉 Neat huh?

    As to the rest of this … holy crap… that’s not right. My friend from S. AFrica had a slew of trouble when her work visa was terminated due to her position she moved here for being terminated. I put A LOT of work and effort into helping them stay here and we finally came up with school visa’s… if he was registered as a student AND then they could get sponsored by another company, which they did but they had to move to Wisconsin, they could stay. So they are safely here in the U.S., where they love it and well… I miss them a lot. 🙂 But I remember how many doors we had to knock on how many hoops we had to go through it was quite the task.

    • Hi MC,

      PEI, huh? Wow! I imagine your current suburban lifestyle must be very different to life back then.

      Yes, going through a termination of employment changes everything. Also, there is little time to deal with the consequences. Ouch. Your friend had a tough time. Congratulations on helping out!

      • mysterycoach says:

        No I was adopted at 6 months hold, brought to the states and became a citizen here when I was 4 years old. Although I did go back when I was 18 and met my biological parents and two siblings. We SO look alike the three of us. No, I wasn’t too impressed with the biological parents. I would have chosen where I grew up instead. Interestingly enough.

        They did have a rough time, but alls well that ends well with them 🙂

        • TikkTok says:

          ———-> also adopted (but not from PEI, although Mi might still count as the great white north or something ;)) Also contacted and am in touch with bio family on mom’s side. Interesting relationship there; ya, the looking like is quite the thing, isn’t it?

          Those adoption reunion shows are like a train wreck- can’t help but to watch sometimes, but still makes me want to yell at them “It’s not all hunky dory down the road!”. Erm.

          At this point, I have about the same amount of contact with the bio family as the other one; with the exception of my birth mom who pokes me on FB every single day. 😀

          But I digress- and think I should give up the hijacking and give the thread back to S….. 😆

          • mysterycoach says:

            I talk to my … I’ll start a topic? 🙂 I talk to my sister occasionally and my brother through facebook as well. I’ve seen some of those shows but I haven’ really watched them in detail.

            Oh man, yes… we’re all like identical in mannerisms, mindsets on certain things and it’s so interesting how some things are genetic and how our natures are in many aspects. That was really cool.

            SD? Back to you! 😆

  8. kimberly says:

    whew…i could not read all of the way through; the light at the end of the tunnel just kept getting dimmer. that’s how life in the army is, except on an office-space scale. good times! ; )

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