Green Card Survival: How I Became Legal in the U.S.
Disclaimer: As the author’s editor(and also her husband), I’ve been instructed to pass along a message. The author wants you to know that this article is just like, her opinion, man. Okay well, she didn’t say it like that.
What she does want you to know is that the way events and circumstances play out during this process can be radically different. By offering her individual perspective, it is no way a complete representation of the experiences from others. See, kinda like how I said it.
I left my editing notes in this version. Mainly just for my own amusement, but hopefully you can tolerate them and maybe even learn to enjoy them. Bye! - Stephen Reed (st)
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming, IMMIGRATION!
Everyone! Calm down. Put away your pitchforks, relax those thumbs and step away from your keyboards. I do not intend on using my husband’s weekly newsletter to scream my opinions at you. Talk about nepotism, right? (sr- right.)
Let’s say that you want to have the word ‘immigrant’ invisibly tagged to you. You have two approaches—the legal way or the not so legal way. The not so legal way involves walking through a desert (st-with or without a caravan, your choice), jumping over walls, or rowing across a body of water in a rickety old boat. (st- doesn’t have to be an old rickety boat, it can also be just a normal boat if you have money or friends)
On the flip-side, you always can try the legal way. This involves a lot of paperwork, a lot of impatient waiting around, and one interview. (st-in my opinion, I’d go with the old rickety boat option) The legal option is definitely safer than the land, water, or wall options, but I’m not sure if it was any more enjoyable. (st- we could have called it ‘Operation Ahoy!’ and she could have referred to me as the Captain)
The agency that oversees all immigration related matters is the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. The one you’re probably thinking about is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. They are the ones that enforce all immigration related matters.
The problem is that ICE kinda acts like the estranged brother of USCIS. ICE is a bigger, scarier agency and you definitely don’t want to get on his bad side. Its gotten so bad that the two agencies are often not on talking terms at all. That’s how things like this happen.
Adjustment of Status (AoS) is the process of filing for permanent residency when one is already present in the United States. In short, you are changing your status from either a visitor (which I was), a temporary worker, or asylum seeker and you’re looking to become a permanent resident.
As of October 2018, the USCIS had 681,898 AoS cases pending. Of these cases, 60% of them were family-based petitions. When a spouse files for such a petition, it falls under the family-based AoS petition category. The cases vary, but all are looking to receive a Permanent Resident Card, or often called a Green Card. This magical card has the ability to bestow upon you all the legal rights and protection eligible to US citizens. (st-it’s kinda like a gift card, but for rights instead of money)
Approximate processing times vary from 6 to 18 months based on the field office (where your file is processed and where your interview is conducted). The documents you submit are an attempt to prove that you have a valid relationship. You then have to accept any and all new and unknown policy or rule changes that happen while you’re case is processing. The USCIS is constantly tweaking rules—a timeline here, an additional document requirement there. These can trigger a cascading effect on many other things. To avoid any ambiguity, we decided to hire an immigration lawyer who had a 100% success rate with cases like ours. (st- according to Google and the man himself)
Our journey began back in June 2018, when Stephen petitioned the USCIS to grant me, the beneficiary, a Green Card. Before that happens, the government wants to do it’s due diligence. (st- “why don’t you pull that door closed and let’s have a little chat.” - U.S. government) They really just want to know one thing from you—If you’re actually in a bona fide marriage(aka -real). (st- I thought ‘bona fide’ was the name of a popular 90s rock band) To prove the legitimacy of your marriage, you have to spend countless hours digging up information about each other’s past and submit proof to show just how real and loving the marriage is.
How were we going to that? By sharing as many pictures, conversational, and financial documents as possible! All those sappy #missyou and #anniversary Instagram posts were screenshotted and filed away with our petition.(st- I asked Sam to use mostly her pictures because she gets three times as many likes as I do. We’re still debating whether appearing cool and popular played a critical role in the final decision.)
We also included multiple pages of call logs, Whatsapp messages, and emails to show that we were romantically conversing through the entire time we claimed to be in a relationship. (st- unsure if my corny love letters or the fact that we call each other ‘Boober’ had an impact on the final decision.)
Next, we had to prove that I was pure and wasn’t going to bring any deadly infectious disease to the United States. I was required to get a $600 health checkup and update my vaccination record. (st- let the record show that my wife turned out to be so pure. Some of the highest levels of pure that they’ve seen in years)
We crossed our fingers and sent in our 300-page file. Then we did what everyone else does—we wait.
The entire process is nerve-wracking because the system lacks any transparency. You have no idea who has looked at your file or where in the process you’re in. One thing you don’t want— a Request for Evidence, or RFE. This means that the USCIS wants additional documents supporting a certain parameter or claim related to your case. Luckily for us, it had been 5 months of silence before we heard out first update. Good news—I was legally allowed to work and was given permission to travel outside the U.S. using my Employment Authorization Document and Advance Parole, or EAD-AP documents.
Up until then, you can’t leave the country because if you do, then you’re not committed enough to the AoS process. That you’re not willing to stick in this for the long haul. Doesn’t matter how long its been radio silence on their end. Doesn’t that sound like a significant other we’ve all had! The Advance Parole releases you from the tight grip of the process, by letting you leave and come back. HOWEVER, here’s the kicker—it doesn’t guarantee re-entry. That means, I could arrive at the Austin Airport with all my paperwork, and someone at Border Patrol could decide I shouldn’t be allowed out of the airport. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just how things are. (st- That’s like someone giving you a gift card, but their not really sure if it has anything on it. It might indeed work, but you probably shouldn’t travel to India with it.)
Just before we left on our 2018 Christmas family vacation, we received the best news we could have hoped for. No, they didn’t somehow find a way to make Tacos more delicious, but it felt just good. We got our immigration interview date! (st- still unsure whether the tacos or the interview date would have made life better)
We were basically in the last step of the process and we could now see the light at end of the long AoS tunnel. (st- if we went with the boat option, I would have called this step the ‘Ahoy’ canal)
Before our interview, we met with our lawyer who briefed us on what to expect during the interview. Towards the end of our meeting he casually mentioned that if we didn’t get approved, I (ME! Samantha, not Stephen, just me) could get arrested and put in immigration prison and it would probably take them a week to track me down so that they could post bail. Then we’d make our way to a judge to appeal my denial. He told me not to worry but if I did go to jail, that I should never sign anything giving away my rights.
With the added threat of possibly going to jail, the days leading up to the interview were a frenzy of activity at our house. I mean, it was mostly me trying to put together a dossier to physically represent our marriage to an Immigration Officer who would know nothing about us or our case. I was nervous and strung out about it. (st- Sam had already accepted that she was most definitely going prison)
The day of the interview arrived. As I walked in, I took one last look at beautiful blue sky and soaked it all in, reminding myself to be more thankful for the little things in life. (st- see, I told you)
We walked out 25 minutes later, with no handcuffs.
Even though we had to wait on some security checks to come back, our interview went smoother than we imagined. The officer even thanked us for being so prepared and organized. She was also thrilled that I included our dog, Cooper, in our list of ‘Hey, we’re an actual married couple’ documents. (st- this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As soon as the officer saw the vet bill, she said “well now I know ya’ll are a married couple”)
Our only hiccup was Stephen not being able to remember his parent’s birthdays and throwing out random months and dates to see what might stick. (st- …..) It was funny and painful to watch him struggle through that. (st- my struggle was funny and painful)
What he was able to prove however was that he loves me (st- uh, yeah. duh) and that this is a legitimate marriage he intends on staying in forever, with the Immigration Officer as our witness. (st- she was still laughing about the birthday thing.)
7 hours after the interview, our case was approved. Our year long dream had suddenly become a reality. He's stuck with me now (st- and she’s stuck with me). We are both incredibly happy to have this part of our lives sealed away. (st- it’s color coated and neatly organized just in case)
Thankfully, this was a once in a lifetime experience.
(st- I don’t know, I still think we should have done the old rickety boat option)