Immigration Frustration (October 22, 2010)

immigration

Three years of marriage, countless forms and $4,500 in legal fees later, my husband Eddie and I are still in the process of trying to secure his final, “unrestricted” green card. My husband immigrated from India in 2002, a 22 year-old man with an undergraduate degree in Information Systems earned on a satellite campus of the University of Hertfordshire, England at New Delhi.

When he deplaned at JFK airport in New York, with nothing more than two suitcases and a couple hundred bucks in his pocket, Eddie had already done the hard work of completing the TOEFL, the GRE and countless other acronym tests to gain acceptance to the New Jersey Institute of Technology. There he completed his Master’s in Information Systems while working two jobs: one as a weekend bus boy at a local Indian restaurant, and a second as a day laborer in a mattress warehouse. He came to this country honestly and legally, devoting every bit of his energy to survival and study. After his matriculation, he took a job from what he and his counterparts label a technology “body shop,” a company that pays immigrant workers low wages for long hours in exchange for helping them file a H1-B, a worker’s visa.

New York Times financial columnist Paul Krugman, and a number of other economic experts now argue that Eddie, and so many skilled immigrant workers like him, should have received a permanent green card as a graduation gift upon exiting the doors of NJIT. After all, what is the point of U.S. educational institutions training people like my husband, only to send them away afterward? That is no way to make America a stronger global competitor. In a period of mass unemployment, we find ourselves in the curious position of not having enough skilled technical workers. Wouldn’t it make sense to try to hold onto the ones already living and working within our borders?

But you know what else doesn’t make sense? Making that same person and their U.S. citizen spouse jump through years of legal hoops and costs to prove that their love match is in fact, real. Because you see, although his company at the time was more than willing, it was I, who had apparently watched the Gerard Depardieu/Andie McDowell cinema classicGreen Card a few times too many, that convinced him that filing for permanent legal residence via our marriage would be more expedient.

We sought the advice of a reputable immigration attorney before we walked down the aisle (or around the fire seven times, but you know what I mean). So ok, there was a lot to compile: marriage license, our first joint tax return, bills, transcripts of letters written in our dating life, photos, mementos – a bevy of personal treasure that demonstrated our ties together. But again, I had seen the movie and was ready for the paperwork, the invasive hearing, the whole shebang. It always felt ironic that I was, in effect, “sponsoring” someone with more accomplishments and three times more earning power than I would ever know, but procedures must be followed. We’d be laughing about all of it in six months right?

Wrong. Despite having impeccable documentation, and notwithstanding Eddie’s easy pass of his immigration physical and biometrics appointment (fingerprinting and retina scan), it took a full year to be granted our interview. Alright, we told ourselves, a number of marriages today begin and end within a year’s time. It was just another way to weed out fraud. Good thinking America! Across the globe, the prospect of a U.S. green card is still an attractive enticement, and as such, malfeasance abounds. We knew our marriage was a love match, so why fret?

Our hearing was held in a downtown Chicago office in January of 2009. Shortly thereafter, we were informed by letter that Eddie had been approved….but with “restrictions,” a new initiative that neither of us had heard of before. At the time we were told by our lawyer that this was “routine, no big deal.” In two years we would fill out a simple form verifying that our marriage hadn’t disintegrated, and the restrictions would be removed.

So last month, the time came to complete the petition to have the restrictions removed. And guess what? This process is anything but regular. Instead it feels like time wasting deja vu. Eddie was running around like a chicken with his head cut off for a full week gathering (you guessed it) pay stubs, utilities, tax returns, more photos, etc. The “routine” form was in fact a thick stack of paperwork that cost us another $1200 to file (on top of the $3300 we spent in 2007).

What’s more, though Immigration already has Eddie’s medical records, fingerprints and retina scan, he has been told that another set will be required. Any day now, he will receive a notice for an unchangeable appointment to report once more for guinea pig duty. In big, bold print, this notification will declare that failure to make oneself available for the call could result in a “change” to immigration status. Not at all ominous, right?

It is very fortunate for my husband and I that we have the necessary resources to get through this drawn out process, but what about the newly married couples that don’t? To Eddie’s credit, it is he who is keeping his cool and going through each step like a champ. I on the other hand, am starting to get angry. I am a U.S. citizen and have the entitlement to marry anyone non-criminal I choose. It’s written right there in the Constitution within my right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Why doesn’t the government make it any easier and more cost effective, for me to be with the person I wed?

I found myself wondering yesterday, and not for the first time, why anyone bothers to come to this country anymore. Is it worth it? What do these people get in return for running the hamster wheel, not to mention the lost years and thousands of dollars? Repeated invasion of privacy and insinuations that you are your spouse are out to scam the government in exchange for what? A 10% unemployment rate and no voting privileges? I’m over the arrogance.

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