I’ve had a few people request that I do an open-ended “ask me anything” series on Wholefully. So, here it is! You’ll see me answering a reader question each week. Submit your questions by
e-mailing me or commenting on this post. If you want to be identified in my answer, include your name and website (if applicable).
Literally, ask me anything. I’ll answer anything!*
*Okay, maybe not anything, but almost anything.
You can see previous AMA responses here.
Disclaimer : This post is about our immigration process. I tried to write it without letting my own political views about immigration shine through, but it wasn’t true to who I am or how I feel. If I offend you, I apologize. But as someone who went through the immigration process, the topic is close to my heart. It is also worth noting that our immigration experience was over 5 years ago. Laws change and no one should use this as any indication of how their immigration process will go.
The next few months after our engagement were pretty calm. We learned more about one another and fell harder and deeper in love. We managed to scrape up enough money for me to fly to Canada every 4-6 weeks, and our trips were brief but blissful and love-filled. Other than that, our relationship grew through the phone, email, IM and shared movie nights where we’d rent the same DVD and watch it together, but 1,000 miles apart.
During this time, we focused on compiling our multiple immigration applications. Don’t let anyone tell you legally immigrating to the U.S. is easy. It is complicated, nerve-wracking and painfully expensive. I had two full-time jobs for the next year—my job-job and one as an immigration expert. We submitted our first round of many immigration forms in mid-August 2006. Yes, it took us 2 months to prepare the forms and documentation. I measured our stack of immigration paperwork once. It was 6 inches tall. And we haven’t even started the naturalization process yet.
While we were waiting for the U.S. government to chime in on our relationship, I switched jobs (to my current employer) and moved back to my college town. On my very first day at my new job in November 2006, I checked my email and had a notice from Immigration that our application had been approved—3 months after we’d submitted it with a big fat check. I was shocked. That was a very fast approval. All my hours of research and nit-picking* over our application paid off.
The approval was only the first step, though. It didn’t mean Babyface was free to move to the U.S. It meant we could proceed to the next steps—a medical exam and an interview. Of course, it wasn’t like you just walked downtown and met with your family doctor or went to the closest Immigration office. No, for us it required hefty trips across both of our countries. Oh, and it took three more form submissions (and three more big hefty checks) before our interview was scheduled for January 2007.
When the time came, Babyface and I boarded planes from our respective hometowns and made our way to the Vancouver airport. We hadn’t seen each other in more than 2 months (immigration fees had drained our bank accounts, thankfully our parents helped us SO much with the flight and hotel costs for the trip). Even though we had a mission, this was also our first “vacation” together. We were cautiously excited to explore Vancouver together.
We stayed in a terribly crappy hotel in a terrible part of town. When we told the cab driver which hotel to drive us to from the airport, he turned around to us and said, “Really?” The hotel stank like moth balls and had giant holes in the ceiling tiles.
We did some touristy things the first day, but our first main objective was to get Babyface’s immigration ordered medical exam. He had to be medically fit enough to immigrate to the U.S. and could only been examined by a handful of doctors in the world. Remember the “give me your tired, poor, your huddled masses” poem on the Statue of Liberty? Now-a-days it is more like, “give me your rich, perfectly healthy masses that can figure out paperwork more complicated than advanced calculus.”
His medical exam went fine and our next step was to wait for the interview. We were both very well-educated about what would happen. Thankfully the internet is a wealth of knowledge about the U.S. immigration process. There are entire communities of people willing to help and share their experience. I knew exactly what to expect—from the small waiting room to the questions being asked—before we even landed in Vancouver. That didn’t mean I felt confident.
See, they were interviewing us to determine if we were a legitimate couple. One random U.S. government worker was the person allowed to decided if we were a “real” couple. Not having control of your own fate sucks. It was demeaning. Our love. Our story. Our everything didn’t matter. All that mattered was what this one person’s initial reaction to us was.
When our interview appointment came, we headed to downtown Vancouver to the U.S. Embassy, went through security and made it up to the tiny waiting room with bank-teller windows. We nervously fidgeted in the plastic chairs—me with a photo album on my lap and Babyface with our mountain of paperwork.
When we were called up to the window, a pleasant-enough, but very-down-to-business immigration official verified some information, asked for payment (yet another, big hefty check). I was so distracted by the file in front of him. It was huge and thick and had every piece of paper we’d ever submitted. It is still strange to me to know that there is some file in some government office somewhere that has our love letters, photos and plane tickets (all the types of things you have to submit to prove your relationship is legitimate).
The interview started and he asked us some pretty generic questions. How did we meet? What were our plans after Babyface immigrated? How was my financial situation? I had to prove I could financially support Babyface for 5 years—he was not allowed to burden the federal or state social assistance systems (reduced health care costs, food stamps, etc.) Want a picture of immigration in the U.S.? Illegal immigrants can access some of those services, but by immigrating legally, Babyface had to sign documents stating he wouldn’t. We handed over letters from my employer, pay stubs, bank statements, oh and another form and big hefty check to the U.S. government (see where the 6 inches of paperwork comes from?).
Once the official seemed please enough, he asked to see some photos. I walked him through my photo album of carefully selected photos. Make sure they are from different times and different places. Make sure you aren’t wearing the same clothes in all of them. Make sure there are other people in them. Make sure there are recognizable landmarks. Make sure you look happy. Make sure they don’t look too posed. Every photo, word, letter, piece of paperwork had a million hidden meanings behind it. And you had to make sure none of them said, “Just in it for the green card!’
After the last photo, he stamped our file and told us “Congratulations!”
We flew across both our countries for 2 minute interview. If I wasn’t so incredibly relieved, I probably would have been angry at the U.S. for such unbelievable red tape.
I started crying. Really crying. It was done. We had the golden ticket. Well, almost. We were told to come back in 2 hours for visa processing. We left, got lunch, and Babyface came back and got a pretty visa stuck in his passport that said he was allowed to enter the U.S. and stay in the U.S. It even said right on the visa, “Purpose is to marry U.S. Citizen Casandra Lynn [my maiden name]”.
We had two more days in Vancouver and it was literally like we were walking on clouds. There was nothing to worry about anymore. It was over. Our separation. The immigration hoops. All of it.
When we said good-bye at the Vancouver airport at the end of our trip, it was the first airport good-bye without tears in our entire relationship. We were almost there and this didn’t feel like a good-bye.
As soon as he got home, Babyface booked his plane ticket to Indianapolis. He was going to immigrate to this country, to my arms, to our home on February 12th. 364 days after he’d first messaged me on my blog. We’d been through a lot in a year.
The next month was a whirlwind. He was packing, saying good-bye to friends and family, and I was trying to ready myself for an extreme change of lifestyle. We’d waited a year to finally be together and the anxiety and excitement were more than I could wrap my brain around.
Now that we knew when he was immigrating, we could set a wedding date. We were going to get married on St. Patrick’s Day—March 17, 2007. Truthfully, that date was a whole lot less important than February 12th. February 12th was the date when we should have a party with all of our friends and family and drink champagne and dance all night. March 17th was just a formality.
A few days before February 12th, I checked the weather. Because, flying from Canada to the U.S. in February was not a sure bet. My heart sunk. The weather called for a debilitating ice storm to hit Indianapolis the morning of February 12th—Babyface’s plane didn’t arrive until that evening. The universe decided it wasn’t quite time for us to play house yet.
to be continued . . .
*Just wanted to give you an example of what kind of nit-picking I was doing. Applications were constantly rejected for insane reasons like: using the wrong kind of staples, writing in ink instead of pencil, and my personal favorite, using “None” instead of “N/A” and vice versa. For example, say the question was, “List the names and ages of any children you have” but you didn’t have any children. Your first instinct might to be to put down “None”. WRONG. REJECTED. “None” just means that you have children, they just don’t have names (I know). “N/A” is the correct answer.
I don’t support illegal immigration, but I certainly understand it with processes as complex as this.