Contemplating The U.S. Navel

Me, Chicago, Hollywood and The Federal Government

Becky Sarwate

Becky Sarwate
Chicago, Illinois, USA
December 31
Communications Manager
Insurance Brokerage
I am about as liberal as they come, and please don't expect to change me, though I do sometimes sneak up on you with a surprise (pro-death penalty, for instance). Although gainfully employed as a full-time Marketing Manager, I keep my toes in the freelance pool as a journalist, theater critic, blogger and proud President of the Illinois Woman's Press Association. To read my work on this page is to find vignettes about Chicago, Hollywood, my own turbulent life, and of course, my number one passion: local and national politics.


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OCTOBER 22, 2010 3:08PM

Immigration Frustration

Rate: 21 Flag

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 classic Green 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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This is really horrible and disheartening to read. As an immigrant on the other side of the Atlantic, living perfectly legitimately in a legally recognized couple, I sympathize with the regular checks and documentation and suspicions that go with the process. But the fact that you guys have to pay so much and that this all seems so sneaky and roundabout...that makes me sad for America. I think the US forgets it's a country made of immigrants. Whether we're talking about "illegal" Mexicans who perilously cross the border to find a better lives for themselves and their families, or people like your husband, why should these people be treated so cruelly? I am really ashamed of America, and I wish you guys luck. Hang in there. Every hurdle you overcome, think of it as a way of triumphing over a system that seems, sadly, to have been put in place to see you fail. Remember, it's cliche but I've found it to be true: Love conquers all. Good luck. R.
I guess it has to be worth it. I'm grateful that I don't know what kind of living conditions make it worth it, but they are out there. People do strange things to live here and so I can only imagine...
Citizens of planet Earth ought to have the right to live any damn where they please on the planet. What asshole we all are about "restricting" some people from entering "our" wee corner. It's not like they want to sleep in our bed rooms with us, y'know.

but then that would make it hard for the propagandists of government to demonize people of other nations as being "The Evil Other" - we' KNOW better.
Part of the problem of an unfeeling bureaucracy is that it sets up barriers to successful implementation of the process. Where they should be embracing the two of you for the fact that you are breathren and now entering the circle of citizenship (well, him, at least, as you've already been a citizen for your lifetime), they choose the adversarial route and see nothing but hostility and recriminations as their part of the interaction. But it's not just here. I've seen this sort of thing in practically every country I've ever visited. You see it in their immigration area (South Korea is way beyond levels of hostility towards foreigners, just to let you know), and you see it in their customs areas. I once spent an entire day with immigration/customs in China just to transfer from one airline to another, without any desire to stop in Beijing at all, and it was a nightmare of a stop in that I went through no less than a dozen immigration officials before one young woman working with them decided this was getting out of hand, pretty much ending the negative process instantly.
My English husband and I did everything right. We got a fiance visa, married within two meets of his coming to this country, dotted every i. Because there was so much information available on the web, we did not need a lawyer. We filed the fiance visa in September 2001; Andy finally became an American citizen on May 9, 2007. He has been vetted by the FBI and CIA at least three separate times.
Sorry, we married within two weeks of his coming to the US.
Sorry, we married within two weeks of his coming to the US.
hey there? i know how you feel.when my wife and i went through the process,it took us 8 months of paper work and fees.i thought my situation was the most frustrating until i found out we were ''lucky'' that our took that long. When i got married,i was fresh out of medical school and had just started practicing.After 7 years of medical school,i have to still sit for 3 licencing examinations before i can practice in the states. my wife and i had to print out a year and half worth of our most private discussions,emails IMs etc. Even though we were angry,but we can't fight a whole system.So,what we did,was take it one day at time,until i finally got my conditional green card (''restricted'' green card). That is what is given if the couple in question have been married for less than 2 years.The whole immigration process has torn marriages apart especially for couples who aren't physically wife and i spent the whole period apart while we were working on it and both of us agree that we have done/experienced anything that difficult ever.Yet we were ''lucky'' ,in the sense that it took only 8 months and we are finally together. One thing i can say is that,if you doing it for love,it's sooo worth it.That was how we survived the experience.

I went through the exact same process: getting the permanent residency via my wife. Like you, we had a two-year probation (we lived as a common-law couple for several years before that, but we only learned at the interview that we could have used this fact to remove the probationary period; in fact, at the interview, the immigration officer told us that he could give me the Green Card right away with the probation or put the application on hold until we send additional documents showing our common–law relationship--which was bogus in my opinion; our package already showed this--. We chose the former to speed up the process).

Although it was annoying to fill out a new form (this time I completed the form myself rather than going through a lawyer) as well as get finger-printed and pictured again, the process went relatively smoothly. Because it took too long for the restriction to be removed, my GC was extended for another year. By the third year (less 3 months), I applied to become a US citizen (eligible 3 years after getting permanent residency when you’re married to a US citizen), also on my own. I got my US citizenship around the same time I received the notification that my restriction was removed. Interestingly, my new GC got lost in the mail, and was notified more than a year and a half later by CIS that my GC was returned to their office. Since I was already a US citizen, I disregarded the e-mail.

In any case, it is worth it and I wish you and your husband the best of luck.

(My apologies for the typos and weird sentences; I wrote this very quickly since I need to get back to my work.)
When it really makes you nuts, come to Mexico. It will seem as though every cab driver, waiter, bank teller, whatever, feels your pain of having a border running through your family. Good luck!
BTW, I was told that the Immigration Office in Chicago is very slow (too many applicants?). I knew somebody who applied for his GC and was still waiting to get interviewed two years after sending his application. When I met him, I already had my GC for a year, although I applied a year after he did. He was pissed off.
I'm sorry you're going through this and glad you are writing about it -- you should do an op-ed for one the of big national dailies. It's a freaking scandal when educated, law-abiding, tax-paying (i.e. contributing to this country) immigrants are treated like crap -- which they are. I've had my green card for 20 years thanks to my American mother but one reason citizenship is less amusing to me is endorsing a system that treats us so badly. I pay my taxes and read stories like this and think, yeah, why indeed come to a place that treats you so carelessly?
Jeez, has it gotten that bad? Not to sound like a snob, but I think the "life, liberty.." quote is actually from the Declaration of Independence. Neverthless, it specifies that you may pursue happiness, but it doesn't necessarily make the achievment of happiness legal. What a country we live in.
A well written account of the other side to immigration when all the noise is around illegals. Let'em in; let'em prove their employability; let'em stay.

And well written, as always. Congrats on the EP and best of luck.
it is always the same: a few bad apples supposedly
ruin the bunch, but that doesnt mean the apple farmer
has to be a paranoid jerk and put every apple under suspicion
of wormy crazy infestation before it is put in the Pie.

American Pie baked to perfection with love !

Apple metaphor aside, a Bureaucracy always
perpetuates itself to infinity. Always has. Like a cancer.
Our immigration is a mess and like most government bureaucracies, is ridiculously complex and punitive to navigate. Good post tackling both subjects from first-hand experience.
I am from Canada and married an American in 1974. Every time I would fill out my papers, they would send them back and say they were wrong. This went on for 5 yrs. until we got a lawyer and then I became legal in 3 months. Now I'm dealing with SS. Let me tell you what a treat that is. I feel your pain. -R-
Best wishes. They do have different "standards" for people depending on their country of origin, and I think make life more difficult for white American women marrying non-American men of color (because I have heard of these kind of stupid things before and apparently no problem for my white boyfriend to marry his (now ex) Thai girlfriend who was studying in the States- and she left him within two years to shack up with her Asian non American boyfriend from college with new citizenship). There is huge pressure and competition to get citizenship for men from other countries, and it is considered "suspect" that an American woman would choose certain types of husbands. Yes, totally racist and classist and all, but still a prevailing attitude. I had a friend in Santa Fe whose dark black African husband was not allowed to return to the States when they went to his home country together to show the family her GIANT PREGNANT belly, and it took him seven months to get back over. Immigration still didn't believe them.
I want to send this to my congress people. rrrrr
I hope that your husband is able to overcome this final hurdle and get his unconditional green card without a lot more money. I don't envy you going through this bureaucratic hell.

BTW, I have few friends from various countries (Canada, Jamaica, Japan) who have been here for most of their lives and had their green cards for years. Other friends have gotten their citizenship, but my long-term green card friends don't want to buy into this horrendous bureaucracy. I can't blame them for that.
Very informative. My knowledge of immigration mechanics was pretty much drawn from the same source as yours - Green Card. Sorry the process is so difficult. It doesn't seem right (or effective) that it is.
Consider the flip situation: you and Eddie go back to India and you try to immigrate there. Talk about bureaucracy! I can't even get a visa to visit without expending hours and hours of effort.

You made the right decision. I hope some day your paperwork nightmare finally ends.
As a descendant of immigrants, I find it rather ironic that our politicians forget that the majority of their ancestors were also immigrants. Some of their ancestors may have even been illegal immigrants. We have become the nation our forefathers (who by the way were immigrants and/or criminals) tried to escape from. Sad times in America. We have forgotten from whence we came.
I'm a native American.
That means that I am a caucasian(white) person who was born in Chicago.
I do truly believe that these things which you are experiencing are done by those in these offices just because they are angry and hateful petty bastards and have absolutely no legitimate or legal reason to do otherwise.
Sometimes you just want to punch one of them in the mouth so that you feel better.
That's akin to having a wrench slip off of a bolt, getting a knuckle buster and saying, Son of a bitch!!"
It helps alleviate the stress.
Good luck. If your husband could land a low paying position at a state university - well, some of them have good offices servicing alien and immigration paperwork issues and can pull strings.
Manifest destiny is all fine and well for America, until someone else decides to use it to their advantage. Heaven forbid that foreign-born people with useful skills should outnumber "real Americans." Next thing you know, them furren folk'll be handing out smallpox blankets and plundering natural resources!
You've made a maze of bureaucracy sound compelling and interesting, so kudos to you for writing this so well.

Is it worth it? Well, depends on what circumstances you come from. My parents came to America as graduate students 40 years ago. They and their peers filed for citizenship and went through similar (although I don't think as circuitous) hoops as Eddie. Fast forward 40 or so years, and some of them are returning to Taiwan. So maybe it isn't worth it - anymore.

Sadly, globalization is set up to expedite the flow of money around the world. The people involved are just a means to an end.
At least you have the option of sponsoring your husband. The LGBT community is denied this federal right.

Good luck.
To me,its simple,go back home and take your stuff with you. We can't do it any longer. We have exhausted our goodness. Wiped out our work force and become a welfare country. Time to change it now. No more freeloaders,dumb or smart. We need a 10 year break.
Passionate and well-written as usual. That being said, bureaucracies do what bureaucracies do.
You can blame the extra hoops on immigration cheats and bone-headed attempts by (wait for it) bureaucracy to thwart them.
Several of my managers in my current workplace are ex- green card holders who decided after a decade that the American dream is maybe a bit overrated and flew right back.

Does that stop us, the younger lot from aspiring to the same dream? Speaking for myself alone, no. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.
I have a friend going through a similar ordeal. Thanks for the very informative post.