Land of the Free?: Meditations on being an immigrant

A Greencard. Surely, you’ve heard of those. Apparently they are the holy grail for the entire world. Because, it seems, at least if you’re watching Fox News that everyone in the world wants to be American. Perhaps then, some of the things I will say about being an immigrant will be a shock: Not everyone grows up wanting to take on the nationality of another country.

I love being an Australian. If I hadn’t married an American Serviceman, I certainly wouldn’t have considered Permanent Residency of the United States of America to be anywhere on my To-Do list. Being an immigrant is a surprise to me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful thing to witness the joy of others as they have received word that their long, in one case 11 year, journey toward citizenship has finally met with a ceremony and acknowledgement that they now have the rights and responsibilities of a citizen in the country I am at home with my husband in. It is nothing to sneeze at, this unadultered joy of feeling accepted. To be with friends as they celebrate and are celebrated for their new found status can’t help but make you feel grateful for the places in the world where citizenship means something.

Flags by Anna Blanch Rabe - being an immigrant

Last time, I wrote about the application process, our huge application packet and pondered on how sometimes being in limbo is a gift.

I am still in limbo, though at least with a lifeline swinging out just over my head.

It’s been a long few months of waiting.

We had a biometrics appointment for both my I-485 and I-765. We were hoping this would mean the interview and Employment Authorisation document would follow soon after. They didn’t. We waited for 2 months without hearing anything at all, not even a confirmation of having successfully captured our biometrics.

Being an immigrant isn’t easy!

It is hard to wait quietly, patiently, when you have nothing in writing to say that you are legal, and no ability to work.

Once a fortnight (every second week for my American friends) we called the Military Immigration Hotline. This hotline is the only consideration offered to those with a military affiliation seeking to sponsor immigration for a spouse or petitioning for themselves.

The first call yielded no results, but i had read that a I-765 (this is the EAD) must be adjudicated within 90 days of application. We were only a few days out from that when we called a second time. It seemed to make more difference to them that they were talking to my husband rather than myself, even though they requested that I be put on the phone to confirm that he had permission to talk with them.

After confirming all our details and taking our receipts numbers again, the agent was surprised that the case was still at the being an immigrantstatus of Initial Review given how close the mandated deadline of 90 days. He advised us to make an appointment at our nearest service center if we had heard nothing by the 90 day mark. He was helpful, but promised nothing.

The agent also advised us that the Albuquerque field office was handling our I-485 application and that they were examining cases from December 2013. Given that we have a priority date of late May in terms of my application, we were disappointed that this could mean we would be looking at a November/December interview appointment.

I immediately made an appointment for the EAD Infopass for the 91st day, a few days away, on the calculated bet that they would not get our decision done by then given that we were at stage 2 of 5.

However, shock of all shocks, USCIS had updated the case status in less than 2 hours to Card Document Production, which is stage 5. Within 2 hours of the call I had a screen shot – that one on your right – saying that my I-765 had been approved.

I can now legally work in the USA

I’ve never been so happy to cancel the InfoPass appointment.

Then, I had to wait for the card. The card arrived about 2.5 weeks later.  Great on almost all fronts! the almost is because it arrived the Friday before University classes started, making it too late for me to have employment for the fall semester. But, I guess, you can’t win them all!

About 3 weeks later we also received official notice that we have an interview time in late September. This was a huge relief. We were beginning to think we were looking at November/December as I mentioned above.

Bottom line: I can work in the USA.

The home of the brave and the land of the free.

The great US of A.

Where things Stand

So here’s where things stand: I am legally able to work now that I have my Employment Authorisation Document (EAD).  I am still not able to leave the US. We have an interview in late September for my I-485 and the I-130 is dependant on the I-485 being approved.

However, I am still not able to sort out a driver’s licence, sort out banking, or change my name formally with the Social security administration.

Trying to get a driver’s licence is reportedly easy for non-New Mexican residents. However, contrary to the rhetoric going around about the ease with which illegal immigrants can get a licence, my experience has been one of frustration. I even have a Texas driver’s licence that is still current. According to the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Department, a licence is not sufficient because I am not American, in addition I need the Abstract of record (cost of $20 and requiring a form to be posted to San Antonio because the DMV’s in Texas – one of which is only 20 minutes away – cannot produce these abstracts).

Once again, banking has not been as easy as putting my name onto our accounts. While our bank would happily give me a credit card they refused to give me access to a debit card or make me a signatory. The only thing that provides me some sense of security is that I have powers of attorney that will enable me to access our accounts regardless of whether my name is on them. But seriously! In australia, making a joint account took less than 15 minutes and we weren’t even married yet.

I haven’t changed my name with SSA because the Employment Authorisation card the USCIS produced has my maiden name on it, which matches the SSC. Why USCIS chose to use my maiden name when all of my other recent ID is in my married name is beyond me, but it appears that it may take up to 5 years for me to clarify my legal identity – in the meantime I am either, and, both. As it should be I suppose.

You might ask, why am I sharing all of this information?

I write all of these things to give another perspective on immigration. Other’s experiences may be different to mine. But, when was the last time you talked to anyone in the midst of the process.

Let me say, though, that for my husband and I, we are increasingly frustrated by the attitudes we see in the media about immigration. The destructive attitudes that label all immigrants and generalise the experience is unhelpful at best and fownright destructive and xenophobic at worst. Xenophobia is the fear of all things foreign. On one hand, yes, my case might be different – I am married to an American. I did not illegally enter a border. However, every time people talk negatively about immigrants they are also talking about me.

Oh, you don’t mean me?

Why? because I am white? because my first language is English?

Why do these things matter to you. There’s more than enough cultural difference between Australian and America for me thank you very much. I speak a dialect of English here in America that is different to my own native dialect of English. My husband, and this part joke and part serious, only understands about 60-70% of what my dad says. It is not because he doesn’t speak English! It is slang, culture, difference.

Others have also said that they are surprised that there is not a different process for military families. On one hand, I agree. It is hard enough trying to adjust to employment, security clearances, and deployments and PCS’s and all of the other aspects of military family life. I am increasingly grateful for the military hotline.

On the other, why should we be treated any differently? My husband is a citizen like any other. Which begs the question – why does the process take so long? Bureaucracy is a complicated beast. I don’t know! I do know that it seems that we have made the process significantly quicker because we have submitted as much of the paperwork, documents, and evidence as early in the process as we could. That includes the medical report (I-265) and the Sponsor’s financial statement (I-864). It is my belief that by being as comprehensive as we possibly could, we have not received any Request for Evidence notices (RFE). My case isn’t necessarily straight forward: I have prior military service, and I have lived on multiple continents. It’s a difficult policy balance: there are no limits on the number of permanent residency visas offered to spouses of American citizens however, because American citizenship is so highly prized, they take their time in deciding if you are worthy. I assume they want to make sure that marriages are real and not simply to achieve the benefits of Permanent Residency (or a greencard).

I personally cannot for the life of me imagine going through this process if I wasn’t madly in love with my husband – this is a rough process. Having to justify the bonafide nature of our marriage relationship is a strange and curious experience.

This process is very expensive, over 2000 dollars in fees and charges and that is with us compiling everything ourselves. I had used and needed every aspect of my own legal training to get me through the process. I can empathise with those who are desperate to be here, to be safe or to have their children safe, and who choose any means possible – It is not something we would choose, but it is also not a situation we have been forced to consider. It is easy to judge others when you haven’t walked in their shoes. I find it hard to be used as an exceptional case in opposition to say unaccompanied children. In summary, immigration policy requires consideration of complex social and political issues. But at the heart of the matter are real people. People, who like me, are left in a state of limbo for months or years on end and who like me are unable to be with family even for short visits without putting their status as an applicant for immigration in jeopardy or cancelling it altogether.

We are only part way down the long road toward citizenship. I hope to explore and discover more about what it means to be an American. Because, right now it just feels strange and foreign. What do you think it means to be an American?

flag cake by Anna Rabe Photography

 

Disclaimer**This is a personal account of part of our immigration experience, this is not to be considered legal advice and you should consult your own attorney before acting on any aspect of the way we’ve gone about our application for relative immigration**

copyright 2014: Anna Blanch Rabe

Please ask for permission before using these photos or text in any medium.

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Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.

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Anna Blanch_Gill Gamble_blogAnna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. You can follow her adventure on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. More of her photography can be viewed here. For more domestic things take a look at Quotidian Home or her previous website, Goannatree.

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