So I made the 30+ hour journey back from Nepal by myself last Saturday/Sunday. Thank you USCIS.
Luckily I befriended a nice Nepali researcher also traveling to Boston. He even mentioned that he had an American girlfriend and casually asked about how P introduced me to his family. I was going to mention my blog, but decided not to, and instead we chatted about family and our trips in various airports between KTM, Bahrain and London.
Unfortunately my university didn’t have off for Columbus Day so sixteen hours after walking off a plane I was sitting in my office chair, my eyes heavy with jetlag (at least by the afternoon).
The congressional liaison had sent me the UPS tracking number for P’s latest documents (I was told they were being sent to my apartment) and I could see they were waiting to be delivered on Tuesday (after Monday’s Federal holiday). Again I felt a false sense of relief, expecting to have the documents in-hand the following day.
On Tuesday morning I started feeling a bit anxious. Our apartment is notorious for package deliveries, since the UPS and FedEx men are unable to get in the door, they generally leave sticky notes asking for the package to be picked up after hours at an office location outside the city. I’d had to do this often when we were receiving wedding gifts, and was used to the drill of taking the notice and my ID to the pickup spot. But I started worrying that if the package was in P’s name, maybe they wouldn’t give it to me if the delivery man couldn’t drop the package at our mailbox, since I wasn’t P and didn’t have P’s ID.
I snuck out of work feigning that a meeting across campus was taking a lot longer than it really was, and I tried to track the UPS truck that made deliveries to our house. I chased three trucks within the general vicinity of our section of the city, none of which delivered to our street. I went back to our apartment and propped open the front door of the apartment complex and tried to sweet talk an old man that was sitting outside to make sure he would let the delivery guy in.
However, when I snuck back to my office and checked the UPS tracking it said the package had already been delivered: at 10:17am to “reception” and signed for by a person named “O’Gorman.” Since I was at our apartment at 10:17, and we have no “reception” and certainly no “O’Gorman” signing for packages, I started worrying even more. The website said it was delivered to “Lawrence, Massachusetts.”
“What the efff.” I said out loud.
I called UPS to further track the package and found out the rest of the mailing address was “2 Mill St, Lawrence MA.” What the hell was my package doing there?
A quick google search told me that “2 Mill St, Lawrence MA” was the USCIS Field Office in Lawrence MA, and since it was a government office, of course the telephone number for the office was nowhere to be found. Trust me, I spent half an hour looking for it online, and called two immigration attorneys to see if they had it on file. One of the attorneys even checked the AILA (American Immigration Lawyer Association) database to see if it was on record somewhere, which, with my ongoing luck, it wasn’t.
The office was at least an hour away. I grabbed my keys, and said to our administrative assistant, “I’m really sorry, I know I’m supposed to be at work, but I have to get this document. There is no phone number and the office closes at 4pm… I just have to drive there and get it in person. I’ll try to be fast.”
So I drove AN HOUR to this office, armed with copies of the UPS tracking number sent to me by the congressional liaison (who, in turn, had received it direct from the USCIS Service Center in Missouri). I walked in to reception asking for “O’Gorman” and showing the tracking receipts for my package. The front desk woman looked at me bewildered and went to the back to find “O’Gorman.”
A portly man with graying hair came out, looking equally confused when I showed him my tracking number and shared my story. He asked, “Do you have some sort of identification, or your husband’s alien number or something? I don’t even know if I can legally give you the contents of this package. That decision is above my pay grade ma’am.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
So he went in back with my tracking number and five minutes later returned looking even more confused. “The package you have the tracking number for is a 15 pound box. Are you sure this is yours? What are you supposed to receive?”
Me: “A single sheet of paper with a travel authorization.”
“The box is filled with files ma’am. I’m really confused. Please wait here.”
“O’Gorman” disappeared into the back and reappeared five minutes later with “the Number 2 man at the office” who apparently could answer the questions above O’Gorman’s “pay grade.” Number 2 was carrying P’s thick immigration folder.
Number 2 also looked confused. I explained the situation—that I was looking for a package that had P’s Advanced Parole documentation, and that the tracking number (given to us direct from the issuing Service Center) said the package was delivered to this office. He opened the thick file and leafed through it, explaining that the Advanced Parole wasn’t there. “This is your husband’s file for your Green Card interview on October 31st. We don’t have his Advanced Parole, I’m sorry.”
Me: “How is that possible? Where is his document? Who can we call?”
He told me to sit and he would see what he could find out.
I sat for an hour. In the middle of my work day. When I should have been in my office helping students. Grrrr.
Just as I was starting to lose my patience and was about to get up and ask the reception lady to find “Number 2,” he emerged from the back office: “I couldn’t find out anything. I hate to have you wait here indefinitely. Why don’t you head home and I’ll call you if I am able to contact anyone.” I gave him my cell phone number and name, hoping for the best but with very little expectation.
I drove an HOUR back home, holding on to the tiniest shred of hope that maybe the Missouri Service Center sent me the wrong tracking number and that maybe the package was in fact miraculously sitting in my mailbox. I checked the mail quickly, finding nothing. By now I had missed most of my work day and my lunch hour, I was still tired from jetlag, had driven more than 2 hours, and I had nothing to show for it. I stopped quickly to get a sandwich and drove back to my office.
There was a string of students waiting for me. So I started answering questions until my phone started ringing. On the other end was the congressional liaison.
“The documents were delivered. Do you have them?”
Me: “No. I drove all the way to Lawrence and his Advanced Parole wasn’t there. Just his immigration file for our Green Card interview.”
Cong. Liaison: “What! Are you kidding me?”
Me: “No. I could have sat down in that office and cried I was so frustrated.”
Cong. Liaison: “I probably would have cried too. Now I feel like they are messing with me.” [last time she had told me that USCIS was “too busy to mess with a specific individual.”] She told me she would try to sort out what happened, and in-between a few student appointments she called back two or three times with questions.
Around 4pm she called one last time and said, “So this is what I was able to find out. Apparently USCIS sent two packages to the Lawrence Field Office—the big box of immigration files for Green Card interviews and a separate envelope with P’s Advanced Parole. They sent us the wrong tracking number, but the envelope was still sent there. Since it was a government document, and the envelope was addressed to P but he does not work or reside at that address, the envelope was ‘returned to sender.’ Now it’s somewhere between Boston and Missouri.”
Something in me snapped. I’m not sure if it was the jetlag, or the budding head cold I’m developing from the weather getting chilly and rainy, or the utter and absolute frustration I felt in this entire ridiculous and agonizing process, but I literally snapped. Tears started streaming down my face. I made it off the phone before I started full on blubbering but it wasn’t much longer after that.
I grabbed my car keys, texted my friend R and told her I was coming over (a two hour drive to Connecticut) and told my co-worker, “I’m sorry I have to go home” then started sobbing in the middle of my office. Full on, barely coherent, hysterical crying. I couldn’t even tell my co-worker why. I just turned and walked out the door, red faced and wet.
On the way R’s husband S called me, and I was still hysterical on the phone, hiccupping and sobbing. He told me I had to go home, have a glass of water, and calm down before I could drive anywhere. “The worst thing you can do is drive when you are this upset. You don’t want to make matters worse. Stay there, and we will come to you.”
The last thing I wanted was him to drive two hours with his 8 months pregnant wife to my house, so I promised I’d sit for twenty minutes and call him back before I did anything.
I made it inside, drank a glass of water, then started stuffing pajamas and a change of clothes into my bag. I grabbed some dog food for Sampson, and a bottle of red wine from my cupboard, and sat for a few minutes to try and calm down. Five minutes later I was loading my dog in the car, and we were on the highway to Southern Connecticut.
I reached R and S’s house a little after 7pm, feeling tired from all the driving, and a little silly for freaking out earlier. As my friend D had pointed out—at least P was stuck in Nepal with his family. He wasn’t stranded somewhere random in the world, spending money on hotels and food. And I had to reason with myself— his travel authorization was approved, so even if it took eight tries for USCIS to get the right document at least we were just waiting on the document to arrive, not for approval for him to come back.
R and S cheered me up and distracted me for the night. S and I split the bottle of red wine, and we had Italian food for dinner. They encouraged me to think positively about the next document attempt.