Before I left my office I asked my boss, “Any last minute advice?”
“Don’t get mad at the interview. Try to separate everything that has happened and the interview itself.”
Probably wise advice.
As we were driving to the interview P echoed my boss’s sentiments, “Try not to say too much.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, you like to say too much sometimes, give too much background, and tell the whole story. Let’s just keep it simple. This person doesn’t need to know the whole saga. We don’t need to complicate things.”
I guess that was true too.
We got to the Lawrence office, walked through the metal detector, and up to the counter where a man with small glasses and a plaid shirt was sitting at reception (I thought back to my comment to Extension 7654 Man about the woman with gray hair, and wondered if she was the regular person or a substitute. Maybe he thought I was telling a story?) I told the reception guy, “We had an appointment for 9am, but it was rescheduled for 1pm today, here is our original notice.”
He looked at the schedule and said, “Yep, rescheduled, please have a seat around the corner in the waiting room and the agent that will help you will call your name.” He started walking away with the interview notice in his hand and I called out, “Do we need that? Will we get it back? Should we have a photocopy?”
“No, it goes in your file and the agent uses it. You no longer need it.”
“Okay.” I said, and wondered if I was asking too many questions, or if I looked anxious or suspicious. I didn’t want anything to screw up our chances.
P and I sat in the waiting area. There were several others already there, including a college-aged-looking Asian man dressed in a black suit.
“Some people are really dressed up, huh?” P said, looking down at the informal collared shirt and gray sweater he threw on in the morning. I was wearing pants and a shorter kurta top with pote and sweater, something I threw on thinking I was just going to the office for the day.
We waited about half an hour. Every time an “agent” came to the door I held my breath to see if they would call “P P?”
Finally a large white woman with short brown hair called P, and we both got up and walked over to the door.
“Do you want both of us, or just one of us?” I asked.
“I’ll just bring you back first.” She said to me, “Then I’ll call P later. Please bring all your documents.”
I started worrying again. I was thinking too much about everything. I thought, Maybe they need to bring me back first because they found a problem with my record? I had to submit three years’ worth of tax paperwork as part of the application, maybe they found an exemption I did wrong a few years ago, or a misfiled piece of paperwork?
I walked back to the woman’s office and she had me raise my right hand and swear an oath that everything I was going to say was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “Yes,” I responded, “Um, so help me god? Or, um, just yes?”
Breath C, chill out.
The woman smiled and opened the file. She asked to see my driver’s license, and asked me my name and address, verified my social security number and mine and P’s place of work, checking each answer off on my application with a red pen.
“I see you got married here and abroad?” she asked. I had included pictures of both our July 9th Nepali wedding and our July 10th American wedding as proof of our real marriage (instead of a fake marriage for immigration documents) in our Green Card application, but was careful to label everything on the 9th as a “cultural wedding” and everything on the 10th as a “legal wedding.”
“No—we got married only in the US, we did both Nepali and American ceremonies but both in Massachusetts. July 10th was our legal wedding where we signed our paperwork.”
The woman used her red pen to check something else off the application, “Ah yes, I see. So, how did you meet?”
“We went to undergraduate together, and have known each other a long time.”
“And where was that?” she asked. I answered and she checked more things off the application with her pen.
“Did he propose marriage to you, or did you just get married one day?” This question made me nervous. As an international student advisor I know that F-1 student visas are non-immigrant intent, so I know if (technically) your intention to immigrate changes—such as proposing marriage to an American citizen— then you can’t really leave the country and come back in the same F-1 status. But our engagement was so long, P had traveled a few times. I took an oath, so I knew I couldn’t lie, but I was also worried this question would get us in trouble, and I knew if I said something different then the truth, if they asked P the same question and he answered it differently, then we would be in trouble anyway.
“He informally proposed in 2008 while on a cross-country road trip. We were in Arches National Park, Utah. But we were together for a long time after that without any concrete marriage plans until just recently.” Even though the “informal” part was stretching the truth a little, I hoped that this answered the question well enough. I felt my stomach doing flip flops.
Her: “Do you have any additional documents or proof of marriage you want to show me today?”
Me: “Everything I have in my own file is a photocopy of all the documentation in your file. We have a CD of wedding photos if you want to see it, and extra notarized copies of our marriage certificate, but otherwise you have everything. Do you need to see anything else?”
Her: “Do you have any extra passport photos of yourself for the immigration file?”
I didn’t even think of extra passport photos, but luckily when I got my picture taken for the original application I printed a few extras so I would have one for my Nepali visa, and additional pictures on hand just in case. I pulled out two photos and handed them over. Then I remembered why they needed photos of me… they used the only one I had attached to the application to put on P’s Advanced Parole. She didn’t say anything about that, and I didn’t either. I remembered P’s advice and bit my tongue.
“Thank you C, please wait here while I go get P.”
I sat for a few minutes while she went to the waiting room and returned with P. My stomach was still doing backflips as P sat down.
“Can you please tell me your name and address and verify your social security number?” She asked P, check marking things off our application with her red pen.
“Can you tell me your wife’s birthday?” Red check. Good boy.
“Where did you live before your current address? When did you move to your current address? Where did you live in 2006?” Red check, red check, red check.
“Are you working? Where are you working?” Two more red checks.
She asked P the long list of crazy questions that he already answered in his I-485 PR application, looking him in the eye as he answered, and checking them off as she went. The questions included things like:
Do you intend to engage in espionage in the United States?
Do you intend to engage in any activity that would attempt the control or overthrow of the US Government?
Have you ever ordered, incited, called for, committed, assisted, helped with, or otherwise participated in a) acts of torture or genocide, b) killing any person, c) engaging in any kind of sexual contact or relations with any person who was being forced or threatened? d) limited or denied any person’s ability to exercise religious beliefs?
Have you ever been a member of a vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group or militia?
The list goes on, but it’s almost comical to hear these things asked of P, whose nature is so gentle. I also thought about people who might make an application to the US that do fall in these categories, like former child soldiers… do they say yes? What’s the follow up question?
Once the lady was satisfied with all her red check marks she smiled, shut the file and said, “I am recommending that your Permanent Residency application is approved. It will be approved from today, although you will not receive the card for up to 4 weeks in the mail. Two years from today you will have to file a renewal since an initial family based permanent residency application is conditional, then you can reapply for a ten year card. Three years from today, if you so wish, Mr. P, you will be eligible to apply for US citizenship.”
And just like that, everything was over. The application was approved.
She collected P’s I-94 card, his EAD work authorization that we received while in Nepal, and the stamped Advanced Parole document that created so much drama in the past month. She put all these things in his file, smiled again and stood up. “You are all set.” And lead us out of her office into the waiting area.
I felt so jovial in the car… such a huge release. I guess kind of like when a woman is giving birth— while in labor she feels so much pain, and thinks “this is crazy, never again, how can I do this?” but then once the baby is born, all the pain of the labor is nearly forgotten—if the mothers out there reading can forgive my comparison—I almost felt similar, like, I’m so happy we have the card, I don’t even care about all the other frustrations leading up to it now that we have it!
[Although, as my boss recommended, I plan to write a letter to the USCIS ombudsmen about this experience.]
We drove home; planning a celebratory dinner at a new restaurant in town (we still don’t have electricity from the storm anyway).
When I got back to the office my boss said, “So? Did you get it?”
“Yes! I feel so relieved!”
“And they stamped his passport with the temporary authorization until his card comes in the mail?”
My eyes grew wide, “I don’t think they did anything to his passport except take out the I-94 card.” I ran out to the car and pulled out P’s passport and flipped through every page. No new stamps. I showed the passport to my boss.
“Maybe they don’t do that anymore.” He tried to comfort me, “But if you think about it logically, they collected all his documents, right? His I-94 [which proved his legal entry into the US], his Advanced Parole [which also proved his legal entry and immigration status in the US], and his work permit. So right now on paper P has no legal status. He can’t prove to anyone he has Permanent Residency other than you saying, ‘USICS told us he does!’ until the card comes in the mail in up to 4 weeks, and with your luck, it will definitely be 4 weeks.”
The immigration lawyer we know at work was out on Monday, but we called him on Tuesday to double check. Apparently USCIS stopped stamping temporary Permanent Residency into passports a few years back because there was too much fraud, and that USCIS actually does leave you without any documented proof of your status until your Green Card comes in the mail. If P got a new job tomorrow, he couldn’t prove to the company that he is eligible to work, even though he is. My boss advised me not to have P tell his university that he has a Green Card until it comes in the mail, because they could potentially make him stop working and stop paying his research stipend until it comes.
My sister had other advice, “Just don’t go to Arizona.”
So—P is now a Permanent Resident in the United States, although we have to wait a little longer for documented proof.
I’ll let you know when it arrives.