Yesterday morning P and I woke up, got ready, and at 7:35 (I gave the USCIS office staff 5 minutes to get inside, take off their coats, get a cup of coffee and boot up their computers) I called the Lawrence USCIS Field Office.
When I called on Friday afternoon I heard a recording that stated their business hours were 7:30am-3:30pm Monday through Friday, so I figured that was why I got the recording (It was 3:31pm on Friday). However I got the same recording at 7:35 Monday morning. I slowed down and listened to the whole message and realized that it gave me 4 options: 1) if I had someone’s direct extension we could dial it and potentially reach a real human being, 2) if we had to schedule an appointment we could call the 1-800-misinformation number, 3) if we had information about something suspicious I could call a different number, or 4) if we don’t fit into any of these categories, tough luck.
After listening two or three times I realized that “Terry” from Friday afternoon did not give P a direct extension, so even though we had a phone number to this impenetrable office we were still stuck.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so in a stroke of crazed frustration/genius I said to P, “Let’s start dialing random extensions to see if we can get a real person.”
I first tried “0” for a potential operator (that works for some numbers) then I tried “1,” “11,” and “111” to see if that might get us into a phone tree, or perhaps give me an idea of the number of digits in an extension. After a few four digit combos I finally pressed “7654” and Hallelujah, the phone rang!
A man picked up the phone and said, “USCIS, how can I help you?”
What I probably should have done was ask for “Terry” from Friday, but instead I briefly launched into my story about how we had a Green Card interview scheduled for Oct 31st at 9am and we got a call at the very end of the day Friday October 28th saying that my husband’s immigration file had been “misplaced” and that our interview “might” have to be rescheduled.
“I’m not sure where this leaves us or what to do next!” I said, “We didn’t have an extension and got your number through random chance, but I was hoping you could help give us some insight.”
The man said he would check the system and put me on hold for five minutes. Then he came back on and said, “Our computers show that your husband’s immigration file was never at our office. The appointment will have to be rescheduled once we receive his file.”
Whoa, wait a minute, never in their office? I knew with 100% certainty that this was not true.
“But sir, I was at the Lawrence Office on October 11th with a different issue and I spoke to someone with my husband’s file. He had P’s file right in front of me, and we looked through it at the front desk together. I know it was there. I saw it with my own eyes.” (I kept repeating this last phrase, hoping it would make the man on the phone realize that his computer was wrong, but it probably just made me sound crazy.)
“I’m sorry ma’am, but our computers have no record of his file ever being here, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“But I know that’s wrong! I saw it with my own eyes!”
He sighed and said, “I don’t know what to tell you, the computer says…”
“Okay… I understand that perhaps the file might not be there now, but it was there on October 11th. I just want to know maybe what happened to it. If it was sent back to the USCIS National Benefits Center, or if it has been misplaced within your office, or something.” I could tell I was starting to lose the guy on the phone, so I tried to think of every detail… “When I walked into the Lawrence office on October 11th, I went through the metal detector, and spoke to the woman with gray hair at the front desk and showed her the UPS tracking number sent to me by USCIS for what I thought was an envelope with an immigration document delivered erroneously to your office for my husband. The packaged was signed for by someone named O’Gorman. The front desk woman went and got that guy from the back, and he said the tracking number USCIS gave me was actually for a 15 pound box full of immigration files and he got a man who he described as the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ to come out and answer my questions. The ‘Number 2 man’ had my husband’s file with him and we looked at it together. If you find Mr. O’Gorman, or the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ I’m sure they will remember this incident since I think it’s relatively unusual. Do you know who the ‘Number 2 man in the office’ is?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “Can you describe him?”
“He was pretty non-descript. Medium height, brown hair, I don’t think he had a mustache, maybe glasses. I remember he had a small dark mark like an ‘x’ near his right thumb, like a tattoo or something, but maybe it was marker, I don’t know. That’s all I noticed about him was the mark on his right hand.”
“I don’t know anyone with a small tattoo on his hand.” He said.
“I don’t know his name!” I cursed myself for not asking him when I was there, or making note of more details, I pride myself on remember details. The more I tried to see his face, the more it looked blurry in my memory. “But find O’Gorman. I know his name, it was on the UPS tracking slip. He should be able to tell you.”
The guy told me to hold for a bit, and then he put me on hold—with cheesy elevator music in the background—for an hour.
Meanwhile P and I were getting ready. I was already late for work, and we debated between staying in the house and finishing the conversation (P’s vote—“What if they find it and we have to leave immediately for the interview?”) and heading out the door for work while still cradling my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder because the phone call wasn’t getting us anywhere and there was no point missing work if nothing would happen (my vote). As we started heading out the door I asked P to try and call Extension 7654 again on his phone to see if someone would pick up the same line so we could figure out what was happening, but no one did.
When you are on hold for so long its tough, because you don’t know what is happening on the other end. I was simultaneously imagining a trio of high level staffers standing over the “on hold” phone having a serious conversation about the gravity of losing a file and brainstorming a solution, and a bunch of staffers chatting “The Office” style around a water cooler with coffee mugs talking about the big snow storm over the weekend and giggling about Halloween costumes.
P and I got in the car and I dropped him at a coffee shop near his work while I borrowed his cell phone to try different extensions when he was inside buying tea (for him) and hot chocolate (for me). I started dialing numbers up and down from the extension that worked. No one was picking up the phone, although they were all ringing. Finally someone did pick up, a guy with an accent.
“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, I called an hour ago to extension 7654 with a question about our immigration interview that was set for today, but I have been on hold for an hour. Is there some way to know what is happening? Should I hang up? Could you check with that extension?”
The guy barked back at me, “We don’t answer immigration questions over the phone. You have to come to our office to find out information.”
“I understand.” I said, “But I have been on hold with your office for an hour. Someone was going to answer the question but disappeared…”
“I said you have to come to our office. We do not answer questions over the phone!”
“I understand but…”
He hung up on me! I wanted to cry again. I just wanted to know why I was on hold. Stupid bastards.
I hung up both P’s phone and my phone that had been listening to the same elevator music for an hour and cracked the crook in my neck.
P came back with my hot chocolate and I told him what happened. I said I’d keep calling the extension I had back every hour if I had to in order to figure out what was going on. P, always less emotional and considerably calmer than me, told me that we would sort it out, and not to worry. I dropped him and Sampson off at work and drove off toward my office.
We had a freak snow storm over the weekend that left 12 inches of snow, and knocked down a bunch of trees and tree branches. A fair chunk of the city was without power (ourselves included). As I drove across the city, it looked like a war zone. I dodged tree branches while dialing back the number and extension of the guy who had me on hold for an hour and left a message for him to call me back as soon he heard something (please, please!)
When I got in to the office my boss was curious to hear more about what had happened (being that we both work with USCIS as international student advisors). I explained and he chuckled saying, “It’s not funny, but you know, when you went to their office on October 11th I bet they pulled that box out of their normal processing queue and that’s why P’s file isn’t logged in to the computers, then when they put P’s file back, the box got wedged in a corner somewhere. I bet they have a bunch of files missing right now, because you messed up P’s file and all the others in the box too!”
“So do you think it is probably at the office?” I asked.
“I bet it is, they just don’t know where, and maybe they don’t realize they have it.”
Half an hour later P called saying he finally got back in touch with “Terry” from Friday and she said that they were trying to “track the package” and that it should be back in the office “in a few days.” P explained to her that he was having knee surgery on November 8th and the surgery was scheduled, in part, around the interview, and that if it was delayed too long it would be tough for him to come in with a cast, crutches, etc. He also explained that we called in the morning and were placed on hold for an hour.
“I’m terribly sorry that happened to you.” She said, “I don’t know why someone would put you on hold for an hour. And certainly, we can try to get you in before your surgery; you shouldn’t have to add that to your worries.”
I was getting ready to call back Mr. Extension 7654 when P called me back again, he said that “Terry” was able to (miraculously!) locate his file.
“You mean it was there the whole time?” I asked.
“I guess so.” He said, “They want us to come in today at 1pm for our interview.”
“Book it!” I said, and yelled out to my boss, “They found his file! I’m sorry I have to leave you, but we got to finish this!”
“I told you so!” my boss called back from the other room, “By all means go, let’s close the book on this issue.”
It was about 10:30 in the morning. I had to get home, get all the photocopies of our documents and application papers together, our passports, marriage certificate, wedding photos, anything that they could possibly ask for. I picked up P and off we drove for an hour to the Lawrence office…
And had we not been persistent pains-in-the-butt, our application might still be missing!