Our Immigration Adventure

All my immigration articles are threaded through this blog. Here’s a way to see all of them, in chronological order! A table of contents.

And please remember this, friends, as you read this … Yes, it was occasionally frustrating and it took a long time. But we never doubted that it would happen. Why? Because 1) we are white, 2) we speak English, and 3) we had the means to hire an attorney. Additionally, we were not pressured by time (meaning one of us wasn’t fleeing a war-torn country or afraid of being killed or raped by neighbors); we each had a safe place to live while we waited. Not every immigrant is this fortunate.

Immigration Woes (Part 1) / 1 November 2008
Our Immigration Attorney Laughed at Us / 30 October 2014
Because You’re Not Married If You Don’t Have Cake / 30 October 2014
I Wanted Something Sentimental / 30 October 2014
Sometimes Things Work Out / 31 October 2014
I Wasn’t Prepared / 1 November 2014
With a Little Help From Our Friends / 1 November 2014
Parting Shot / 1 November 2014
Getting Back to Normal / 20 November 2014
Immigration Woes (Part 2) / 3 June 2015
Like the La Brea Tar Pit / 23 August 2015
Slogging to Dublin / 29 September 2015
It’s a Great Day for a Celebration (Part 1 of 2) / 3 October 2015
Party Time! (Part 2 of 2) / 3 October 2015
A Long Day at the Airport / 20 October 2015
An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam / 24 December 2015
We Think the IRS Must Be Gaslighting Us / 27 July 2016
Both Men I Married Were Immigrants / 5 February 2017
The Next Step on the Road to Immigration / 30 June 2017
Homeland / 3 July 2017
Second-Class Something / 20 April 2018
The End of the Immigration Affair (Almost) / 27 June 2019
Taking the Oath / 15 August 2019
Immigration Epilogue / 15 August 2019

See also:
Wishing Blessings on the Refugees / 26 August 2015
What Language Are You Speaking? / 5 March 2018
Dear Old Friend / 19 June 2018

Immigration Epilogue

The very next day after the citizenship ceremony, we went downtown to the voter registration office. The day after that we went to the DMV with a bunch of documents—including Gerry’s certificate proclaiming him a US citizen—and obtained a Tennessee ID card (he’s not currently a driver).

I felt we needed the ID, though, because that eight-and-a-half-by-eleven–inch frame-worthy certificate of citizenship was literally the only US identification he had, and we needed to send the original off to the US State Department to get his American passport. What if he needed a Schedule 2, 3, or 4 drug from the Kroger pharmacy? So we got the ID.

A couple days later we went back downtown to the county clerk’s office to send off Gerry’s application for his US passport. And like magic, two weeks later there it was in the mail.

He’s mugging for the camera. 🙂

And yes, we have an international trip planned for next spring.

Taking the Oath

Back in July, Gerry got a very specific email from USCIS about his citizenship ceremony, with the date and the address and time and other instructions. He needed to be there at 11:30am. “Guests” didn’t need to be there until 12:30, but, c’mon, it was in a federal courthouse* in a part of downtown Nashville devoid of restaurants within walking distance, so, yes, all of us showed up by 11:30.

Actually, not all. Traffic in Nashville has gotten atrocious. I’ve lived in Middle Tennessee since the mid-1970s, worked in downtown Nashville, even, and as the years have gone by have always had a rule-of-thumb for getting from Murfreesboro to places inside 440, or the airport, or inside the downtown loop. But all bets are off now. Two, three years ago I would have allowed an hour, would have left the house at 10:30. But after my experience in May 2018** I realized there are simply more cars than there are roads in NashVegas.

So I decided we would leave the house at 10am. Surely that would be enough? Maybe … except for that wreck at the 24-40 split. We were lucky: it had just happened and I’m an experienced Nashville driver. But we lost fifteen minutes to it, and by the time we parked—me sprinting across the lot to the pay kiosk, and hell, let’s spring for the $25 for the twelve hours because who actually knows how long we’ll be here—and then we hotfoot it around the corner and take off our shoes (Gerry) and submit our purse (me) and our phones (both) to get into the building. By the time we got to the courtroom, it was 11:20. Later I sat next to a young woman—she’d taken the oath last week; this week it was her husband—who’d driven in from Murfreesboro and been stuck in that traffic. They’d been terrified they were going to miss the ceremony.

Actually, all this was lucky—a year ago we would have had to drive to Memphis for this ceremony. Our attorney guessed that they might have everything in place set up to handle this in Nashville by the time Gerry’s case came up, and so it was. Except the office is so new, they haven’t really dialed in how to handle it. When we arrived there was already a very long line snaking down the hall, with no written intructions anywhere to be seen (i.e., a sign saying “Oath-takers step ahead to Courtroom 3A. All others line up and wait in this hall” would have been helpful), no sign-in desk, no person in charge, nothing. And no one knew any more than we did. It was maddening. About ten minutes later, someone “in charge,” tired of waiting for the four dozen or so who “hadn’t shown up” but were really standing outside with all of the rest of us because there were no instructins anywhere, came out and asked the new citizens to come out come out wherever they were.

And then the rest of us waited. And waited. No chairs, so wall space to lean against was at a premium. I’d brought a book. So I read and waited and occasionally people-watched, which was fascinating.

On the drive in, we’d speculated what nationalities would be represented at this citizenship ceremony. Mostly Hispanic, we’d decided. But no. There were, of course, a lot of brown people. Standing there I got out my notebook and started guessing: South Pacific, Indian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, North African, Moroccan … Eastern Europeans like Uzbek and Armenian, gypsies … Asians like Korean, Vietnamese, Thai. It was hard to tell and I haven’t traveled that much.

People had brought their whole extended families, from infants to grandparents. Some dressed up. Some dressed down. There was only one woman in a hijab. There was a dwarf. There was a young girl in plaid leggings, five-inch heels, and makeup an inch thick, wrapped around a young man wearing Adidas tennis shoes and baggy track pants about three inches too long for him. There were Tennesseans—spouses like me? lawyers? supportive neighbors?—of all stripes, some in overalls, some in suits. Frankly, I was moved and inspired by the people I saw; it was a lot like the US Navy bootcamp graduation I attended a little over a year ago. So many stories! Young people, old people, babies … happy faces, tired faces …

It was after one o’clock before they let us in to the courrtroom. The oath-takers had been busy signing papers, meeting the judge, telling her where they were from (judge to Gerry: “Oh! my husband’s playing golf in Irelad right now!”), seating them in a specific order. Sorta like a graduation.

Each person had to stand and say his/her name and country of origin.

But there were so many of them—55 oath-takers representing 25 countries, we were told—that there wasn’t enough room left for all the guests. So first they squeezed us in, and then they brought in extra chairs when the squeezing room was gone. Oh, my goodness gracious, it took forever. On my right, a forty-ish Tennessean from Franklin with his young son; his wife (who, coincidentally, was seated next to Gerry) was from the UK. (She’s been here legally for a decade and had put off citizenship, but the political situation was scaring them, so she took the leap.) On my right, the young Ethiopian woman who’d almost missed the ceremony.

And so we began. The judge gave a speech. Everyone was introduced. They took the oath. They picked up their papers and shook hands all around. This took about an hour.

Gerry became a US citizen today, y’all. Next stop, voter registration!

It was 2:10 when we left downtown, hurrying to get ahead of the end-of-day rush hour. On the way home we pieced together as many of the nationalities as we could remember: Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Jamaica, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Africa,*** India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, China, Canada, the UK … and Ireland.

Gerry became a US citizen today, y’all. Next stop, voter registration!

*On Broadway, right next door to the Frist, for you locals.

**A dear friend called me up on a Wednesday, said I’m coming to Nashville to surprise a friend, are you free on Friday? Yes, and I was going to be in Nashville anyway, for my monthly massage. So I picked her up at the airport at 9:30am and we went to Le Sel for brunch. She lives in Texas now, so I’m happy when I get face time with her. As they seated us, I said, “If we’re still sitting here at one o’clock, make me get up. My massage is about twenty minutes from here, but I get chiropractic first.” And I did get up at 1:00, but the traffic. The traffic. I-440 was backed up, but I know the back way. So did everybody else. At a quarter to two I called from the car and told them I was going to be late, because I wasn’t even close. (I got there at 2:15.) That experience was an eye-opener.

***They were our immigration attorney’s mother- and father-in-law! Sat right in front of me!

Not an Ordinary Morning

We’re out walking the dog this morning, early. OK, Gerry’s walking the dog; I’m not awake yet so I’m stumbling along trying to stay upright. Cars pass, you can hear them coming from behind. But one comes up and stops, window open, and driver says, “Hey Jamie, Gerry!” and I jump and screech. (I have a strong startle reflex. Long story, another time.) Our friendly neighbor drives on. I never got a good look at her. Uh, good morning, friendly neighbor!

We walk on. This friendly cat waits and greets us on many of our walks.

But that’s not all. It was quite a morning! Unidentified neighbor trying to be friendly scares the life out of me, Gerry and Suzy make a new friend, and later a woman is driving around looking for her dog. She stops and asks Gerry if he’s seen a black labradoodle. Yes, he has—on our neighborhood Facebook page. He pulls it up on his phone, shows her—Yes! That’s the dog!—and she jots down the phone number. All this before 7:30 a.m.

Never did find out who the friendly neighbor was.

Laddie, the Extraordinarily Good-Natured Cat

We let Laddie go today. He held on hard to life in spite of his increasing age (he was 18) and growing infirmity (arthritis in his rear legs). He’d brought two squirrels, two birds, and a vole inside as love offerings in the last two months. He patrolled the neighborhood every morning; he kept to his routine of chewing lemongrass after breakfast, which required getting up on the deck rail. He was still going over the six-foot fence a couple times a day until yesterday. This morning he declined to get out of bed, and I understood. He died in my arms at 8:50 am. To say we are heartbroken doesn’t begin to describe it.

• • •

That this is a much shorter obituary than Bean’s means nothing other than I am so sad I can’t bear this pain. Laddie was a spectacular cat, beloved by anyone who knew him. And many did, because he never met a stranger.

He was always eager to please.

The End of the Immigration Affair (Almost)

We’ve been waiting for Gerry to get his permanent green card since we applied for it in the summer of 2017, ninety days out from the date the conditional green card was due to expire (21 October 2017). Well, as you know, the current “president’s” administration is understaffed, inefficient, and way behind on everything (not to mention anti-immigration); they sent us a letter extending the temporary green card for another twelve months. No new card, just a piece of paper. When it got to be October of 2018, they sent us another “oops” letter extending the card another six months, to April 2019.

Meanwhile, after three years of legal residency (from his date of entry: 21 October 2015), Gerry was entitled to apply for citizenship … which is something else you do ninety days out. So in July 2018 we paid the money and filed those papers.

As of April 2019, we’d heard that the citizenship application had a case number; we had not gotten another extension letter for the temporary green card, and we were a little nervous. But our attorney said the expired letter date didn’t matter: “You are legal until they send you a letter telling you you are not legal.” Um, OK.

And then May happened: some action at last. Our attorney got an email saying Gerry’d been assigned a date to appear for the citizenship interview. (She was thrilled: “I think you are skipping ahead a whole year in the process!” she said excitedly.) Meanwhile Gerry got an email saying his permanent green card was being processed. The card never showed up, but we gathered up the materials we needed for the citizenship interview. Proof, proof, and more proof of our life: I’ve been setting photos aside since July 2017, and we pulled together IRS records and on and on, the sorts of documents we have already submitted twice.

The citizenship interview was today.

Gerry had decided last month to go ahead and pay our attorney to come with us, because the whole process has been so unpredictable, so arbitrary, so haphazard and random. We are so glad we made that decision.

Surprise! It’s a Green Card Interview!

She met us at the USCIS (US Custom and Immigration Service) office in Nashville where the interview would happen. As we waited, she told me a story about how there are three agents who handle the interviews; two of them are very nice. The third had threatened to throw her out of his office because she’d smiled at her client during an interview. (She smiles and laughs a lot.) “He’s an asshole,” she said.

Guess which one we got?

I also am a person who smiles and laughs a lot, and it’s a wonder I wasn’t thrown out right away. This guy—early-mid thirties, short, bearded, carries a backpack rather than a briefcase—spoke very, very fast and in a low mumble. I had trouble hearing him. And right away he asked us something about our relationship that was so silly, so ridiculous (I wish I could remember what it was) it made me giggle-snort.

He gave me the stink-eye; I made a mental note not to smile or laugh.

And so we proceeded. Although he had two large binders’ worth of photographs and documents such as birth certificates, passports, material establishing that we live in the same house—all the documentation we had to submit for the first two stages of the green card application—he made us relate our entire story, pitting us against each other, asking and re-asking the same questions as if he was trying to trip up one of us. It was a never-ending barrage of questions, with no direction. He’d ask a specific question, which we would answer, then he would just sit there staring at us for a few beats. Finally he’d say, “Go on,” as if we’d failed to read his mind.

That was the green card portion of the interview—the one we had not been notified to prepare for. (The citizenship application—the one we had been notified about—does not require my presence.) For example, we’ve been submitting copies of our joint tax returns to CIS for several years, but on this day this guy wanted proof that we’d paid the taxes (our CPA handles it, so no, we didn’t have a nice little thank-you letter from Uncle Sam), and he wanted recent proof that we have joint banking accounts. He questioned strenuously why Gerry’s name was on the title to our car along with mine, if Gerry didn’t drive. He questioned repeatedly why we bought a house together all the way back in 2007 since we didn’t marry until 2014. (“We were planning for our retirement,” I snapped, growing weary of him.) He wanted the deed to our house to confirm joint ownership, even though we’d brought the most recent city and county tax bills, which had both our names on them. (We’d even brought the bank statement showing we’d paid off the mortgage.) These (IRS proof of payment, deed to house) are all things we could have brought with us had any of us known we’d be having the green card interview.

It was a needlessly confrontational, exhaustingly adversarial conversation. He was like a dog with a bone, and we were the bone he was determined to chew up. Our attorney inserted herself a couple times; her comments reminded him that as he knew (he had all the official correspondence, after all) we had not been notified to prepare for a green card interview. He truly was an asshole, and the whole time we sat there I was reflecting on what it must be like to have brown skin, to not understand the language as well as we do, and then get this guy for the interview! Thank goodness our attorney was there. Thank goodness we could afford to hire her. And what a sad, miserable little life that guy must lead. I wonder if he’s ever traveled outside the country.

That said, if anyone ever utters the words extreme vetting in my presence, I will give that person a piece of my mind. (They know who they are.)

And Now For the Citizenship Interview

Mr. Miserable was done with me, and I had to move to the second row of chairs, away from his Big Desk in the Tiny Office. Woo. Now the interview was straightforward: a series of questions about character (already asked and answered on paper a year ago). Have you ever been arrested, for example. Again, asked in a very fast mumble; if English were your second language, the potential for misunderstanding and giving the wrong answer would be very high.

Then the actual citizenship questions. A year ago we’d been given a booklet with the one hundred possible questions about US history, US government, and so on. These are things I learned in high school, although I’m told they don’t teach civics in public schools anymore. Applicants are asked ten questions of the hundred; to pass you must get six right.

Gerry only needed to be asked six.

You also have to say at least one sentence in English, and you have to write a sentence in English. (In this case: “The American Indians were here first.”)

At the end of all this, Mr. Miserable said, “I am recommending you for US citizenship. You will be informed when to appear to take the oath. It will be sometime in the next three months.” And that was that. No “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson,” as the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) agent in Dublin had said back in October 2015 when Gerry got his immigration visa under a different presidential administration.

Until the oath ceremony, Gerry’s still in limbo. His green card has an expiration date of 21 October 2017, so it’s no good for ID. If he needed to travel outside the country prior to his oath-taking and the arrival of a new passport (how long does THAT take these days?), his Irish passport would be flagged. There is a stamp that USCIS can place in the passport to “keep him legal,” should anything arise, but naturally Mr. Miserable declined to do that for us, although he could have right then. (He will if we need it, he said. But no favors, you see.)

Doing the happy dance right outside the door.

We Are Delighted, Of Course

We left the building with our heads down (Gerry muttering “Prick!”) but when we were outside, we laughed and took a photo. We stopped at Famous Dave’s on the way home and picked up some barbeque, the way two little old people might celebrate. 🙂 This long journey is almost over … and we are looking forward to Gerry’s opportunity to vote in the 2020 election.

But again, I want to stress this: we had an attorney to guide us through the process, a knowledgeable one who gave us great advice. We both speak the language, and we are white. Additionally, I have been around the block enough times to not be afraid of assholes. But just imagine someone who is truly foreign trying to navigate this process with Mr. Miserable.

• • •

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 35, 40 ESV)

Tougher Than You Think

While I was out and about today two separate people remarked on how beautiful my key ring is. It does regularly get that kind of attention, because it’s a little unusual.

Back in 1990 I divorced, moved back to Middle Tennessee, and got a job in the corporate office of a company I’d done good work for over the previous three or four years. It was located in a small town near here, and there was (ahem) a little bit of sour grapes related to the fact that I got the job and not one of the four younger-than-me local women who were then working in the office.

But one soldiers on, yeah? One does because one needs the job and has a child to feed and some time to spend in one’s head, getting clear after a divorce.

A few months later, after I’d returned from lunch and laid my car keys on the corner of my desk—where I always put them; because you know I am a creature of habit, and even now have a place to put keys—those keys just up and disappeared. They disappeared right as I needed to begin my thirty-five–minute commute back to the town I lived in to pick up my six-year-old from school daycare. During the flurry of searching EVERYWHERE for the keys, plus calling a friend to pick up my son and calling the school to let them know that and later asking the friend to keep my son overnight because the keys simply. did. not. turn. up (not even months later after my desk was moved out of the cubicles into an office) and calling my ex-husband to Fedex the other set of keys (cheaper than a locksmith) and calling the storage company to let them know I would miss my appointment to pay my deposit (but I still want the 10×10 and I’ll come tomorrow, please, please, please hold it for me) … after/during all that, I also broke down and sobbed right in the middle of the office and could not stop for a long time. I’d been divorced about six months and was just, you know, fragile.

I think these days you call it an Ugly Cry.

I believe those missing keys were meant to be a little poke, a little mean joke haha by those four girls who reported to me but resented it. But once I’d cried, there was no way on God’s beautiful blue-green earth the keys were going to come back to me. They’re rusting at the bottom of some creek in DeKalb County, Tennessee. No, ladies: I know one of you said I probably just lost them myself and they’ll turn up. But they never did.

They never did.

The next month I was at a crafts fair in Centennial Park in Nashville and I bought this handmade key ring for twenty dollars, the one I still get compliments on twenty-eight years later. (Twenty-eight! So what’s that you say about my losing my keys?) And every time I do, I remind myself that I am a strong person, even if I have to cry sometimes.