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)