Dear Old Friend:

You saw my Facebook remarks about listening to the audiotape made surreptiously at the US/Mexico border when little children were being removed from their parents’ arms. There was shouting and weeping, and it made me cry, sitting there, hard tears. This happens to me.

But you just couldn’t resist a response. What is your solution to the immigration issue? you asked. What is your solution—I notice that now it’s an immigration issue, not an illegal immigration issue. But I see no issue. I and others like me are not deceived by this; we’ve known all along people like you would prefer no immigration at all. As if you weren’t raised just like me, with the notion of a melting-pot America. What happened to you?

(I know, I know; that question is rhetorical. You’ve been brainwashed by Limbaugh and Shapiro and Fox Not-News, and since the illegitimate election of a racist to the highest office in this country, you think it’s OK to fly your racist flag in public now. But the fact is, people like Sean Hannity are preying on your fears and your false perceptions. The border crisis is a myth. Immigration has been falling. Doesn’t hurt wages or increase crime. Isn’t in the top 100 serious challenges for our country. Read this and become informed; it will make you feel better.)

Let me remind you that your people were once immigrants and no doubt arrived here illegally, too, unless they arrived after 1920 or so. Unless you are of Native American extraction. As to the rest of it, you know my feelings, so I don’t know why you bother to ask, other than to disturb my sleep (since I tend to check FB before I go to bed). So let me remind you that I have skin in this game. Remember that I have married two immigrants, and the first had let his legality lapse by the time I married him.

But long before I married the second immigrant, I developed empathy for those who are simply seeking a better life. I became a single mom; I lost a job during a recession; I worked two full-time (40 hrs/week) minimum wage jobs and freelanced in my spare time, such as it was. My son was on the Federal Free Lunch Program; I sought food stamps. To do that, I had to spend hours waiting in line, taking time off from my poorly paid work. Let me tell you, it is expensive to be poor, and it is hard to climb out of the hole once you’re in it. (I know you grew up in poverty, which is why I’m always so surprised that you … well, you know.) I lived in a 650-square-foot apartment in a complex that also housed many Mexican folks. Were some of them illegal? I’m sure they were. They were young men, often; I learned that they came and worked and lived poor and sent their money home to their wives and children. When I saw them shivering in the wind in front ot a taco truck parked in the laundromat across the street from our apartments, I was heartbroken.

As time went on, I had many conversations with “the least of these” as the Bible calls them, people I met where I lived, where I worked (often janitors, of course), where I ate (long conversations with Mexican waiters in the presence of my son). Not only did my empathy grow but I began to understand that I live in an abundant land. Seriously—have a look. I truly believe that we have enough here to go around. We have—until trump arose—one of the most desirable countries on earth and we export our culture unremittingly. It’s no wonder people want to come here from all over the world.

Do I have a “solution” for that? No. It’s not my job. Way smarter people than me … (this statement does not include trump, or Stephen Miller, or, in fact, anyone in trump’s administration, because they are subpar intellects and subpar human beings and, we are seeing demonstrated, criminals, wholly unqualified to collect garbage, much less run this country; surely you’ve seen the news so you know this, yes?) … but smarter people than I have reasonable solutions, so I don’t feel the need to spend my precious time, which must needs be spent earning a living, on this.

My second immigrant husband now has nearly ten thousand dollars invested in the immigration process, and we are nowhere near the finish line. In fact, a process (exchanging a temporary, 2-year Permanent Residency card to a permanent one) that should take a year is now approaching the one-year mark and we’ve just learned it could take up to a further 36 months. That’s the wait time. Fortunately we have the means to hire an attorney (who informed us a year ago that every step of the process from here on in must be litigated, i.e., must happen in a court of law) and we are white. But just imagine couples, families, who are separated during this process (I actually have corresponded with some). Just imagine that they are people of color. Just imagine that trump’s jackboots are checking the immigration process of every single case looking for ways to end it. Oh wait—no need to imagine it! It’s happening already. The jackboots are coming. They’re even trying to find ways to take away the naturalized US citizenship of some immigrants.

As to what’s happening on our borders right now, again, you know how I feel. The solution for this trumped-up “problem” doesn’t really matter—using children as pawns is vile, inhumane, and, in fact, illegal. It is an abomination. No matter how many times our illegitimately elected president lies about who “started” this, the data and the facts and the truth exists. The trump government set the policy, and they could stop it; however, they do not.* (Liberal tears, and all that.)

Federal and international law prevent the government from deporting people back to danger. And it’s perfectly legal for someone to present himself for asylum at a port of entry. We know now that DHS is refusing to allow any of them enter. Which is illegal. Note the irony that it is our government who is behaving illegally, not the asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers, therefore, choose to cross between ports of entry—to cross illegally into the US—and present themselves to Border Patrol. When an asylum seeker crosses into the US illegally, he/she commits a federal misdemeanor. Under previous administrations, the Department of Homeland Security usually processed the asylum case first rather than referring him/her to the Department of Justice for federal prosecution. Even if DHS referred her for prosecution, DOJ wouldn’t usually bother to actually prosecute her before her asylum case was complete. But Jeff Sessions, in particular, is convinced that many of these asylum claims are fraudulent, brought by “dirty immigration lawyers” to gum up the system. So DOJ and DHS have stepped up their efforts to detain as many asylum seekers as possible and deport as many of them as quickly as possible. To repeat and emphasize, not everything that’s illegal—meaning against the law or violating the law—is a crime. There are civil violations, like when you get a parking ticket. “Unlawful presence” is one of these. You don’t go to jail or receive any other criminal punishment for being in the country illegally—you get deported (though not, in theory, if you have a credible asylum claim). So being here illegally does not equal a crime. In fact, 45 percent of undocumented immigrants (aka “illegal” immigrants) arrived legally. Forty-five percent.

Those fleeing persecution—most often from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; also Nicaragua is heating up—should be treated as potential victims rather than presumed criminals. That would be the empathetic, humane thing to do. Fully 76 percent of people who arrive at the border have credible asylum claims. Seventy-six percent! Yet no claims for asylum are being allowed by current DHS. However, there is no reason to take those asylum-seekers’ children away from them. There is nowhere else in the entire world that does anything like this. Trump is the first president to institute a policy to remove children from those seeking asylum. Immigration policy has been discussed and fought over for decades, and plenty of people on the left criticized Obama (and Clinton) for how they handled it, though I don’t think there’s any point in looking backward at this point. This is something new, this is something different: We are talking about seeking asylum and separating families, not border-crossing and deportation.

So, my old friend, don’t come to me like you’re some wise old sage who is going to show me the error of my progressive ways by tangling me up in how I would devise a solution. This policy of taking children is purely political, it’s shameful, and no one with a shred of humanity should support it.

Sincerely,
Your Friend Who Is Not Falling For It

* Since this writing, it has stopped, sort of. There are still no asylum claims being accepted. And ICE is searching public records for every marginal case they can find for deportation.

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Second-Class Something

In preparation for some dental work, my husband needed some prescriptions, including one for pain. The latter triggered a request from the pharmacy for ID. He doesn’t walk around with his passport and doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he whipped out his Temporary Permanent Residency card. But … “It’s expired.”

Oh. yeah. We’re in process.

We started it last July. We have an Official Letter From the Powers That Be that says, essentially, Oh, yeah, this guy, he’s still legal, but we’re awfully busy right now rounding up Dreamers and other immigrants to rip out of the arms of their legal loved ones, busy hunting down the semi-legal immigrants who are still trying to stay alive in the ICE Hunger Games Sweepstakes, so this guy has to wait some more. No, we can’t give you an estimated time of arrival. Shut up.

When we first learned that he’d be walking around with an expired green card for a year, we giggled. Wow, that’s really classy and professional. But yeah, see, we’ve got this letter …

So we went home, retrieved the needed paperwork, went back. Fuming.

In between the house and the pharmacy, Gerry decided to just show his passport—which is not expired (and is pretty stinkin’ impressive, actually, with it’s fancy-schmancy visa inside)—and get the pills and get out of there. He just didn’t feel like the hassle of having to call the store manager to look at and read this letter while he stood by, hat in hand. Gerry has spent a lot of his money in this community—on a house, on remodeling, on a car, on furniture, and always, always from local vendors—and yet this whole exercise made him feel not-good-enough.

I support him in the decision but I would have loved to march in there with him with his expired green card and his not-expired letter and say, See? See? I think it would have been a good education for the staff. It’s why I talk/write about this over and over. Because there are a lot of people who live their whole lives and never meet an immigrant. Or don’t realize they have.

At the end of the day, this story works out for us (that is, we can afford to hire an immigration attorney, and we have the time to wait and wait and wait, and we are white and move through society unnoticed, except when we need a drug on the restricted list). But what if my husband had brown skin? Or a funny name? Or a noticeable accent? (Oh, wait …) What if someone just felt like making trouble and called ICE on suspicion of an expired visa?

We don’t blame the good folks at Kroger who were just doing their jobs. The point here is immigrants—people who are neither here nor there—run into a dozen little roadblocks* like this every day. This experience made Gerry feel “less than.” It made him feel second-class. It made him feel as if he’d just been subjected to extreme vetting at the Kroger Pharmacy counter.

This coming October Gerry will have been resident here for three years, and technically we could start citizenship proceedings. Of course, it’s unlikely he will have his permanent green card by then, so we’ll have to complete that process first (so as to remain “legal”), then start on citizenship. Me, I look forward to another progressive voter in the house, working for change in this bloody state.

In the meantime, if anyone says the words extreme vetting in our hearing, he or she is likely to get punched. You’ve been warned.

* Remind me to tell you about how hard it was for Gerry, a decade ago, to open a checking account in this town (because he didn’t have a Social Security number) before we figured out how to game that system. Remind me to tell you how hard it was for him to get a simple credit card here. Remind me to tell you why it was easier for him to pay cash for his first house purchased in the US than to get a mortgage.

The Next Step On the Road to Immigration

Oh, and you thought we were done! Nope. Not yet.

When the United States’ xenophobe-in-chief first started jerking around immigrants, I spoke up in my social media network. After all, we’ve been through the first of several steps in the process; I know it’s long and arduous, and that people who are trying to move here to escape war (or simply for a better life) but who aren’t married to a US citizen have even more paperwork and longer waits that we did/do.

But a few people I know gave me the “extreme vetting” speech. These people think that some people—primarily nonwhite people—should be subject to extreme vetting. We already know that the process is taking years even for refugees, the neediest, most endangered type of immigrants. But these people in my social media network had plenty to say about what refugees and other immigrants should be subject to, even though they—nice white people born in this country—have no actual experience with immigration.

So let’s talk about that, shall we?

Just this week we spent an hour with our immigration attorney. We have another appointment set with her on 27 July 2017. In between now and then, I have a long list of documentation I have to pull together for Uncle Sam, documents with both our names on them that show we have and live a life together. Things like:

  • Tax documents (returns, schedules W-9s, etc.) for 2015, 2016
  • Bank statements showing activity in the account, 4–6 each year, each account
  • Credit card activity
  • Health insurance activity
  • Mortgage and property taxes
  • More photos
  • Any travel itineraries (places we went together)

Remember that binder of information I put together in 2014? You may have seen it it at our wedding celebration party last April. That was not A Scrapbook Documenting Fun Times, friends—it was actual documentation for the federal government, and it took me hours and hours of work* to pull it together. It was proof of our relationship, proof that we’d flown back and forth, proof that we communicated with each other on email, proof that we owned a home together, proof that we had married legally. Proof … i.e., vetting.

Now I have to do another one.

We’ll have to pay $680 to file all this information. And we’ll have to pay our attorney even more. (She is worth it.)** We’ll have to have yet another interview. (Currently that interview happens in Memphis. We’re told that perhaps they are going to open an office in Nashville sometimes next year. But you’ve had a good look at this current government by now; do you think it’s capable of sticking to a timeline? I don’t.) We’ll have to pay more money to keep the process moving, step by step by step. (Remember? And this?)

It will take at least a year to convert Gerry’s temporary Permanent Residency Card (you probably call it a green card) to a permanent Permanent Residency Card. We can’t even file for it (that’s the $680) until we’re ninety days from its expiration (expiration date is 24 October 2017), but the process—which used to take about ninety days—now takes at least a year, sometimes longer.

Um … so … “Don’t worry,” our attorney says, “once you’re in the system [i.e., once our case has been accepted, assigned a number, and entered into the computer], they’ll extend your temporary green card. They’ll send you a letter. You’ll travel with the temp green card and the letter.”

Here’s another interesting wrinkle: having entered the country legally, Gerry can actually apply for citizenship after he’s been here three years. In other words, he will probably be eligible to begin the citizenship process before he has a finalized green card. That’s not how it’s supposed to work but it’s a nice little world-gone-mad irony. Or something.

(Citizenship application brings its own set of costs and fees, of course. But we have to start the process for the permanent Permanent Residency Card simply so that he stays “legal” during this time of process limbo. For those of you who like to use the word illegals to refer to noncitizens, does this give you an alternate way of thinking about the vagaries of legal and illegal? Gosh, I hope so. You could really use some empathy lessons.)

This was good times, a small slice of a larger photograph. It was a gathering at our home of people who were in town for a professional conference, people I work with. That photograph—the larger one with all the people—will be in the new ICE scrapbook.

Again, Gerry and I speak the language, we are together (many immigrants aren’t actually living with their loved ones here), and we have the resources to hire legal help. (“Everything from this point on,” she tells us, “has to be litigated.” In court.) And I am white and my husband is Irish. Imagine the vetting that goes on for brown-skinned folks from non-English-speaking countries. So don’t bring your extreme vetting talk to me, because you have no idea what you’re talking about—and I’ve heard as much of it as I want to hear anyway.

* Some of which was lost when my computer hard drive crashed … which also was not fun times.

** Remember this? Remember the initial Muslim ban, and the hundreds of immigration attorneys that fanned out across the country and camped out in international airports to help stranded immigrants? It’s the International Refugee Assistance Project, and our attorney is one of them, for which we admire her even more.

Both Men I Married Were Immigrants*

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 42–43, 45)

Just sayin’, y’all.

* My first husband was born in Nicaragua and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a little boy in the 1950s. When I married him about twenty years later he was still here on a green card. You know about my second husband. I find it fascinating to watch the unfolding of current events through his eyes.

We Think the IRS Must Be Gaslighting Us

Gaslighting, according to Wikipedia, is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting his own memory, perception, and sanity.

I’m only sort of joking, y’all. We’ve had lots of adventures on the immigration quest …

Immigration Woes (Part 1)
Our Immigration Attorney Laughed At Us
Immigration Woes (Part 2)
Like the La Brea Tar Pit
Slogging to Dublin
A Long Day at the Airport
An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam

… and this is just one more (frustrating) step.

My husband, until very recently, has lived his whole life in Ireland. He is an Irish citizen (with a US permanent resident card) and he pays taxes there.

But, hey, when you come to the US, you live here, you drive on the highways here, Uncle Sam wants you to contribute. And no prob—the US has a “tax treaty” with many countries, which means, in very simple terms, no double dipping. You only have to pay taxes to one Caesar. When you live in the US, no matter where your income derives from, you pay taxes here. To avoid paying twice, you invoke the treaty.

• • •

In Ireland, as here in the Home of the Brave, taxes are withheld from paychecks … to (ahem) make sure said taxes are paid. To stop that—to avoid paying twice, to invoke the treaty—now that Gerry is living here, he has to submit a particular form to the Irish Tax Office, called form IC-2. You can go to Revenue{dot}ie and print one off. And in most other countries with which the Republic of Ireland has a tax treaty, you take the IC-2 to your adopted country’s tax office and have it stamped. When you return the stamped (validated) form to Revenue{dot}ie, Ireland will stop withholding money for taxes.

From your pension, say. From your fixed income.

But that’s not how it works in the United States. America’s version of “stamping the IC-2” is to provide Form 6616. Form IC-2 must be accompanied by a Form 6616. (And, as a side note, it’s only good for three years at most; in some situations, only for one year. So we will be doing this for the rest of our lives.) In order to have a Form 6616 issued, Gerry has to submit a Form 8802, to request it.

Still with me?

• • •

So we download Form 8802 (it’s ten lines long, on two pages) and all eighteen pages of instructions. Since I have a little bit of experience with US government-speak, I think, Oh, no sweat. Ten lines. But no. I get stumped on line 4, so I start reading the instructions.

The instructions seem contradictory; I can’t make heads or tails of ’em. I start scribbling questions in the margins. We make an appointment to meet with our CPA, Jan, because, holy moly, this is way beyond us.

At the meeting, Jan and I spend two hours reading the instructions back and forth to each other, trying to figure it out, talking it out, and finally we do. I fill out the form. Jan says, “Don’t worry, if we’ve done something ‘wrong,’ they’re usually pretty good about telling you what it is, and you can correct it.”

As instructed, we make a copy of Gerry’s permanent resident card, a copy of the Form 8802, the worksheet, enclose an $85 check (because none of this is free, of course), and trip off to the post office to mail it. This was on 7 June.

Toward the end of June we get a letter from the IRS (dated 8 June, just one day after we mailed Form 8802!). “We received your application for a US Residency Certification [that’s Form 6616] and we need more information,” it says. “We need the following.” And there is the first Twilight Zone moment:

If you hold an F1, J1, M1, or Q1 visa and filed a Form 1040, you must provide us with a statement explaining why you filed a Form 1040 and provide a statement and documentation showing that you reported your worldwide income on Form 1040.

Didn’t anyone read the materials we sent in? On Form 8802 we checked the box that said Gerry did not file a Form 1040. He wasn’t required to. He didn’t live here in 2015; he was in Ireland.

Furthermore, the form lists four visas:

> F1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa.
> J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange
> M1 visa is a temporary student visa that allows international students to attend an accredited vocational or non-academic school
> Q1 visa is a temporary work visa for adults (at least 18 years of age) to participate in a training, employment, and cultural exchange program.

But—again, was anyone reading? Gerry didn’t enter the country on any of those visas. They are all non-immgrant visas. Gerry entered on an immigrant visa—and the IRS has a copy of it—which triggered the Permanent Resident card, which he received two months later, exactly as promised. And the letter said if. IF you entered on one of these visas, we need more information.

So … what? What does the IRS want from us?

I call Jan. She says, “We see this type of thing all the time. They either don’t read what was submitted, or don’t know the correct answer, so we have to break everything down for them.”

Oh. That’s reassuring.

There’s more. Jan goes on:

Plus, their data-entry skill level has declined over the past 12–18 months.
We particularly have to point out when payments have actually been made, and cleared (often showing front and back of check).
The more I read the letter the more I think they are just asking for clarification. And that the reference to “F1” or “J1” etc. is just standard verbiage not even coming into play here. If it makes you feel any better, we help clients respond to notices like this almost every week.

I fasten on the word clarification. OK, we can do that. We compose a letter:

I am a US lawful permanent resident (green card holder). I officially retired from my Irish job in 2016 and now live with my wife (a US citizen). I began collecting my pension in 2016.
I would like to pay tax on this pension income in the United States, but until I can provide Form 6166 to Irish Revenue, they will continue to withhold tax.
In the attached letter I received from you, you ask for information, to wit, “If you hold an F1, J1, M1 or Q1 visa and filed a form 1040 …” but I do not hold a visa (I enclosed a copy of my permanent resident card with Form 8802) and did not file a form 1040 for 2015 (this was indicated on line 8 of Form 8802).
I am simply trying to get out in front of my tax situation so that I can properly file a 2016 tax return in the US. Currently taxes are being withheld in Ireland on income that will also be taxed in the United States.
Please help me understand what I can do to move this application forward.

And we mail it off. A month goes by. And two days ago, another letter. “We received your application for a US Residency Certification but we are unable to issue a certification.” Why? Because the IRS says we failed to respond in thirty days. Furthermore, they say our $85 is forfeit.

Honestly, it was hard not to cry, looking at this letter. I felt completely demoralized. We have done everything we know to do, but it feels like they are toying with us. We’ve spent at least $20 on postage (I note this because these things add up—as does the time spent).

We only want to do things the right way—by the book. We’re not trying to cheat. Just getting Gerry into the country legally was enormously expensive—more than $5,000—but we accounted for every jot and tittle of US immigration law. Now we are trying to prepare to pay our taxes, straight up. Neither of us objects to that, to paying our fair share. I am self-employed—which means I am both employer and employee: I pay both sets of taxes. And that’s OK.

So why can’t we satisfy the folks at the IRS when we are trying so hard to do so? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. We are two mature, intelligent human beings and English is our native language. I can only imagine how frustrating these things must be for people who do not have our advantages.

UPDATE: After consulting with Jan, we wrote another letter to the IRS, made copies of all the previous correspondence, and spent another $8 or so to mail it to Philadelphia, return receipt requested. Two days—two days!—after we mailed it, we received a new letter from the IRS. “Dear Taxpayer,” it began. “We have certified your request for relief from being taxed twice (double taxation).” Gerry’s Form 6166 was enclosed. To our minds, this confirms at least one thing we suspected: the person who opens the envelope automatically rejects it. It also makes us think that the final-notice-forfeited-fee letter was programmed to print and mail from the very beginning, and there’s no one clicking that “reject” button to the “off” position—even though we can now see they got our second letter and initiated proceedings to issue the form we needed well before the reject letter was issued. This is a sad reflection on the IRS.

An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam

It’s been an interesting season, this one, starting with Gerry’s arrival in the US on an emigrant’s visa toward the end of October.

Usually he arrives and we have a whole list of things that need to get done (by him) and we have to rush rush rush to do them. He even said a few days after his arrival, “I almost said to you, ‘I need to do X, Y, and Z before I go back.’” We had a good laugh about that.

But it’s been busy, what with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and emigration issues weren’t formost on our minds. Then they were: when the mail arrived on Christmas Eve, Gerry had an early Christmas present—his green card!

Wow! There it is!

Wow! There it is!

The culmination of a year’s worth of fret and worry, in one little first-class envelope.

It’s not over yet. This card is good for two years, and then he’ll have to file for a permanent one. But this’ll do for now. 🙂

• • •

If you want to read about our immigration story, here are eight posts: Immigration Woes (Part 1); Our Attorney Laughed at Us; Getting Back to Normal; Immigration Woes (Part 2); Like the La Brea Tar Pit; Slogging to Dublin; It’s a Great Day for a Celebration; and A Long Day at the Airport.

 

A Long Day at the Airport

20 October 2015, Monday
We were up at 5:30 with no time to do anything but shower. No breakfast, because we had to leave before the dininng room opened. But the cab driver was great, right on time, loaded it all up and unloaded it at the airport—and he and Gerry had a great chat on the way.

We both know Gerry’s not leaving Ireland forever—that’s such a dramatic word!—we can come back any time we want, for heaven’s sake. But he won’t be living in Ireland anymore, and that’s pretty momentuous. A lot to process. And I don’t think Gerry would disagree that he was addled, kept forgetting where he’d put things and doublechecking and just generally was a wreck. At one point thought he’d left his phone in the cab but there it was in his breast pocket. 🙂 It wasn’t so much the leaving as it was nerves that somehow something would go wrong and he wouldn’t end up on the plane with me.

The first test was at check-in. There was a long line to check the luggage, and the woman operating the computer check-in for the airlines—the fast-moving line—said, “I can’t seat you together.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting, because we paid extra to sit in the bulkhead together and to board in group 1.” (In my opinion—and I know the airlines don’t care what I think—all this group number stuff is bullsh*t; they should just load the plane from the back forward and be done with it. Yes, that means the first class folks would board last. But I for one hate having to sidle past people trying desperately not to bump them even though they’re hanging their arms out into the aisle like it’s their godgiven right to hang their arms into the aisle. Boarding would go a lot faster if we loaded from back to front, IMHO.)

The clerk’s response was, “You’ll have to get the guy at the counter to fix it for you.” OK, that’s fine, we had time, but Gerry was grumbling. He paid for those tickets, dagnabbit!

And I get that. But usually the airlines can sort these things out if you keep pushing … with a smile. I said, “Put on a happy face, honey, because if there’s any problem, the clerk is more likely to want to fix it for us if we’re nice. In particular, we have heavy bags; we’d like him to see those borderline bags as underweight rather than overweight.”

This makes sense, of course; it’s the whole you-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-you-do-with-vinegar thing, but in the heat of the moment—we paid good money for special tickets, after all—it’s easy to get distracted from the end goal. So we were at the window for quite a while—we were checking four bags, plus the clerk had to fix the ticket problem—but we used our happy faces and there was never a problem, never a doubt that we’d be sitting together. In fact, we chatted and chuckled. At one point I made some remark and the guy laughed, and I said, “Thank you for laughing” and he said, “No, thank you for laughing.” So this is my theory about the airlines: you can be an asshole and let a moderately stressful situation escalate—and think about it, there are probably all sorts of ways an airline clerk can make things difficult for you and you’d never know—or you can be not-an-asshole and keep your travel experience in the moderately stressful zone. Air travel isn’t fun unless you can afford to fly first class. (And I’m not sure it is even then … but I wouldn’t know.)

It’s also exhausting. Our flying/changing planes/flying time alone was twelve hours, and we were at the airport three-plus hours before flying, and up an hour before that—so sixteen hours. At least we left the line happy, right?

So here’s what it was like to leave Dublin on this day, the culmination of a year’s worth of correspondence with the Department of Homeland Security:

1. Check bags, obtain boarding pass; show passport the first time (but not the last).

1a. Put on a happy face for the clerk who will weigh your bags (let them be underweight, ohplease ohpleaseohplease) and also help you find that expensive bulkhead seat the first clerk couldn’t find (it’s there, just couldn’t be accessed through the automated system); the happy face assures this happy outcome. Clerk even laughs. Mission accomplished.

2. Go through security, show passport again, take off shoes, and etc ad nauseam.

3. Go to US Preclearance; to get there, go through a second, more thorough security (remove shoes, show passport for third time).

4. Wait in line to see the customs agent; Americans to the right, “all others” to the left. Americans may go to the left with their spouses if desired (say yes; it’s a shorter line, though in this case I had no intention of missing the Gerry Hampson Emigration Show).

5. Talk to the customs agent; show passport for fourth time, identify your luggage online.

5a. Americans traveling alone (i.e., me, usually) have passport stamped, identify their bags, and are told, “Welcome to the United States of America” (or, alternately, “Welcome home”).

5b. Irish folk traveling alone (i.e., Gerry, usually) must place four fingers and then the thumb, both left and right, on the electronic fingerprint reader and identify their bags; occasionally they have to answer questions, which, if answered correctly, means their passport is stamped and they are passed through.

At this point in the past you entered the concourse and gates; it is not a retail / culinary paradise (at the Dublin airport you need to do that before you go through security, so allow extra time if you want to shop). However, if you are emigrating

6. You get out your sealed papers from the US embassy; you might (or might not) have already noticed that they doctored your well-used passport, creating and pasting in a whole new photo page with your new address and new passport photo and new temporary permanent residency visa number to replace your old Irish passport number.

7. The customs agent escorts you to the office—the Admissibility Review Area—where you wait (see photo) for the next available agent (there’s only one). Your passport and sealed papers are put in the waiting area (see also photo) for the next available agent.

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8. When your name is called, you and your spouse hustle up to the window; you haven’t had breakfast yet (breakfast room wasn’t due to open for another 30 minutes when you left the hotel fully 3.5 hours before your scheduled flight for the 5-minute cab ride to the airport) and you would really, really like to get something to eat before they start boarding the plane. Flight time is about an hour from now.

8a. The agent reviews the papers, sees that all is in order, has a pleasant chat with you, stamps your passport, and says, “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson.”

At that point we had thirty minutes before they would begin boarding, so we ran and got sandwiches. In the Nashville and Chicago airports, it’s like a fast- and not-so-fast-food heaven on the other side of security, full of restaurants, but once you enter the US preclearance in Dublin, there is precious little food. We wolfed our sandwiches and then went to wait, and lo and behold, Richie showed up to wish us a safe journey.

And then we got on the plane.

Hark, now, hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

We only had an hour in between flights in Chicago, which would have been difficult for me, stressful, but it’s a lot easier traveling with two. And that flight from Chicago is a short one, so you have the anticipation of being almost home.

When we got to Nashville, we had a welcoming committee, with homemade signs and ringing little tinkly bells when they saw us! We are so blessed!

Debo (friend), Teresa (sister-in-law), Jon (brother), Gerry, Gwen( friend), Amy (friend).

Debo (friend), Teresa (sister-in-law), Jon (brother), Gerry, Gwen( friend), Amy (friend).

Our friends helped us carry luggage out to the pick-up zone, where more friends, the Byrums, were waiting to take us home.

 Jon, Teresa, Amy, Gerry, Jenny, Kerry.

Jon, Teresa, Amy, Gerry, Jenny, Kerry.

Home!

It had been a year since Bean had seen Gerry, but she just couldn’t get enough of him.

It had been a year since Bean had seen Gerry, but she just couldn’t get enough of him.