Oh, That Real ID

Way back in February 2017, I researched and wrote this article about the Real ID Act. I checked the Dept of Homeland Security’s website about compliant states and saw that Tennessee was compliant. In 2017. Said DHS. (Seriously: the link in my 2017 article for the map showed Tennessee in green—i.e., compliant. But apparently they were just kidding.)

I knew I was carrying an “old” license, but it expired on my birthday in 2018, and I renewed it, fully thinking I now had a Real ID Actcompliant driver’s license. Because DHS said my state was compliant back in 2017. Compliance in this case is two things: 1) an RFID chip and 2) a bar code (in case the federal place—like a courthouse or a military base—you’re trying to get into doesn’t yet have an RFID reader).

I got one thing wrong in the article I wrote: while the law took effect last year, it appears we humans have until 1 October 2020 to get compliant.

So … we needed to get Gerry a Tennessee ID card anyway. Because he needs ID in order to get a US passport. (Silly us: we thought gaining citizenship would be the end of this story! Oh no, no, no. In order of acquiring documents to use for the next step: voter registration, then state ID or drivers license, then the passport.) We gathered all the paperwork—seriously, we have a file where I keep the currently required legal documents for grab-and-go—and while we were there we would “replace” my driver’s license.

But wait, not so fast. In order to get a Real ID license I have to bring a birth certificate along with my current driver’s license, even though I had shown a birth certificate to get that license the year before! Logic would indicate … oh, but wait. It’s the DMV. Abandon all logic, ye who enter here. We had Gerry’s birth certificate but not mine, so we left. The DMV was packed. We’d been waiting some time in the ridiculously long line before we learned there was a gatekeeper and we could talk to her. I expressed my displeasure. The woman behind us was similarly disgusted with the poorly organized arrangements and expressed hers.

We went back a few days later, stood in line for more than an hour, and got Gerry’s Tennessee state ID, which is Real ID. Me? With my envelope full of papers, I still did not have what the gatekeeper wanted (yes, I said another bad word and was scolded for it*) and so we left and I was mad as a wet hen.

(UPDATE: Though probably not as mad as journalist Julia Ioffe, who was trying to to get her Real ID license in Washington DC in January 2020. Read about her ordeal in a Twitter thread she posted here.)

My passport is Real ID–compliant, of course. But it’s not a convenient little card like a driver’s license. Oh, wait—the State Department now offers a passport card, which is the same credit card size. So I got one of those. And now I also have a Global Entry card, which, the nice Homeland Security officer in Nashville told me as he approved my application, is also Real ID compliant. So the State of Tennessee is not going to have me to push around anymore.

• • •

*The Murfreesboro DMV and I go way back. I don’t like them. They don’t like me. We had a little spat back in 1998, bless their hearts, and I’d sent registered letters to the manager, and her boss, and his boss, and so on all the way up to the governor. And yes, they fixed the problem and apologized to me, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth.

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!

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)

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.

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.

UPDATE: This was written in 2018. It’s gotten much worse now, a year later. I can hardly write about this topic without screaming. Sure, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Ken Cuccinelli, blamed the Salvadoran migrant who drowned along with his 23-month-old daughter at the border. Blamed them for their own deaths. Of course he did.


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.