Monday, July 26, 2010

Employment & Money

We came to New Zealand with enough money to see us right for several months. My husband had freelancing work, several 'webinars' scheduled and possible royalty payments. Financially we were ok, enough where I didn't need to get a job myself.

I was caregiver for my Aunty for the last 4 months of her life. I had gone unpaid up until the last 3 weeks of her life. I felt obliged to do it, getting paid for someone who had raised me all those years was something I couldn't fathom, but as we neared the ending of her life we also neared the end of our stable financial situation.

Webinars were postponed or canceled. The royalty payments were inconsistent and work was getting slow because my husband was almost always sick.

I decided it was time to do something with my photography education here in NZ. I had years of experience and knowledge just to move home and do nothing with it. Post-Aunty's death, I now had all the time in the world to do something with it and I ran alot of scenarios in my mind about the best way to do this, but we didn't have the money to blow $5000 on a complete studio. I had the space, just not the equipment.

I crossed it from my mind in November when we found out about my husbands health. They told him he needed a kidney biopsy that would cost around $2000, because he was a non-resident. Then his eye sight began to deteriorate and his ability to work was slowing down. He suspected cataracts, which is a $5000 NZD surgery for ONE eye. We didn't have that kind of money. We were living within our means and a biopsy and cataract surgery was not on our money map.

In January my husband lost his appetite for everything that was delicious and normal. He only wanted fruit. He could only stomach fruit. His initial blood pressure reading told us that he was a walking corpse. Something like 290/110. His cocktail of prescription drugs began in January.

By April 2010, our financial situation was still the same. We still hadn't done the kidney biopsy and my husband had lost a little over 110lbs - in 4 months.

Things were beyond dire.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

US Immigration

I moved to the USA in 2000. Got married the same year. We began my US Residency immediately.

2001, I had a pending application in with the formally known INS. As long as you had an application pending, you were safe to stay. So I was safe, at least that's what I was told.

A family situation called me home in 2001. I went and lined up at the Los Angeles INS Building to ask about my application. My question was, since my application was pending and I needed to travel home for what I considered an emergency, what was I to do? I was told that a medical certificate was required upon re-entry to the USA proving that the situation was dire. Good stuff. We flew home in June of 2001. Stayed for 2 weeks, got the medical certificate we required and flew back to the USA.

Alot of things happened as we prepared to fly back. Maybe they were signs, I don't know. 2 hours into our drive back to Auckland to catch the flight, which was the next day, I was pulled over for speeding. When I couldn't produce a passport I realised I didn't have it at all. So we had to turn around and drive back to retrieve it. When we got to the airport the next day, our flight was delayed twice and we were bumped onto different flights.

Landed in Los Angeles, proof in hand. At the border I was taken into a side room for a second inspection. They locked us in a room and seized my passport, all within an hour of landing. We discussed the circumstances and the INS officer agreed that a medical certificate would suffice. He looked over it and gave me a deferred inspection set for two weeks later. I was let into the USA, but not given back my passport.

2 weeks went by and we find ourselves back at the INS building. Long story short, the medical certificate wasn't accepted. I left the country and abandoned my pending visa. There was a form I was supposed to file and I didn't have it, despite that I was told that it wasn't needed IN AN EMERGENCY. I was given two options. Be deported on the spot or voluntarily withdraw my abandoned application and leave within 2 weeks.

We took the latter.

I left the country 6 days shy of our one year wedding anniversary. One month before 9-11.

As soon as I landed in Auckland I went straight to the US Embassy to restart my applications. After roaming their computers, they found me and informed me that I was deported. I was on their system as having been deported. This was not what they had told us.

Jump ahead 9 months. I was still in New Zealand, my husband still in the USA. I woke up one day with an idea. My current passport was still in my maiden name. I was going to change my passport to my married name and re-enter the country that way. Not only re-enter, but re-enter with my sister and return tickets for 10 days later.

I entered with no problems. When they asked why we were there, I said Disneyland.

My sister flew back without me 10 days later and I had three months before my visa waiver expired.

Things happened with the Immigration Services after 9-11. They went through several name changes and movements. When I put my residency papers in again before the three months ended, the changes were so severe that they had lost my original application and history from 2001. 10 points for us.

I educated myself about US Immigration. Learned that I needed to file for an Advanced Parole, which is the document you need to leave and re-enter the country while your application for residency is pending. I was granted Advanced Parole 4 times, which saw me through 5 years, but 5 years later my application was still pending. We were now in 2007.

Early 2007 I had Immigration finger printing. At the end of April 2007 I received a letter from them asking for more documentation. I sent the documentation in overnight express certified post. It was received and signed for before 9am the following morning. A month later I received a letter saying that my application for residency has been denied. They hadn't received the required documentation and I was facing deportation with a minimum of 10 years.

I remember the day I got the letter. We were in Que Rico, a Mexican restaurant, listening to a song by Pepe Auguilar called Me Vas Extranar - in English, You're going to miss me. The setting could not have been more hauntingly perfect.

I gave up.
I was ready to go home.
My husband decided it was time to lawyer up.

We saw the lawyer on a Monday. Paid him a $1500 retainer. He gave us too many paperclips and photo copies of legal terms.

The VERY NEXT DAY, I received a letter from the Immigration Services. I put it in the microwave because I didn't want to open it. I left it there for a couple of hours then finally opened it sometime after Oprah finished.

It pretty much said, ignore the letter we sent the other week. We found your paperwork. We do apologise, like a mofo do we apologise, your green card has been granted and you should have it within 10 business days. Welcome to the United States of America.

Most definitely a WTF moment.
I had my green card in my hand the very next day.
It only took 7 years.

New Zealand Immigration - Work Visa Expiry

My husbands work visa for New Zealand was valid for 7 months. When we applied for it I told the Consulate, in specific details, what our intentions were, and the sole reason for coming back short-term, and they were true up until September 11th, 2009.

The Visa was set to expire at the end of December, so in November we began the proceedings for his NZ Residency. Part of this was to complete an intense medical application. In November we began the medical process for the application.

I will tell you that my husbands health has been up and down for as long as we had been married. The first 6 - 7 years he was fine. The next couple of years I noticed he was slowing down somewhat. I played the age card, he's 19 years my senior, and settled with that theory.

After much prods, pokes and pricks, we hit a brick wall. The blood work showed signs of renal failure and severe diabetes. More tests were needed to be done to complete the form. I had to shift into a higher gear so I didn't miss the expiry date for his current visa.

I did a crash course on New Zealand immigration, and I am intimately familiar with the US Immigration, and discovered that I could get away with renewing his work visa without the medical right now. I sent in the paper work before the expiry date, did not take into consideration that the offices would be closed during the Christmas season, and we didn't hear anything back from them for MONTHS. Technically, after Dec 30th, 2009, he was an illegal alien.

We switched Doctors, because the first one told us he was going to die and needed to go back to the United States. That was awesome news. I despised going in to see her and I eventually stopped taking him to the doctors because every visit, which was every 2 weeks, seemed to send me into a depression. After a couple of months of avoiding her, she referred us to another doctor at the practise for a 'second opinion'. The only reason I went was because that doctor was my Aunty's doctor.

Without going into detail, she hooked us up. My husbands visa application had been in for 4 months. I know it was late and I blame myself for not checking out the office public holiday closing dates, but after someone lit a fire under their asses to get onto our paperwork, we received an apologetic email from an Immigration case worker who said our visa would be back in our hands within the week.

And it was so.

Extended for another 6 months.
We needed to begin his residency ASAP.

Proud owners of a mortgage.

Her death was unexpected, but we had a full family send off for her over the 4 days before her funeral. It always seems that sad occasions bring a family together, and they're who you need in times of sadness. As crazy, insane and dramatic as we are to each other, I wouldn't want to be with anyone else.

I was the sole beneficiary of her Estate.
I knew this.
What I didn't know was how soon, how quick it was going to become mine. The chemo treatments were successful, this is what we had been told time and time again. She was doing well.

Her grave begged to differ.

It was hard moving into the house I was raised in. It was hard renovating it and in the first few months, it was hard being in it without her, but we made it our own. We now had a mortgage. We had a car. We had everything back that we couldn't fit into 30 small boxes from Los Angeles.

I had kept her room the way she'd left it up until about a month ago when I moved into it myself because it was a warmer room. Everything she owned I kept or gave to people she loved. My Mum took it upon herself to burn all her clothes because she couldn't muster up the strength to stand seeing anyone else wearing them.

We settled in to ROME at 35.
We were home. There was no going back to Los Angeles now.
We were in it for the long haul.

The beginning.

2008 was the first year in 8 years that we didn't spend christmas alone. Employment was good to us that year. Money was coming in and so we took a cruise in September down the Mexican Baja, and decided to spend the festive season down under in New Zealand, with all my family.

We spent 6 weeks enjoying the country side and family time, and Los Angeles welcomed us back with open arms mid January 2009, but it came at a price. The industry, that normally slows down during the festive season, was struggling to pick itself up out of it's drunken new years state. Work was hard to come by.

After readjusting back into our Los Angeles reality, we got a phone call from New Zealand. An Aunty who raised me was admitted to hospital after having had trouble breathing. She'd walk a short distance and she'd feel like she'd run a marathon.

I was told it was fluid on the lungs, that she'd be in hospital for a few days while it drained and as it drained, the fluid will be tested.

March 2009. Fluid tested, cancerous cells found.
End of March 2009. Cancer of the womb was diagnosed, chemo treatment would begin in April/May.

I must explain my Aunty.
I had a young mother who had two young children. In Maoridom there's a practise known as whangai, which is to adopt without the legalities of adoption. I was whangai'd to my grandmothers two sisters, who were never married, and raised as an only child.

I knew my parents. I knew my brothers and sister and given the situation, we are all quite close. This Aunty, and her sister who passed years earlier, were my mothers. For 30 years of my life, they were Mum.

We didn't hesitate to move back to New Zealand when given the information about my Aunty's health. We were told in March of the diagnoses and I promised to be home in May 2009 in time for her second round of chemotherapy. After a brief discussion with my husband, we felt the need to come back to New Zealand to be with Aunty during her 8 rounds of chemo.

We packed 10 years of Los Angeles into 30 small boxes and shipped them back via sea freight 2 weeks ahead of us. It took 2 days to get the work visa by way of the New Zealand consulate in Santa Monica. Great service considering my US Permanent Residency took 7 years, but that's another story on it's own. We were going home to see my Aunty through her chemo treatments. We decided that we'd look at heading back to the USA around the time the visa expired. Enough time for her to be well again.

We arrived back in New Zealand on the 15th of May 2009. A well looking Aunty greeting us, hairless, but well. I sat through 3 chemo treatments with her over the next couple of months, 4 blood transfusions and countless hospital and doctors visits.

July 2009, treatments were successful. They cancelled her last chemo treatment and booked her in for surgery to remove whatever wasn't burned away from chemo. She was doing well.

August 11, 2009. My husband was sick this week, but I had to go to Wellington to take my Aunty for surgery in the cancer unit. I was torn between two sick people. Staying home and tending to my husband, or driving my Aunty, my Mum, to Wellington and staying with her for the duration of her surgery stay. I went to Wellington. I stayed a night and drove home (4 hour drive), stayed a few days and drove back to Wellington to pick her up again. She was coming home. She felt great, better than she had been in months.

End of August, things weren't right.

She was admitted to hospital twice in the next couple of weeks. One for having a high temperature and the other because she couldn't move. She was in hospital when her monthly specialist appointment came around. I was with her when they told her the cancer had relapsed and spread rapidly. She took it like a champion and nodded in defeat. I took it upon myself to ask the specialist, away from her, what time frame we were looking at.
3 - 6 months.
That was September 10th, 2009.

She passed away shortly after 9am on September 11th, 2009 in hospital.