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.

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