I’ve been trying since last November, then again in January, April, and June to sit down and properly share our immigration status. But the last year has been lived in the moment, with little luxury of time to write and muse about it all. I lost my grandmother, started to swim, turned 40, have weathered budget cuts at work, and perhaps most notably, finally decided to move forward with Margo’s I-212 waiver application and everything it implies.
We’d been dragging our feet a little bit with moving forward with the I-212 application. If approved, it would waive Margo’s previously inadmissibility due to having previously “entered without inspection” and having stayed more than a year after that. We technically could have filed it 2 years ago, on September 18, 2016. But certain factors slowed us down: the cost (several thousand USD), my Mexican salary, the Trump candidacy and later victory, and the dread of the flipside – the possible rejection.
I’m not sure if it was my grandmother’s death last September and the resulting growing desire to make visiting family together easier. Or if it was the urgency created by the perception of a door slowly being closed on the northern side of the border (given the current administration’s unceasing attacks on immigrants). But by November of last year, we’d made our mind up to finally give the I-212 a try.
The I-212 has mythical status in our family. Since 2003, it’s surfaced again and again as the key step to rectify Margo’s immigration status. The one thing that would allow our family freedom and autonomy again. In reality there’s obviously so much more to it than that.
And yet so much hangs on a singular decision made by a USCIS agent when reviewing that package of papers. And so, perhaps with the exception of the consular interview, there is no other step that’s loaded with as much importance, at least for our family. For others in similar situations it’s the I-601 waiver, a slightly different type, the famous “hardship” waiver.
Since my family’s future quite literally hangs in the balance of the I-212 waiver, from the moment we decided to go through with it last November, I put every last ounce of my attention to detail and motivation to make sure it was the best effort possible.
That ranged from conducting an small campaign to raise several thousand dollars in legal fees and application costs; to recruiting, collecting, writing, and organizing the approximately 85 pieces of evidence to be included in the 236-page waiver packet (70% longer than my Master’s thesis) – including 13 letters of support, Margo’s and my own personal treatises on why he/we deserve consideration, and 258 scanned passport pages.
And then, to prevent myself from experiencing crushing defeat in the case it’s denied, I simultaneously told myself that the results didn’t truly matter.
Everybody wants to be happy and content with their life, no matter the circumstances. There have been many moments in the last 12 years, even extended periods of time, where that was the case. That’s encouraging to me because it means I could be prepared for, and could potentially weather, that ever-present possibility that Margo, our daughter, and I might never be able to return to the U.S. as a family.
Lest I seem appear cynical, that possibility could be increasing. There is an uptick in denials at what ought to be the ‘final step’ or ‘rubber stamp’ consular interviews. Memos that tighten the rules on visa processing are making it incrementally harder to achieve a successful application.
At best, our lawyer told us to prepare to wait for at least 2 months, if not 13 months, to hear anything back about the package that she sent in on our behalf to the San Diego field office of the U.S. Customs and Immigration service this past June. That was her longest wait for a response on a waiver application. To add to that, she shared reports that positive communication between immigration attorneys and USCIS field offices is intentionally being decreased.
This is the environment in which my 17-year old bid to bring Margo back with me to my home country is culminating in. So it’s only normal that I am inclined to prepare myself for the worst.
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Despite my low expectations for hearing back about the waiver any time in 2018, on the bright side, they did cash our $900 processing fee less than a month after receiving it. So even though USCIS is not known for its approachability lately, our lawyer and I did chat about creative ways to try and get in touch with the San Diego office.
Our lawyer, Laura, is based in Milwaukee, and thus has more contacts in that region. But a friend from college who recently came to visit mentioned that a fellow alum of ours’ wife was an immigration lawyer in San Diego. That made me think she might have a local contact for the office. Laura agreed, and I’ve been attempting to get in touch with the friend’s wife through my friend for the last month.
But life, of course, goes on amidst all this. Work has been unusually hectic even on the heels of a particularly hectic summer. September’s always just generally upbeat with Mexican Independence Day, our daughter’s birthday this past Tuesday, a date shared by our 12-year anniversary in Mexico, and my 7-year anniversary of my Mexican naturalization. So, unable to really catch a breath, the message about the waiver was still pending.
Then, Friday morning, taking a brief break from getting ready for a team meeting after a big visit from headquarters last week, I checked my messages and casually saw one from my mother that said “a letter came for Margo that says he is approved to reapply for admission.”
My hands started to tremble and my mind raced as my thoughts struggled to catch up with what my eyes saw. My one thought was I needed to say this out loud in order to believe it. So I made my way upstairs to our office area, closed the door, and told two volunteers what happened. Knowing our story, they immediately started jumping and screaming, and hugging me – which made it feel very real. I sat down and felt my heart pounding, and suddenly couldn’t think much about what I’d been working on just 10 before.
As it started to sink in, I started to think about all the people I needed to tell – Margo, our lawyer, my brother, close friends, other colleagues, and things started to feel very surreal. Grinning back at the volunteers, and excusing myself for a moment, I went to look for my boss, and when I couldn’t find him, I went to find another colleague who wrote a reference letter. When I told him the news, his eyes turned to saucers, and he hugged me, my body started to rack with sobs – not sadness, not joy necessarily – just raw emotion.
The director ran in, and I filled her in on what happened. After talking with my boss, we agreed I needed to go home early to tell Margo in person. It was probably better that way, because as much as I tried to concentrate, I simply couldn’t.
There was a moment in that hour before I went home, where I wondered out loud how long the feeling would last. I even asked whether I should let myself feel the happiness. That is what 17 years of your fate lying in the balance of a piece of paper will do. But regardless of the source of the happiness, I decided to let myself feel it. I decided that even if it only lasted one afternoon, we deserved to experience that joy. And I hightailed it home to break the news to Margo.
We did, of course, celebrate immediately and wholeheartedly. It felt as if a years-long weight had been suddenly lifted from me. 24 hours later, the glow was punctuated by normal trepidations about next steps. 36 hours later, some of the kinds of fears I once had twelve years ago when thinking about making an international move south of the border poked their nose in. 48 hours later, although the adrenaline rush has abated, the good feeling still remains. It’s tempered by the knowledge that good friends and many allies have also gotten to this step only to be shot down by technicalities, and have had to sadly start again, or even put away their dreams.
But rather than let the obstacles dominate my vision, I plan to draw on the perspective I’ve developed over the last 17 years about how to not let fear control my life.
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p.s. Grandma, if this had anything to do with you, thank you.