Immigration is a privilege

So, I recently got my green card renewed without restrictions (Yay, I’m legal until 2020!), and I couldn’t help but think about the ways different forms of privilege I enjoy helped me through this process.  This became especially apparent when I didn’t have to go in for a second interview with INS–I got my renewal in the mail.

Firstly, I’m a white Canadian.  ‘Nuff said.

Money.  I’m sure most of you are already aware of this, but immigrating is not cheap.  We spent at least a grand two years ago for my adjustment of status to resident alien–this includes not just the fees for filing (which went up soon after) but also a retainer for a lawyer, fees for a medical checkup and biometrics, and probably a few other minor things I’m forgetting about.  It cost us another $500 for the renewal, including another round of biometrics.  We could have possibly skipped the lawyer, but we wanted to be sure we did everythign right–the process can be confusing, and it’s not always easy to figure out just what is required of you.

A good job.  Not me, my husband.  First of all, we had to prove that we were financially positioned to support ourselves (this one nearly bit us in the butt from lack of a cosigner, but thankfully the process took longer than expected, so he could get his taxes filed for his first year out of university).  Secondly, he had to take time off work a couple times during the process for various things, mainly stuff involving driving me places (his truck is a stick, dammit), but he did need to be present for our interview.  Fortunately, the lawyer didn’t, which saved us some money there.  And finally, since I couldn’t work during the initial process (permission for that would have cost more than it may have been worth), he was able to support both of us on his salary.

Independent transportation.  Well, not really, since
my husband drove me most of the time (including a last minute break
from work when my ride got stuck in traffic, so I could make the second
part of my medical exam).  The medical exam required two appointments
two days apart, and needed to be performed by a certified doctor. 
There’s exactly three doctors in this city of a quarter million people
that are able to do this.  We also had to go to Omaha three times (twice
initially, once upon renewal), which is an hour away, as that’s the
nearest DHS office to us.  I’m not sure how we would have managed if
Jeff didn’t have his own vehicle and the ability to take time off work.

Health.  I needed to undergo a doctor’s evaluation,
as well as prove that I was up to date on my vaccinations.  Fortunately I
have no real medical issues.

Heterosexuality.  Not an immigration issue per se,
but since the whole point was to be able to live with the man I love, a
definite bonus for us–our options basically boiled down to ‘get
married’.  Had I fallen for a woman instead, we’d've been screwed, at
least in this state.

I’m sure I’m missing things, but these are the major ones I can
identify.  Had any one of these things been different, I have no doubt
that the process would have been more difficult, if not impossible.  If I
were a POC from a different country, the interview would have probably
been harder, and we would have probably wound up paying extra to have
our lawyer with us.  If my husband didn’t have as good a job, there’s a
number of ways that could have made it harder.

The process for us was pretty straightforward, but it was still
nerve-wreaking at times, and often frustrating as there was a lot of
waiting involved–the initial process took 9 months start to finish, the
renewal 5 or 6.  I don’t want to touch on the issue of illegal
immigration, because the whole thing is a cluster, but I will say
this–being on the inside of the process gave us a new understanding of
it.

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5 Comments

  1. Kessei
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations, Jayn. You’re right, most people just have NO idea of how aggravating and complicated the process usually is.
    One thing I’d like to point out to the reading audience: it sounds as if you adjusted based on a marriage to a US citizen. You therefore didn’t have to wait until you hit a priority date. The two years was just processing time.
    Everybody’s happy friend, the Visa Bulletin: http://travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_1360.html
    Instructions for use: Click on a month (say, July 2010). Find your preference category, and scan over to find your country category. The month listed is how long ago you would have had to file your petition for you to be eligible to have Citizenship and Immigration Services begin processing your application. And, yes, for brothers and sisters of US citizens from the Philippines, the July bulletin DOES say “April 1989″.
    Cheers!

  2. Marj
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Actually, the two years was because we hadn’t been married very long when I first applied–my old green card was a conditional two-year one. I had to apply to have the conditions removed, rather than just a straight renewal, this time around.
    It’ll still be another year before I can apply for citizenship. (Another thing people don’t seem to realise–permanent residency and citizenship are two different things. I see them conflated all the time in immigration discussions.)

  3. joji
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes, indeed it is. It took me five years (in a European country) to get my papers, and it was a nightmare. I didn’t have money, heterosexuality, independent transportation, or a good job, which didn’t help. I DID have white skin, a passport from a rich country, a good education and fluency in the language (I’d add those to your list), which sure as hell did. A support system is also very important, on two levels: the kind that can help you cope with stress (had that) and the kind that has been through the same process and can point you in the right direction (didn’t).
    Congrats, Jayn. If you haven’t already thought of it, you might consider volunteering for an advocacy/immigrant rights association, if you’re in a position to do so–for me it’s been a really rewarding way to put the knowledge I accumulated about the immigration system to good use and feel like I’m giving something back, since I never would have gotten my papers without the wise advice of some volunteers I’ll never forget. Every time I go into the office I hear stories that make me realize how privileged I’ve been–people who arrived here as teenagers clinging to the bottom of a truck, without speaking a word of the language, people who are supporting ten family members back home, people who have been stopped by the police because they’re black, been given expulsion orders and now have no hope of becoming legal residents for at least ten years, people who have had permanently disabling accidents while working off the books, people born here, raised here who suddenly find themselves considered “illegal” when they reach 18, people who have been cheated out of thousands of hard-earned euros by someone who promised to get them papers because they were helpless and grasping at straws; I could go on and on… yeah, it makes you feel pretty damn lucky. But knowledge is power, and if you can pass a little of it on, then your luck might turn out to be someone else’s luck, too.

  4. joji
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    PS: You’d have been screwed even in a state with same-sex marriage if your partner had been female, because immigration is regulated at the federal level, not the state level. The Uniting American Families Act is a bill that would change this, though I’m not sure it really has a chance so long as the Defense of Marriage Act still stands.

  5. Kessei
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, after I posted I was like, “wait, maybe she was talking about the removal of the conditions”. D’oh! My bad. Thanks for clarifying. :)
    Still, one of my friends has been waiting FOUR YEARS to get his wife’s I-485 adjudicated. So the processing times are still nuts.

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