It would be unfair of me to say that I fully grasp the immense emotional and mental strain the naturalization process puts on people, but I am pretty darn close. I feel the need to discuss this issue because to be quite honest, dealing with the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) has been far and away the most important aspect of my wife’s preparation to go abroad with me. I admit, this may not hold universal applicability to typical international students reading this, nonetheless, I still feel the need to speak up about our experiences.
I luckily do not need to completely re-tell our whole story, as I can simply pull excerpts from a letter I recently wrote to my local congressman’s office (George Radanovich) to help illustrate just what we have gone through over the last seven months or so. Bear in mind that while I may be new to this, Blanca has been dealing with the INS for over 13 years now. Most of the letter’s contents are as follows:
On July 29, 2006 I married the woman of my dreams, Blanca Mendoza, who is a Resident Alien. Blanca was born 24 years ago in Michoacán, Mexico, and like me, has lived in the central valley for the past 13 years. She also graduated with honors from Fresno State in 2006 with degrees in both Criminology and Psychology. Blanca currently works as a Behavior Consultant with Learning Arts, an organization that offers personalized treatment for children with Autism.
During my undergraduate studies I developed a love for international business and decided, after three years of full-time work experience in commercial banking, to pursue my MBA. I have recently been accepted to ESADE, one of the premier MBA programs in the world, located in Barcelona, Spain. I will begin my studies in August of this year, and my wife and I have been diligently working to arrange our documents to prepare for the voyage since before I was even accepted.
This brings me to our current situation. As a US citizen, I have admittedly been oblivious to the hardships that befall non-citizens in this country seeking to obtain citizenship. My wife, a clearly accomplished and hard working contributor to society, has helped open my eyes as of late.
Shortly after Blanca and I were married, her younger sister managed to find her way through the gauntlet that is the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) to obtain her citizenship. She had applied nearly a year prior, and finally had her interview scheduled. When she arrived at the INS office for the interview, it was then the interviewer discovered that she had filled out the incorrect application form. At this point, she was told she needed to fill out a new application and wait again for it to be processed.
Two months after this incident my sister-in-law had her meeting and was granted her certificate of citizenship. This brings us to September of 2006. My wife, observing the struggles her sister endured, called the INS to ensure she would fill out the appropriate application. She mentioned the hardship her sister encountered, and was assured this would not be a problem.
After completing the forms, my wife sent off her application package in late October, and the enclosed check for $255 was cashed within three days. Meanwhile, I had just been accepted to the aforementioned MBA program and we crossed our fingers that her citizenship application would be processed in time to allow for her to apply for her passport, and then her visa to accompany me in Spain for the duration of the 18-month program.
Flash forward to January 2007. Blanca scheduled an appointment with the INS to check the status of her application and learned that they are currently backlogged one year. This news devastated us, however, she was informed she could schedule another appointment to petition for an expedited application, given our situation. We gathered all the information we could think of – my acceptance letter listing the date I need to arrive, a copy of the receipt for the $8,000 deposit I made to hold my place in the program, etc. After presenting the documents to the INS to petition, Blanca was told she would need to schedule another appointment in the future if she wished to find out if the petition was granted, as they do not answer questions over the phone.
This brings us to the events that transpired over the last week. Time is running out, the petition to expedite was granted, and Blanca had her appointment scheduled for Thursday, March 22nd to receive her certificate of citizenship. We experienced a rollercoaster of emotions after receiving notification that her appointment was granted, but this excitement was short-lived.
On Tuesday, March 20th, Blanca received a phone call from the officer in charge of her case at the INS. He informed her that he had just taken a look at her application and realized she had filled out the wrong form. Not only that, but the form she should have filled out is a petition for citizenship, as she achieved resident status just after turning 18 and thus is not considered a citizen, as was her younger sister. This was a blow we were not prepared to take.
So here we are, just over one month from our appointments to acquire our Spanish visas and we have this bomb dropped on us. I must ask, why did it take over six months for the INS workers to look at this application and realize it was incorrect? Why, two days before the appointment to obtain this dangling carrot called citizenship, were we told that the INS employee who ensured us six months ago we had the correct application was wrong? Why?
This has been the most degrading, insulting, and frustrating experience of my life and I would like to know what accountability these workers at the INS have? Who follows up? Who do they answer to? Is this story of two sisters receiving nearly identical treatment an anomaly or merely the norm? What is the solution? I feel as though we have been stolen from, and not simply in a monetary sense, but also of time, time that I will not have to spend with my wife when I relocate to Spain.
So, here we are now, Monday, March 26, 2007, and Blanca just had the appointment at the INS last Thursday where she was originally supposed to receive her certificate of citizenship. What did she walk away with instead? A new application to submit, this time that must be sent to Nebraska for processing – of course with another check enclosed, this one for $400.00 (Application was shown received on Saturday, March 24th at the INS in Nebraska, according to USPS tracking number). She learned that the process typically takes four months, which means had they instructed her to complete the proper application in the first place she would have already gained her citizenship by now. We also learned that it is going to be unlikely that Blanca will be able to come to Spain with me, her husband, for the entire duration of my studies and that we will now have to fund multiple return flights to accommodate for her continued efforts to get her Spanish visa.
I could go into more details about the actual application process by discussing the incorrect and out-of-date instruction “guides” that accompany the application, but that would be too tedious. I will just say we are uncertain what these checks we have been sending to the INS have been contributing to, but we feel it is safe to presume it is not being put toward updating forms or customer service training.
In the end, I feel it is a sad realization I have come to as of late, seeing the struggles of ordinary contributors to our society, like my wife, who simply want to become naturalized citizens of this country they have been living in for some time now. It is no wonder in my mind why we have so many “illegals” in this country, as it is clear to me that they simply don’t want the troubles of dealing with our system. It is also sad to me that I have strongly considered the prospect of permanently relocating to Europe after my MBA, as I have grown bitter knowing that a portion of my tax dollars have been funding the ongoing, ridiculous practices at the INS.
In closing I must say I feel helpless at this point and have decided this is the last place I can turn. I do not know what, if anything, can be done to remedy our problems. Nevertheless, I am willing to give anything a try at this point, as I struggle to find answers to the poor treatment my wife and I have received.
When I hand delivered this letter to Radanovich’s office it was read immediately by a woman who deals specifically with these issues. The initial response was what I can only describe as defensiveness, however when I made it clear I simply wanted to find a reasonable solution to our problem the tide seemed to change.
In the weeks that followed Blanca’s application was processed and she has her appointment next week to get her fingerprinting and background check. After this is done, she will have to wait for an appointment to have her interview/test. From here, assuming she passes, she can take her oath of citizenship and may apply for her US passport.
We are convinced that there simply isn’t enough time for her to get through all this in addition to applying for her visa, so our objective at the present is to simply get her passport so she can travel with me to Barcelona as originally planned, but just before classes begin she will return to Fresno and apply for her visa. It will likely be a two-month process, however once it is complete she can return to Barcelona and we will be able to be together for the remainder of the 18-month program. We have only been apart one other time, and that was for just over three months while I attended Credit College in New York. It is a painful prospect to have to do it again, but I’m confident we can handle it and will come out stronger than ever when all is said and done.
I’ll make my next post soon and provide a description of the process I have gone through to prepare for my visa appointment with the Spanish consulate.
“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” – Reinhold Niebuhr