The Journey to Citizenship – The Easy Beginning
There she stood with her right arm raised and that wonderful smile amidst all the other raised arms and smiling faces of America’s newest citizens. I snapped a quick picture and returned to my chair so others could take pictures of their loved ones. As I sat in my seat and waited for the oath ceremony to conclude, I couldn’t help but remember all the hard work and dedication that went into getting my wife into this large conference room where she would emerge a citizen of the United States. It had been a long, crazy journey, but my mind was finally at rest. She now had opportunities in her life not afforded to her family and so many others in Thailand. I silently let out a huge sigh.
This is a story of that journey. It is not cathartic as much as informative for those of you with a good heart and a desire to do the best they can for their loved ones, in this case, my wonderful wife who started her life in Thailand. Although this story has a happy ending, be prepared; there are many places where you will want to jump from your chair in anger. Such is the current immigration system in America. Under Obama’s administration it can only get better, it cannot get worse.
He sat in his office listening intently to my story. Although I was talking, I was also looking around his office. There were piles of folders not so much scattered around as they were strategically placed in case he needed to fetch one with an easy two step grab. Not looking at all like an attorney’s office, his desk was an old government issue and his suit was obviously bought at mark down in a second rate clothes store. This was in stark contrast to the window behind him which presented a beautiful view of San Francisco bay; on this day a still cobalt blue with silver clouds above. But he had a friendly face and he listened intently.
My story was simple enough. A few months earlier I had met and fallen in love with a beautiful woman from Thailand who was visiting America on a visitor’s visa. Our relationship had developed such that now we contemplated marriage. There were a few problems, though; her visa was soon to expire and she was still married in Thailand. I explained to my new attorney that her husband, an officer in the armed forces, had been spending every night out with his friends until early in the morning. When my sweetie found evidence of a mia noi, she confronted him. He laughingly told her too bad, divorce me and get nothing or learn to live with it. She decided to visit family and friends in America to take a break. Now she wanted to marry me. What can we do?
He smiled warmly and said that she should not worry about her visa for now. Visitors can overstay their visa by six months without any penalty. I asked if she could go back to Thailand and divorce her husband and then return? No, she would have to wait another six months after returning and by that time; we could probably have filed a fiancé visa. The thought of being without my sweetie for six months was devastating; I had grown so used to that smile and her calm ways. I asked again, wasn’t there anything we could do? He said that the Thai embassy and consulates have the power to grant divorces to Thai citizens living in America. Interesting, I said. Now, how much do I owe you for this visit? Nothing, he said, I have just given you a little advice. If you need more, then we can discuss money. Wow, I thought; no wonder he has to buy cheap clothes, but I was envious of his good nature and calm demeanor.
That evening, I told my sweetie what the attorney said. She said nothing and just stood still for a few seconds. Then she said that maybe something could be worked out, kissed me, and then went to bed. The next morning she was busy on her cell phone talking Thai to more than a few people. I did not suspect anything was wrong, but I was worried that she would not be able to stay in America. I decided that for the near future, I would adopt her attitude of wait and see.
I was driving back from a customer call in Walnut Creek when my cell phone rang. It was my sweetie calling to say that her husband was coming to San Francisco this Friday night so he could sign the divorce papers. What? She said that the Thai consulate can grant divorces but both parties had to be there in person. Her husband wanted to marry his mia noi so they had made an arrangement for him to come to America to get the divorce. Wow, I thought, for such an asshole he was really being nice about this; no requests for money or anything else. Friday night, he stayed at his brother’s house and early Saturday morning; all three of them piled into a VW Beetle and headed off to Los Angeles. When my sweetie returned late that same day, she had her divorce in hand. This was amazing; in one day, she had accomplished what took me years to do to my ex-wife. The next day, we started to make wedding plans.
A couple of weeks later, I started to receive emails from somebody in Thailand. At first, they were in Thai script so I did not understand what they said. Then I received one in English and it was clear this was one pissed-off person. Reading between the threats on my life and my sweetie’s, I determined it was from her now ex-husband. I called my sweetie over and asked her what was happening. At first, she would not answer but after much cajoling, she told me what was happening. Along with her brother-in-law, who absolutely loved my sweetie, she told her old husband that if he traveled to America and signed the divorce papers, she would pay him all this money when she was able to work here. When he figured out he had been snookered, he started with the emails. She was not sure how he got my email address but I suspected her brother-in-law had given it to him as some sort of consolation prize. After a week the emails stopped and we resumed with our weeding plans.
Later that month, we were married in a private ceremony in a small chapel at the base of Yosemite National Park. We could not arrange for all of my family to attend so we decided that no one would. We had to move fast as my sweetie was approaching her six month overstay deadline; so family be damned unfortunately. When we returned, we met with an immigration attorney that had helped many of my sweetie’s friends within her particular Thai network in America. For a set fee, he helped us fill out all the forms and made copies of relevant documents for my sweetie’s application for permanent residency. Within a few weeks, my wife was called in for fingerprints and a week later we went to the social security office where she received her permit to work. The next day, she started work as a waitress at her brother-in-law’s restaurant. He ex-husband really must have been a jerk for his own brother to cross him like this.
The American immigration process seemed to be a well-oiled machine at this point. Our attorney said that we could expect a notice for my sweetie’s interview for her green card (permanent residency) within 9 months. But storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. My secure job was now not so secure as our business unit in the western US was faltering. I looked around and found a group longing for my services in Washington, DC. I interviewed for the job and accepted their offer a few days later. Within weeks we were on the road driving across America to our new home.
A few days after we arrived, we received a notice for the interview in San Francisco a few months in the future. As our immigration attorney had already filed a change of address form, we had to cancel this interview and wait for our case to be transferred to the east coast office; and wait we did. One year later we had still not heard from the immigration office, or as it is called USCIS, or U-scuz, because as we would find out, that’s just what they are. This particular agency, unlike just about any other US federal agency, is immune from the threats of lawyers. Our immigration attorney, although very bright and energetic, admitted he had little power to find out the status of my sweetie’s case. He suggested, without a hint of humor, that we write our congressman. So I looked up who my congressman was in the great state of Virginia.
During the past year, we received two notices for my wife to get fingerprinted as these records are only good for six months. I am not sure how she would change her fingerprints in between these appointments but I accept that somehow, someone had successfully done this in the past. Anyway, I located my congressman’s website and surprisingly, there was a separate contact email for immigration issues. I imagined that besides the President, only Congress had any sway on these bureaucrats. I sent an email explaining my wife’s position and soon received a reply asking me to fax certain documents. I did so immediately. Within a month, my wife received a notice to appear for an interview in May 2005. Our attorney advised that we not only take every scrape of paperwork related to my wife’s case, including photographs of us together, but to make copies and bring them as well. When the fateful day arrived, I thought we were well prepared. Little did I know what insanity waited.
Everything I have heard about getting a Thai woman permanent residency and citizenship in a foreign country makes it sound like a nightmare!