Immigration has been one of the biggest issues of the past year–and its still one that no one has managed to solve. Last summer, all people could talk about was immigration, and it seemed that this was going to be the problem that broke the country’s back. In November, President Obama issued an executive order that granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. The illegality of President Obama’s means should not go unnoticed, but it is indicative of the larger problem surrounding immigration reform. Based on our elected officials’ actions, it appears that the only practical way to solve the problem is either to neglect it or make radical changes to American legislation–neither of which are a recipe for success.
I’m not trying to set out a plan of reform in this article; legislation is not my specialty. I do, however, want to tell you a story about the real pain surrounding the immigration process, indicating the areas that are still in dire need of reform.
This story is about Allee and Martin, a young couple who maintained a long-distance relationship for three years before marrying last summer. Allee met Martin while living in Germany, and they continued their relationship when Allee came back to the States. It’s a sweet love story of defying the odds, but the story gets complicated when they get married. Their official anniversary celebrates the civil service the two had in Germany, Martin’s home country. After spending a month together, Allee returned to the States to attend graduate school.
Their trouble began when it was time to start applying for a green card, as the couple had decided to settle in America. Family members cannot wait in the U.S. for a visa to be processed unless they are already here legally; however, the law doesn’t define how to bring them here legally as family members generally can’t wait in the country.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services arm (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security processes all visas and green cards. Like any good law-abiding citizen, Allee filed his visa, which should have taken them 6 months to approve (received July 29, 2014, processed January 30, 2015). At this point, everything was going according to plan, and the USCIS approved the application and sent it to the next stop, which is the National Visa Center. The remaining process was described as follows:
The above petition has been approved. We have sent the original petition to the Department of State National Visa Center (NVC). NVC processes all approved immigrant visa petitions that need consular action. It also determines which consular post is the appropriate consulate to complete visa processing. NVC will then forward the approved petition to that consulate.
The assumption was that it would take 30 days to approve and send off to the German consulate for approval. However, Allee never heard from the NVC. After doing some digging on her own, she discovered that it’s not as simple as “[determining] which consular post is the appropriate consulate…[and] then [forwarding] the approved petition.” Far from it, there is a flow chart on the State Department that lays out the process in detail. This lengthy flow chart appears to be simple, but each subsection has a number of steps, making the process far more complicated than they describe. Allee still hasn’t heard from the NVC regarding the application status.
The bureacracy had kept Martin’s application tied up in a legal morass. By late February, Allee had been dealing with at least 3 federal entities (the USCIS, the State Department, and the NVC). At the beginning of March, Allee spoke with a staffer from the Representative Marchant’s office who said they can’t help because the couple is still within the NVC’s general processing timeframe. Once they receive his visa, they take 30-90 days to approve it, then contact him to pick an agent to represent him (processing time = 15 days), then he pays the fee (5 days), then he has to prove his financial stability (60 days), and then they make him an appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Germany (wait time unknown), and, finally, he attends his interview and waits for his visa to arrive (30 days). This will likely lead to a September immigration date.
The total processing time for the spouse of a U.S. citizen to join their loved one is 15 months. Apparently, this is the fastest way to receive a green card. If this isn’t enough trouble, an added frustration is that you can’t start filling out the form, let alone file it, until you are absolutely positive you have everything. If you mess up, the whole thing could be seriously delayed or even denied.
Now in mid-March, Allee has to wait at least 3 more months before she can live in the same country as her husband.
As Americans, we ought to be asking ourselves if this is the kind of country we want to be. Our convoluted immigration system is keeping loved ones apart. In the great immigration debate, this darker side of the problem is often neglected. Politicians are holding to rigidly partisan views instead of dealing with the problem, appropriately. There are families out there just like Allee and Martin who are trying to navigate the muddled waters of the USCIS; many doing so alone because immigration lawyers are expensive.
Why on earth does something like immigrating to this country–legally–have to become a marathon? It would have seemed much easier to loosen the regulations on immigration policy than to take the bad press associated with the executive overreach in President Obama’s amnesty program. Yet, lest we forget, as with all big-government entities, they aren’t designed to serve the citizen. They are designed to serve the government.