My SIL is one of my favorite people, sweet and kind, intelligent, and possessed with a wicked wit. It is distressing to me to see this bureaucratic BS happen to someone trying desperately to follow both the letter and spirit of the law.- JRS
Sometimes it is hard not to have positive expectations. If one does what they are supposed to, they tend to expect the same of others. That isn't very realistic, especially when it comes to dealing with pencil pushers on the public dollar. My wife was a productive, integrated member of American society. She was tax paying, English speaking and moving up in her job. The I-751 seemed like it would be a piece of cake. She was obeying the law, aren't there ten million or so people blatantly breaking immigration law? We'd just endured Katrina in Mobile, Al. The hardships boiled down to going without power for one week however wondering if your residence is going to get blown away lessens other concerns.
We filled out the forms, included some additional documents, put the $200 check in and mailed it. Nineteen days letter we received a letter back asking for additional documentation. This distressed us a great deal. We were back to the "what if they say no?" concerns.
Documenting a relationship is difficult. Short of pornographic material or a child it really is hard to prove that there is a valid relationship. They wanted things like mortgages. Being reasonably intelligent individuals with decent math skills we had chosen not to buy something we were ill prepared for (apparently unlike millions of Americans). We searched and found various things, pictures of us at the zoo, on a roller coaster, a laser etched glass depiction of us at a party, etc... when it was all said and done USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, take that NCIS!) was the recipient of about half a tree. They had everything, including multiple to ways of contacting us.
One fact we were unaware of was that our "local" USCIS office was in New Orleans. So, when the letter arrived from USCIS stating we were awaiting a interview date in Atlanta we were put at ease. A interview would be easy, papers can only say so much but my wife and I had been inseparable for the past few years and there was no denying the legitimacy of our relationship in person.
We became a bit worried when our I-751 receipt number did not show up when we went to the Atlanta USCIS site. A few phone calls to customer service informed us that the Atlanta office was busy and it would be up to a year for our interview date. We also learned that they could not provide the interview date over the phone. Expectations, again... we would wait and they would update the site when they set a interview date. It might take a while, but this is the government so that's to be expected. We periodically checked online and kept a eye on the mail awaiting the date.
Almost a week before my birthday a letter arrived from USCIS. I happily ripped it open, expecting to see a interview date. Instead I read this text:
"You were required to appear for processing of the petition...
You did not appear and did not notify the Service of any reason why you were unable to keep the appointment...
This notice further serves to inform you that the permanent resident status previously accorded to you is hereby terminated...
You may request a review of this determination at removal proceedings..."
I responded by punching a hole in the wall. Since we did not go to a interview we were never notified of, my wife was a illegal alien! The only recourse was to request a review during deportation proceedings. These guys have like ten ways of contacting us and didn't manage to succeed. The status was never updated online, even though the hot line instructed us to check it for our status. They can't do something that simple correctly, yet they were essentially sentencing my wife in absentia. Her absence was proof of her "guilt" and no other possibility had been taken into account.
We had to find a way to fix this. Unfortunately it was a Saturday and we can't expect much of the government on a Saturday, or Sunday. We took that time to round up information, discuss the matter on message boards and consult a lawyer. The typical response was that in those types of letters they always tell you how to appeal. In this case they seemed to have skipped that part. The opinions were split between a appointment with USCIS, a appeal or contacting our Congressman. The lawyer recommended a appeal. My wife called in sick on the following Monday and called USCIS. What better way to resolve this than talking to a USCIS employee? They said this was something that should be easily resolved, just schedule a appointment.
To schedule a appointment you give your information then select a time and date out of those available. We came prepared, with a mountain of papers. We had scheduled appointment in Atlanta. You don't do something like that if you are too lazy to show up to a interview. Expecting a person in a room (again), we ended up with a DMV style pick a number system. Why on earth you have to schedule a appointment at a specific time then walk into a big room and pick a number makes no sense to me.
The room was filled with people from all over the world. Russia, India, Africa and so on. They called the numbers out in English and Spanish. I was struck by the bias that showed. Our number was called and we marched up to the window with our papers. I explained the situation and the response was infuriating:
"We can't do that over the counter".
We went all the way to Atlanta because a USCIS employee told us to and once we arrive we were told to go back home. In fact, we were told to MAIL!!! a appeal to the location we were at. Go back and pay $385 and they might accept the appeal. Well, in truth she suggested not including the check because they'll cash it even if they don't accept the appeal (how is that not a crime?) but we were not going to give them reason to screw things up further.
One week after we mailed the appeal, our receipt arrived in the mail. Under time frame they put "other" and the slightly torn envelope had not even been closed. It would appear that with only $385 you can't afford to get a government employee to seal a envelope. We didn't know for sure if the appeal was accepted or what my wife's status was in the mean time. Our understanding was that she was a legal immigrant during the appeal but we had no proof of that or anything specific regarding her working permission. Also, from what we understood if the appeal was not accepted she would continue to be a illegal immigrant. With a green card that had experienced months earlier, my wife's life was put into limbo.
She couldn't leave America lest she be unable to return. She couldn't apply for a job because she had no idea what her working permission was. We were afraid to move because moving might give the government one more chance to screw things up (that required filing a form to. What does that entail if the individual attempting to update their address is considered a illegal alien? Is it even acknowledged?). After two months and no contact from USCIS we contacted them. My wife called the misinformation line and was informed that there was a change in her status. After they took her phone number and email address she was told to expect to be contacted in around a month. A month later my wife called the line again, she was told that they could not view the status of the petition and advised my wife to write a letter to USCIS.
The letter was promptly mailed. After three months of no response my wife called the line again. They repeated that customer service could not view the status of the appeal. After five more months of waiting and no contact of any sort from USCIS we consulted with a lawyer. Their advice was to contact our congressman. We chose to mail Congressman Jo Bonner.
One month later Jo Bonner's office contacted us and included email correspondence with USCIS stating that we could go to Atlanta USCIS for proof of my wife's status. We scheduled our appointment, traveled to Atlanta and were not in the least surprised when we were told they could not give us proof of my wife's status. I became adamant that they should be able to do this and brandished the letter from Jo Bonner. Bureaucrat A discussed things with Bureaucrat B and we overheard them state that the computer said my wife was still waiting for a interview date. Keep in mind that this is a full year after my wife's petition was denied. In fact, had I not been brandishing said denial they might have tried convincing us that she was still waiting for her interview (this scenario does provide a explanation for her not being notified though).
After a while they explained that because our Congressman was involved only one employee of the large Atlanta USCIS office could help us. Of course this individual was not there that day for a unknown reason. They asked us to come back next Monday. I became flustered. Next Monday? We were from Mobile, AL! We'd already been there once on false information, it appeared this was happening again and we were being told to come back again on the off-chance that the person who could help us might be there? After my rant I was informed that I could fill out a form and because Officer Roberts was a nice person we could expect them to contact us within a week (contacting Officer Roberts was strictly forbidden).
We sauntered back to Alabama and waited for a response. A week passed, then a month and after over three months passed we decided to update Jo Bonner. Essentially I tried to find a nice way of saying that we had been lead on a wild goose chase and asked the Congressman to put us in contact with a individual that could help resolve this matter.
Almost immediately we received a letter in response saying they had again contacted USCIS. After six months of no contact from USCIS and no contact from Jo Bonner we mailed again to politely ask Jo Bonner if there was any change and if perhaps we had somehow missed some correspondence. Shortly thereafter the response arrived in the mail. It matched the previous letter from Jo Bonner word for word. We were not surprised.
My wife's green card expired on 11/16/05. It has been twenty two months since my wife's I-751 petition was denied. No one from USCIS has contacted myself or my wife regarding deportation, the I-751, her appeal or her immigration status. My wife's father is in poor health and Thyssenkrupp is opening a multi-billion dollar facility in Mobile. My wife is afraid to leave the country or pursue employment opportunities due to her uncertain status. We wanted to live in America because it offered more freedom. My wife hardly feels free right now. Government has a way of doing that to you.