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TIO SAMThis morning I woke up alone for the 29th day in a row. Okay, I’m exaggerating (there’s always the little babe to snuggle with) but my man is gone. He’s spending six weeks solo up in NYC while he waits for his absolute last and final appointment from US Citizenship and Immigration services. On April 23rd, he’ll take his Oath to become an American citizen. Yep, he’s done it: gone GRINGO. It’s hard for the both of us to believe. I still have nightmares that he’ll show up at the Oath and they’ll find some way to reject him. I suppose I’m a bit skeptical after a long, arduous process.

It all started in July of 2002 when we met by chance here in Oaxaca. We hit it off, spent about a week together. I returned to NYC and my life, and he returned to his. But when we separated we were both left with a yearning.  So began our long distance courtship. In a pre-Skype era, I became a phone card connoisseur. We talked for hours, began to know one another.   We sent packages back and forth. Then I started going down for visits. Day of the Dead, Christmas, Spring Break. After my fifth trip and a summer back-packing Central America together, we thought that Miguel should come to NYC.  It seemed the natural progression of events in a normal relationship, no?  Alas, borders cause problems. And so our roller-coaster of Immigration trials and tribulations had begun.

Stars and Stripes

2002  – Applied for tourist visa. Denied.
2003  – Applied for tourist visa again. Denied again.
2004  – Applied for K-1 (fiancé) visa. (Please send proof you are in love.) (Good thing I take lots of pictures and save my airline ticket stubs. It also doesn’t hurt that Miguel is an amazing graphic designer who can whip up some faux wedding invitations in a jif.) Approved! (Please proceed to US Immigration office in Ciudad Juarez (yes, that Ciudad Juarez) right across the border from El Paso, Texas to get your physical, fingerprints & stamp for entry into the US.)

Fall 2004 – Miguel packs up his entire life, is thrown multiple going away parties, says goodbye to his friends and family, and makes his way to Juarez. Day one, receives physical. Day two, receives fingerprints. But no stamp. (We’re sorry sir, but you cannot pass into the US.  Your name needs to go through a terrorist check at the Dept. of Homeland Security. We’ll let you know via mail when you are able to proceed.)  You’ve GOT to be kidding. Miguel returns to Oaxaca crushed. I return to my empty NYC apartment crushed. (My roommates had moved out, and I had left the place bare so that we could re-arrange and decorate together when he got there.) Sigh.

Spring 2005 – Miguel decides that while he waits for the letter he’ll finish those last six credits he needs to officially complete his undergraduate degree. Submits Thesis. Receives Diploma. Letter arrives. (Your name has been checked and you are not a terrorist. (YAY!) Please proceed to US Immigration office in Ciudad Juarez to receive your stamp for entry into the US.)

Summer 2005 – Miguel packs up his entire life (again), says goodbye to his friends and family (again), and makes his way to Juarez (again). Receives stamp and crosses border! Arrives in NYC-JFK on K-1 Fiancé visa. Conditions are as follows. You MUST marry said fiancé within three months of entry into the US. You cannot work legally in the US. You cannot leave the US. If you do decide to leave for any reason, you will not be granted another visa for entry.

10.28.05 – Miguel and I dress in black and get hitched at City Hall in Lower Manhattan. We walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in celebration, and share a large pizza pie at Grimaldi’s. We promise ourselves that this is NOT our wedding, and one day we will have a big fat Mexican wedding with all of our friends and family.

Fall 2005 – Miguel applies for permanent residency (green card). Until he receives said document, he cannot work on the books. He also cannot return to Mexico unless he asks for a special visa (only granted if family member is sick or in dire conditions.) We are told that before he receives the green card, we will be called in for an “interview” to prove that we are actually married.

Spring 2006 – We are wondering how our application is doing, and go online to check the status of Miguel’s case. There we find that on multiple occasions USCIS has tried to send us correspondence in the mail, but the letters have been returned to Immigration Services as “UNDELIVERABLE.”  We have no idea what this means. We go to the post office. They have no idea what it means either. We go to the Immigration office in Lower Manhattan to ask what the letters were.  They tell us that they do not have that information, and we should “fix” our mailbox situation, if we live in a building with multiple units.  I show them certified letters from our mail carriers and insist that all of our other mail has been delivered. We leave the office with no information, no explanation, and a ton of frustration.

Summer 2006 – An envelope from USCIS miraculously arrives in our mailbox. Your green card has been APPROVED! We can’t believe it! We didn’t even have to go to an interview to prove we’re a bona-fide couple! In this package we also receive all of the previous letters that were “undeliverable.” We take said letters to the post office. Clerk tells us that USCIS has been printing their barcodes upside down and they cannot be read by the post office sorting machines. We wonder how many zillions of cases besides ours this little problem has wreaked havoc on. But we’re so ecstatic about getting approved that we quickly brush our shoulders off.

August 2006 – Two-year green card arrives.  Wahoo!  Miguel is free to work on the books. He gets a nice jobby job. We plan our first trip back to Oaxaca for the coming December. Miguel hasn’t been home in a year and a half.

August 2008 – A whole two years pass with minimal worry and paperwork. Two year green card expires, so Miguel applies for the 10 year one.  We are told that we will DEFINITELY be called in for an interview this time.

May 2009 – Me, Miguel and belly make our move to Oaxaca.

June 2009 – 10 year green card arrives! Again, luck is on our side, NO INTERVIEW necessary! (Before celebrating, we go online to check random immigration law sites and listservs to be sure that this is possible.) It is!

Sept 2009 – Maxwell Ayuso Botshon is born.

Oct 2009 – Although he doesn’t want to leave me and brand new babe alone in Oaxaca, as a legal permanent resident Miguel cannot stay out of the US for more than six months at a time. He goes back to NYC and puts in his application for Citizenship so as to avoid this re-entry ridiculousness in the future. After app is filed, Miguel waits for a notice telling him what to do next.

Nov 2009 – Four weeks later, Miguel is called in to get his fingerprints taken (to make sure he is not a terrorist, again.)  Fingerprint clerk tells him a letter with a date for his Citizenship interview should arrive in the mail within the next six months.  He rushes back to Mama and baby in Oaxaca.

February 2010 – Letter arrives. You have been granted your citizenship interview. (Please prepare a folder with originals and copies of birth certificates, passports, tax returns, bank statements, utility bills, leases, destinations and dates of exit & entry into US, and a ton of other papers. Also be sure to cram for the US Civics and History portion of the interview. Do you know how many Representatives are in the House? What the Federalist Papers are? What James Madison did?)

March 2010 – After studying for days and triple checking all documentation, Miguel dresses up sharp and heads downtown to his interview. He’s so happy to get a patient, good-hearted officer. He breezes through the Civics questions, answers simple application questions correctly and hands in requested documents. After a total of 15 minutes, the officer tells Miguel they are done, and that he is going to recommend him for Naturalization. He sits patiently in a white waiting room for the final word and final letter… It’s for real. Please present yourself on April 23rd to take your Oath to become an American citizen.

As I think back on all the years of stress, worry and wonder, I remember the first time Miguel and I had a conversation about starting the process. It was December, five months after we met. We were in the kitchen of our little adobe rental in the hills of San Felipe. We had very little furniture, so we ate dinner on the cold red tiles. I remember his big curly hair and the love in his eyes. I remember how he looked at me and said, “One day I’m going to come to your city, Miranda. You’ll see.”

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