Immigration Reform, From the Other Side. Part 1

More and more people, especially conservative friends, seem to be comfortable sharing their extreme views on immigration in the United States.  Every few days, a friend will share a joke, social media posting, or simple remark about immigration, that makes it perfectly clear that they have their minds made up, and feel no qualms about broadcasting their borderline-racist position.  For many, immigration is the lone issue where they have no filter, no limits, and no compunction for the people whose fates they are debating.

As the spouse of a non-United States citizen, you would think I would be enraged, but I'm simply not.  Most political cartoons, trite sayings, and misinformed bits of policy that people share, are so far off the mark in terms of the real immigration problem in our nation, that they don't even rise to the level of "debatable."  When a friend shares one of these, I enjoy the opportunity to engage them and describe our family's experience, and have so far not had a single person who didn't come away with a more informed opinion.

I should start by clarifying.  Many people don't realize that my wife isn't American.  I'm certain that's why I've been in so many situations where people accidentally insulted her and I, when making clear that people like her, should be barred entry/residency/citizenship here.  Pamela has light skin, no accent, grew up on the same pop culture we did, and holds 3 degrees.  Her Canadian dialect has all but faded away, and the truth is, her Western Canadian upbringing is not a lot different than that of most Central Ohioans.  To those of you who just stopped caring about our case of immigration because my wife is anything other than Hispanic: Stop. Right. There.  If immigration is as bad as I'm about to describe for an educated Canadian with some financial savings, and access to an immigration attorney, imagine how awful it would be without.

It is a real hurdle for friends who didn't at first realize my wife to be Canadian, in understanding that she still has immigration issues.  Many, perhaps from too many 120 minute movies that over-simplified the case, assume that if she is educated, married, or has lived here "legally" for a few years, can just go down to the post office, fill out a form, and Bingo- she's American.  If only it were that easy!

Pamela first came to the U.S. to study.  That makes us Americans proud- we like the idea that we have such great Universities that internationals come here to study.  While here studying for her Master's, she was on a student visa.  Also while studying, she worked the usual assortment of jobs a student would, obtained a social security number, and began paying taxes on those wages she earned.  (It should be pointed out that all non-citizens pay social security on their earnings, knowing that unless they reach full U.S. citizenship, they can never draw on those contributions.)

Pam did well in her studies, and after Seminary, was recruited to serve in several institutions.  She ended up moving to Ohio, and obtained a clergy visa to to do so.  There really isn't much difference between a clergy visa, and any other kind of professional work visa; residency was granted because of her carreer.  I was lucky that Pam followed the path that she did, because it was at this point that we met, began courting, and, after visiting her family in Saskatchewan, were engaged to be married.  

This is the part where things get hairy.  Skipping the details, Pam's job was terminated on a Friday.  We contacted several immigration attorneys that Pam had worked with in the past, or that we knew to be local experts here in Central Ohio.  I am forever indebted to them for the late-night counsel they gave 2 teary-eyed young people that weekend.  Over the weekend, her former employer took the same time to engage a local attorney to push for deportation.  By Sunday night, it was clear that we either were to be married by the third day of Pam's "status change," or she would have to return to Canada for six months while we filed for a different visa.  We were married that third day, none of Pam's family could attend, but her Mom was on a speakerphone resting on the piano bench of the chapel we were wed in.  Even as I type this many years later, I'm filled with a strange mix of joy remembering our wedding day, and rage over the situation that caused it to be anything less than what we, she in particular, had dreamed.

Marriage did not end our immigration struggle.  I repeat, marriage did not end our immigration struggle.  We were, however, excited to be able to apply for a spousal visa, and breathe a sigh of relief that Pam's place in the U.S. was temporarily secure.  This was also the week that I learned that the U.S. immigration system is funded mostly by immigrant's fees, utilizing very little tax dollars.  You don't know what it's like to be an immigrant until you've written a check out to the "United States of America Treasury" stapled it to a form that you hoped you got exactly right, and known that you won't receive any indication for several months.

This was the beginning of our journey of humiliation, confusion, and high expense as we attempted to follow to  the letter of the law, what is expected under the current system.  It was also the beginning of my understanding that the system is entirely prejudiced against all immigrants, and almost impossible to follow without legal counsel, access to cash, and a better than average degree of education and intelligence.


  1. Thank you for posting this. It was truly eye opening to my an multiple levels. I look forward to continuing to understand the system as you post further details. I know the quality of person that Pam is and am truly sorry for the difficulty that you all have faced. God bless.

  2. Our journey of immigration has equally revealed the ineptitude of a broken legal system...can't wait to read more, John.

  3. Thanks for both of your comments. I'm trying hard not to rant, but rather to shed light on the process so that others can see how convoluted it is. I'm proud as Pam's husband that we've done everything 100% by the book, but embarrassed as an American that we treat immigrants so poorly.

  4. Unfortunately, to make things harder for those following the legal path, the ones here without immigration papers and/or a legally issued social security number, are often paid 'under the table'. They do not pay taxes, social security, and are often encouraged and advised by 'immigration attorneys' on how to avoid paying taxes. In my humble opinion, legal counsel that operates this way should be barred from practice and fined heavily.
    The immigration system is decades overdue for a complete overhaul, not repair.

  5. Jeremy, that may happen, but I've never personally experienced it, including in my work in construction dealing with numerous subcontractors. I think that the media perpetuates this stereotype, but, in fact, most immigrants are "in process" and trying to comply. One of the reasons that I am blogging about this, is to help make it more clear to people how nearly impossible it is to comply, so that they might understand why some immigrants end up out of compliance.

    My wife was 6 hours from "illegal" when we were married at 6PM on the 3rd day of her status changing.