A survivor’s story to navigating the immigration family petition
Thursday, September 7th, 2017
Please note this entry contains language and material that might be triggering for some readers.
Even having conversations with our immigration attorney is difficult. The dread of hearing dismaying news about our case weighs heavily on my husband and I during the silent car ride to their office. He glances around nervously as he chews on his fingernail and bops his knee up and down.
“You OK?” I ask.
“I’m a little scared,” he admits.
We’ve visited the attorney’s office several times already, but each time requires gathering strength and dealing with an emotional hangover afterward. As we drive on, we pass by signs, cars with bumper stickers, and flags that remind us that one of us is unwanted here. The message is loud and clear.
I was born in the United States, and my husband was born in Mexico. His family fled violence 11 years ago, coming to the United States to live a safe, quiet life. He and I met nine years ago and married in 2014. We work hard, volunteer in the community, lead lives free of criminal activity, tend an impressive garden in our backyard, and feed way too many stray cats.
Recently, there has been a hard-felt increase in angry rhetoric and legislation claiming that immigrants – whether documented or not – provide no meaningful contribution to this society if they work unskilled labor. The argument is that people who come to this country only get married to U.S. citizens as an excuse to stay. Not only is that a slimy accusation, but it is wildly untrue. The sanctity of matrimony is just as meaningful to people with documentation as it is to those without it. And the process to become naturalized through marriage is not easy.
As we sit at a stoplight, my husband apologizes to me for the thousandth time, asking me to forgive him for putting me in this situation. I respond as I always do – by telling him I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to spend the rest of my life with him.
But the truth is, I had no idea.
As part of the marriage petition, my husband and I must — per federal requirements — spend a year apart from each other. He would be sent to Mexico, and I would have to stay here. As part of my privilege as a citizen, I could visit him, paying for trips out of pocket, but he could not come see me. But in 2014, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a memo directing USCIS to “expand eligibility for the provisional waiver program to include other family-based categories and provide additional guidance on the definition of extreme hardship.” This extreme hardship waiver allows my husband to spend two weeks in Mexico instead of one year, if approved.
As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse, my past serves as an important role in my husband’s immigration case. Our case for the hardship waiver is largely contingent upon my husband’s profound involvement in my recovery and ability to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that resulted from years of abuse when I was younger. But in order to prove that, I must see an immigration court-approved counselor and get her written report concerning the validity of my trauma and whether my husband’s love and support is crucial enough to my mental health or not.
In short, I must now face some dark demons and admit publicly to my abuse and personal vulnerabilities after years of silence, or the federal government will take my husband away from me. I am no longer a victim, but rather a survivor, and therefore am at a point in my healing where I’m prepared to share my story, as triggering as it may be. But as I imagine myself standing in a courtroom, looking up at a stern judge, asking him or her to hear my story and pass judgment on my family based on the extent of my personal quandary, I feel intimidated. In fact, I feel terrified.
But I also recognize that I am incredibly lucky. As I sit in the waiting room of the law office, I look around at the families waiting alongside me. Many of them come from a low socioeconomic background. Many don’t have health insurance. Many don’t have supportive spouses or families. Many fear losing their children, who were born in the U.S. Many of them don’t speak English, much less understand legal jargon in English. The families are reserved, serious, and nervous. They are all as scared as we are, I realize. They all love their families, too, and don’t want to lose them.
As the attorney talks to us about our situation, my mind wanders to the time I couldn’t sleep at night when my husband and I were just friends. In one of my harsh manifestations of PTSD, I stayed up all night chewing my tongue, crying, and pulling my hair out in clumps. He held me close and told me softly everything would be OK. And I believed him. It reminded me that what I was doing for him paled in comparison to what he’s done for me over the years.
As we drive away from the office after our meeting with the attorney, my husband and I are still an anxious bundle of nerves. Although neither of us has committed crimes, our case is not without risk, and there are no guarantees we will be successful. It’s still possible that after leaving my heart on a pile of paperwork, we can still be rejected. In this instance, there are no appeals or recourse. My husband and I talk to each other in shaky voices about whether we want to proceed or not.
But then he flashes me a smile and says, “Ah, who cares about what they think of us, anyway? I think we’re pretty neat. We’re going to be OK. I just know it.”
And I believe him.