Coming to America: Navigating the INS Maze

Part I: The Forms That Would Not Leave

by Deck Deckert

March 5, 2001

Share this story by E-mail


Just before we got married, we called the INS and after an hour or two of screaming at voice mail, got a live human being.

"I need to know how to apply for an adjustment of status for my wife," I said.

After several questions, the helpful woman at the other end of the line didn't scream 'You can't do that!' - as Alma had feared she might. Instead, she simply said, "I'll send you the forms you'll need."

We got married a couple of weeks later and waited for the forms.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, nearly a month later, they arrived. We scanned them. They seemed straight forward enough, and simple enough -- except they covered every contingency but the one we asked about: marriage. Under 'Other', we listed 'marriage.'

Alma filled one in with biographical information, and started the main form. I filled out a biographical form myself, and we planned a trip to the Riviera Beach INS office a couple of days later.

I procrastinated on the financial form. Oh, I had skimmed it and realized my income wasn't high enough by their standards. But it said you could list assets and I own my home, and the applicant's assets could be included, and Alma has a little savings. No sweat.

Until I tried to actually read and fill out the form a couple of days later. It was written in Chinese, or maybe Sanskrit. Each time I read an instruction, I could see at least two possible ways of interpreting it, sometimes three or four. (These guys need some good writers!) I persevered and began digging out the supporting documentation that was required, such as three years of tax returns. 1999 and 1997 were quickly pulled from my amazing files.

1998 was missing.

We searched the office. We searched the house. We re-searched the office, and re-searched the house. Nothing. Finally, in desperation, I asked Alma to go through the box under my desk labeled 'HOLD 30 DAYS.' It's for stuff destined for the trash basket -- eventually. But if there is any doubt it might be needed.... You know.

Halfway through the box she discovered my 1998 tax return. Fascinating. I'm sure I had a good reason for dumping it there. Of course I did, but ...

We made trips to OfficeMax and Office Depot to make photcopies, and then we made trips to OfficeMax and Office Depot to make photocopies, and then.... five times!

We went to a photographer and told her what the directions said we needed -- photos to be so wide, so deep, with the forehead so far from the top, the chin so far from the bottom, the right ear showing, and like that. Four of them. I can do that for $50, the photog said, implying she was doing us a great favor. -When do you need them?- As soon as possible, we said. -How about 9 a.m. Tuesday of next week- she replied. Unh, we said, but... Well, she was going to a funeral and then on a vacation, so that was that.

9 a.m. Tuesday we returned. "My husband has them," the photographer said. "He'll be here soon." Unh huh. We left. We met him in the parking lot. We returned. I got out my check. "I have to print them now," she said. "Come back at 3 o'clock."

OK. Pics in hand we planned a trip to the INS office the next day.

"Oh, oh," I said, looking at one of the forms late that night. "This has to be notarized."

Scratch the next day. Oh well, another day won't matter.

We got the forms notarized. At home, Alma looked them over. "We didn't need these," she said.

"Screw it! Stick them in anyhow!" I said.

I wrote checks; $245 for one form, $100 for another.

I wrote a cover note detailing the contents in list form -- Form number so and so, supporting material, photos, checks, etc.

I rewrote the cover note to include missing data.

I rewrote the cover note to include the date.

I rewrote the cover note to include my address.

We put the package together.

I got Alma up at 6:30 a.m. -- she is not a happy early riser.

We drove to Riviera Beach, using directions from a web site -- 310 Broadway, it said, take Avenue L. The early morning sun was in our eyes. We missed Avenue L.

"I'll turn around up ahead," I said.

"There's BROADWAY!" Alma said.

Oh, yeah. Broadway is U.S. 1.

I turned left. The numbers marched higher.

I u-turned and the numbers marched down again.

Before we got to the 300s, however, we were in West Palm Beach.

"Back to Plan A," I said. "We'll go back and find Avenue L and ...."

"THERE!" Alma screamed, pointing to a little sign on U.S. 1 that read '310 Broadway, U.S. Immigration.' It had a helpful arrow pointing to the right.

I missed the turn. I did a u-turn. (There was no corresponding sign when you approach from the north; only folks from the south are apparently welcome.)

I turned onto the road; it made a 180 *under* U.S. 1.

We found the INS.

"We want to deliver a package," we told the guard.

"Very professional," he said, looking at the note pasted on the cover detailing contents. "I wish everyone did this."

He read it over and said: "Checks? They want money orders."

"But, but," I protested. "The directions said..."

"Money orders," he said firmly.

"We'll be back," I said.

We drove 40 miles home, rewrote the cover note, got some cash, got some money orders, drove back to Riviera Beach.

"OK," the guard said.

We left.

We were in the system.

We were told it would be a couple of months -- or three or four -- before we got a hearing. But we were in the system!

And in the system and in the system and in the system.

Seven months after we were married, we got a notice instructing us to appear Feb. 27 for a hearing on our petition.


Read Part II: Congratulations, You Are Green!


       Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic, a woman he had met in an Internet discussion group. Deckert and Hromic were married six months ago and are writing a book about their experience with Internet romance, Cyberdance.

         Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Deck Deckert 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

                                   E-mail this article to a friend
       Enter her/his E-mail address: 


This Week's Internal Links

Part II: Congratulations, You Are Green! - by Deck Deckert

Reproductive Blackmail and the Funding of Morality - by Jan Baughman

A Few Words on OFBCI - by Jan Baughman

Barbaric Silence - by Milo Clark

SAVANNA SONG - A Poem by Sandy Lulay

THE SHEEP-CHILD - A Poem by James Dickey

TO KILL A NATION, The Attack on Yugoslavia - by Michael Parenti: BOOK REVIEW by Gilles d'Aymery


Published March 5, 2001
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Main Page]