Coming to America: Navigating the INS Maze

Part II: Congratulations, You Are Green!

by Deck Deckert

March 5, 2001

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Read Part I: The Forms That Would Not Leave

We arrived at 8:15 a.m. for our 9 a.m. Adjustment of Status INS hearing. There were mobs of people inside and outside the offices and a guard stopped us at the door.

"Do you have an appointment?"

"Yes," Alma said, producing the notice to appear.

"Stay right there in front of the door. No, step away from the other door, stay right there!"

A moment later we were admitted.

"Open your purse," a second guard commanded Alma.

I stepped close to her.

"Get back, sir!" he said sharply.

"But I'm with her."

"I understand that. Now step back."

I stepped back. Alma opened her purse and the guard rummaged through it. "Raise your arms," he told Alma. She did and he waved a magic wand that searched for guns, knives, nuclear bombs, depleted uranium or all the other things they are paranoid about in the home of the brave and land of the free.

Fortunately she wasn't wearing her Madonna bra and passed his inspection.

"Empty your pockets," he said peremptorily to me as he waved Alma away.

I unloaded keys, change, wallet, pens, pocket calendar, and cough drops. I opened the briefcase filled with "a copy of all documents previously submitted" and the guard searched it assiduously. Then I was electronically frisked. Fortunately I had left my axe at home and was cleared to the waiting room to join Alma. There were 50 or so people scattered in two rooms, mostly speaking in Spanish. Several of the couples had shopping bags full of documents.

To our surprise -- actually, astonishment -- we were summoned promptly at 9. A courteous dark-haired gentleman with a gentle smile and mild Latin accent led us to his cramped office, actually a cubicle, where he pulled out our folder and asked us to stand.

"Hold up your right hands," he said. When we complied, he said: "Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"

"I do," said Alma.

"We do," said a confused Deck.

"Everything is out of order in here," he muttered more to himself than to us. He began sorting papers. Somewhere along the line he lost his pen, his stapler, several documents, and discovered one document still in a sealed envelope. He opened it and added it to our stack. "Police records," he said as an aside. It was nothing we had filed and it presumably came from the fingerprint check. He came across a second envelope and opened it. "Medical report," he said. That confused us because Alma had in her hands the only medical report we were aware of.

"I have my physical here in a sealed envelope," she said. He nodded non-commitedly.

"How long have you been married?"

"Seven months," we said in unison.

He nodded again and busied himself with our file, sorting and rearranging the papers to his satisfaction. "Let me see your medical report," he said, and Alma handed it to him. He tore open the seal and compared the papers inside to the medical report he had opened a moment earlier. "I'll use the latest," he said, handing Alma the originals. Alma blinked.

"But these aren't mine," she said. "It's not my name."

"How did that get here?" he said in confusion. He fished the envelope from his trash can and put the wayward papers back inside. "I'll have to take that upstairs," he said. (There is no visible "upstairs"; the building is one story.)

"This interview will be in two parts," he said. "First I will verify that all the paper work is in order; then I will ask you some questions."

The summons had mentioned that the interview would be videotaped. But if it was, the camera was well hidden. (Maybe it was camouflaged as the billiard table wall clock.)

He shuffled paper for awhile, verifying various information contained in the documents.

Then came the crucial part, the interrogation to determine if we were bonafide husband and wife.

"Do you have some evidence, proof of your relationship?"

Alma hauled out documents demonstrating that we have a joint checking account. I tossed our wedding photo album. Alma pulled out photos of us at wrevels [Writers Revels] and in North Carolina.

"What's this?" he asked, looking at a picture of a cat pawing at a pair of shoes.

"The cat loves my shoes," Alma said.

He smiled, and handed it back to her. "You can keep that one."

He studied the wedding album. "You were married at the courthouse?"

"Yes," Deck said, adding: "A lot of our friends showed up."

"Did you have any relatives there?" he asked, casually. A trick question, we later decided -- trying to elicit any thought that this marriage was planned in advance, contrary to regulations.

"No," we said, honestly.

"What's your husband's birthday?" he asked Alma. When she replied correctly, he asked Deck:

"And your wife's?"

Deck also got it right. Not surprisingly because he had verified both dates out loud a little earlier in the process.

"What's your mother's first name?" he asked Alma. "And your father's?" he asked.

The point of the question still eludes us.

About then he had apparently satisfied himself that we were truly a couple. That may have been helped by the fact that we held hands throughout most of the interview, and shared cough drops with each other.

"Everything seems to be in order," he said, reshuffling the papers for the umpteenth time. "You'll get your green card in the mail in four to five months," he said. "In the meantime, I'll stamp your passport," he said to Alma. He stamped the information on it and handed it back.

"Congratulations," he said to Alma.

He shook hands with her, and with Deck. The interview was over.

Alma is now a legal resident of the United States.


       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.

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Published March 5, 2001
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