They say love conquers all but when it comes to immigration love has limits.
Our wedding was amazing. My bride looked stunning, the weather was gorgeous (if a little hot) and judging by the dancing and the spontaneous limbo contest everyone had a good time (and to think we nearly included hard alcohol).
I finally have a ring on my finger, (the one for the ceremony didn’t fit) and I am a happily married man both at peace and excited for this new chapter in my life with the most incredible person I know.
However I am still not a legal citizen nor I am now an American citizen. I was tempted to write a blog about how great our big day was, how cute the flamingos were and how magical the giraffe feeding was. At some point I still may but given recent comments from people since the wedding, I felt it important to address what happens to an undocumented immigrant such as myself after they marry an American.
There is a huge misconception that upon marrying an American some magical ghost of a forefather descends from on high to bestow upon me citizenship as soon as I say, “I do”, when in reality nothing could be further than the truth.
The truth is far more complicated and as ever far more expensive. Upon marrying my wife I have to contact my lawyer who informs me I will need to forward him our marriage certificate along with both his, and the governments filing fees for my ‘adjustment of status’. These fees are not small but they never are with anything immigration related.
Along with these things we, as a couple, must now provide evidence that we are a legitimate married couple. We must live together, share a mailing address, have a joint back account and provide other bills and expenses we are both listed on. We must find around 20 to 30 pictures of not just ourselves together from our past, but also pictures of us with friends and relatives and list their names and the date and location the pictures were taken. My wife must also provide copies of her tax returns and income for the past three years.
She must do this in order to prove to the government that she can afford to ‘take care’ of me financially should I not be able to take care of myself.
The most ironic part of this particular detail is even though I have been working in the US for over 10 years with my own social security number and have over 10 years of tax returns, this has no bearing whatsoever in this process and is not taken into account by the authorities because ‘technically’ I did not have authorization to work all those years (it never seemed to bother the IRS or Social Security).
Needless to say even though this is all added stress and feels like an invasion of privacy, especially for my wife, (ordinary Americans getting married don’t have to do anything like this) we jump through the hoops and provide the info.
Next up I am summoned to go and have my fingerprints and photo taken at a Homeland Security office, a process I am surprised took barely 15 minutes and had no fee associated with it.
And now we wait. My lawyer informs me at some point in the not too distant future (with immigration that means at least 6 months) we will be summoned for an interview, where both myself and my wife will be grilled about our relationship to again make sure we are married for love and not for any other reason.
All this process of course takes time. Time I am still undocumented, time I am still ‘technically’ not allowed to work and time I am still not able to leave the country (by the time you read this my wife is attending the wedding of one of her closest friends in South America, unfortunately even though we are now married, like I have explained I cannot travel with her).
To be clear we are more than happy to provide all this information and do what is asked of us as a couple. I understand there is a process and in many ways I know I am one of the lucky ones. By simply coming to the United States legally (that’s how I have a social) and marrying an American I now have a pathway to legality, the same cannot be said for those that came here ‘illegally’, or were brought here as children, even if they too are married to an American.
At the end of this first part of the process (hopefully) I will become a documented permanent resident and green card holder allowing me to both work and travel. However I will still not be an American Citizen, that will be the next part of the process, will involve more fees and no doubt a couple of years at least of processing and paper work.
So next time you come across a foreigner married to an American, remember they don’t instantly become fully fledged Americans citizens the day they get married. I am finally headed in the right direction, as I mentioned earlier I know I am one of the lucky ones but there are still millions of other undocumented immigrants across the nation not as lucky as me and for them I will forever continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.
For more information or to help the cause visit www.defineamerican.com
Please contact me through the ‘contact me’ section with any questions or queries you may have, thank you.
In case you are wondering we got married at Santa Barbara Zoo, it was bloody amazing!
7 thoughts on “You’re an American now right?”
Congratulations on your marriage! As someone who has gone through the same process, but with additional complications, I really appreciate you sharing your experiences. The only point I disagreed with is that there are no fees is associated with the fingerprinting. Although there is no fee at the fingerprint appointment, applicants do pay a bio-metric fee which is lumped into the total cost of the petition/form. The real kicker is that you have to go through the fingerprinting again when you apply for citizenship.
Thanks for reading Maria. Yes the fees are lumped in I just thought it was a pleasant surprise to not have pay anything right there and then.
Can someone clarify something for me? I’m confused as to how someone can be undocumented while having a social security card, etc. I thought undocumented meant entering the country illegally and working off-the-books.
Amy, like millions of other undocumented people I came here legally many years ago. As soon as someone is granted a work visa in the U.S. they are issued with a social security card and number. Many, again like myself then find themselves in awkward situations where they must either leave the country or choose to remain past their visa and thus become ‘out of status’. It is not as drastic as having no documents at all neither is it anywhere near being fully legal. Its a strange grey area we live in. I think you may find my previous blog https://garethckelly.com/2015/07/14/hiding-in-plain-sight/ helpful in explaining more.Thank you for reading and thank you for your comment.
I’m glad Amy asked her question and you answered it. One if the biggest misconceptions is that you can’t be here as an “illegally” and pay taxes. Getting a social security number, paying taxes, and having “status” ( a visa or citizenship) are not in lock step… undocumented folks pay their taxesif they are lucky enough to get a legitimate job. The immigration laws are harder to understand than the tax code and for many many people there is no route to citizenship at this time. 😦