Dos and Don’ts for Visiting the Immigration Field Office

In the weeks before my husband and I attended our marriage interview, I, in a nervous state of mind, sat in front of the computer searching out blogs, articles, and USCIS websites to learn more about others’ marriage interview experiences as studiously as any medical school hopeful gearing her brain up for the MCAT.

Except this was way more important than winning a seat in a med school class. I needed some methodology and advice on how to organize my thoughts most effectively while fielding questions–more likely an interrogation–from an immigration officer who could either confirm or refuse the marriage my husband and I had already settled into. Well before we were married, like any couple, we’d begun shaping our together-life and by this time were comfortably entwined with each other in emotion, intellect, and daily routines.

To suddenly feel the reality of needing actual legal permission to continue your comfortable together-future when one of you is not a citizen or resident of the country you marry in is a sort of humbling and panicky feeling.

In this case Mahmoud, my dear alien husband (and alien most definitely applies to him in a variety of ways), was the cause behind this formal proceeding. He is a non-citizen, so there was no way around seeking a blessing from those demi-god men and women who sift through your paperwork, wedding photographs, and affidavits of support from behind their desks. While I was quite aware they are not God, I felt demigod was qualified, as their role from an immigration field office desk does grant them quite a lot of power, making them truly people of extraordinary ability. I figured it was simply a matter of figuring out which gifts brought to their altars would best appease them and soften their hearts to us, giving them the extraordinary ability to intuitively feel the reality of the commitment between us.

I had heard stories of others who had been along the same path already, and what I learned most was: Those interviewers will cast doubt on your relationship as much as possible, twisting your answers around and doing their best to provoke confusion and doubt within you, until you tremble, until you stutter, until you break down and cry. And as you sit there trembling, stuttering, and wiping your tears and runny nose as you wail, they will coolly look at you and ask, “Why are you crying?” And offer you a Kleenex. Or so I had been told.

I passed these tales on to my dear and sturdy husband, expecting him to assume his usual role as voice-and-laugh-of-reason; laughing in his gentle way and reminding me to calm down and not become emotionally paralyzed from thinking pessimistically. He did, but he also gave me a sort of wide-eyed look and asked, “So, have you found any articles with good advice?”

I found a number of good articles for preparing for your immigration interview, including dos and don’ts. I read them to myself and with Mahmoud; we were both thankful for their information and felt a little more prepared before heading into an incidence of the unknown.

In the end, our experience was simple and quick, so simple and quick that we wondered if our officer was going to send us a request for a second interview. We were told second interviews are only called if something comes up in processing your information, meaning something looks suspicious and we want to more thoroughly dissect your situation and put all the details under a high-powered microscope. The interviewer had asked us a few general questions about how we met and why we decided to get married, read through the list of questions we had answered on one of the forms, looked at the pictures of our weddings (the courthouse ceremony and the Islamic), looked at the pictures of us in Kansas City and Chicago and my parents’ home, and had us sign a paper agreeing to file for his permanent green card in two years “if I approve you.” It took less than an hour. We were never yelled at. We didn’t cry. We weren’t separated for the “wedding game,” when each of you is interrogated individually and your answers are compared after. We weren’t interrogated at all! And then we were never summoned for a second interview.

The only true negative we encountered was that we didn’t escape the much dreaded period of suspense you are left in when dealing with a formal, government process that at minimum thousands of others are dealing with at the same time–you must wait your turn. After two very long months, we were finally confirmed, and the feeling of knowing we fully possess our together-life felt like a blessing, a relief, a freedom, and a reason to jump on the couch , all wrapped up together. Our assigned immigration officer/demi-god did a good job, and he deserves our thanks and blessings.

We also picked up a few dos and don’ts of our own during our experience:

Don’t enter the field office with fruit, or with remnants of fruit. We learned this when we stopped at a QuikTrip before one of our appointments for advice on how to complete something or another in our paperwork, and bought bananas. Mahmoud was still eating his when we parked at the field office, and so finished it as we walked to the building. Inside, he asked the guards who check IDs and let you through the security sensor contraption if he could throw away his peel. “After you go through security,” was the reply. We were then asked to put our keys and any loose objects in our pockets into a medium-sized bowl. The first thing my innocently charming husband set inside was his banana peel.

“Don’t put that in there!” The guard looked and sounded panicked as he moved his arm in a qick motion to point at the banana peel. As I laughed, I felt an unamused gaze and turned my head to see the guard behind the counter watching me–definitely not amused. I stifled my need to giggle and watched Mahmoud take the banana peel back as he apologized. They had him carry it through. I guess just in case it was loaded.

Do research your understanding of political concepts. As our field officer read through a list of questions for my husband, regarding whether or not he has ever been involved in extremist groups, other groups dedicated to the overthrow of a government, mafias, gangs, boy bands with funny hairdos, my innocently confused husband got tripped up on the word communism. “Have you ever had involvement in the communist party?” Sometimes it’s a language/accent barrier type of thing. “I don’t know what that is!” A calm explanatory comment from our officer, “Communism, it’s about communism.” A wide smile and lost look returned along with an enthusiastic, “I’m not sure what that is!” An annoyed look with a raised eyebrow with another, “You know, communism.” Funny what nerves will do to you, because he still couldn’t say for sure if he was a communist, his mind just wasn’t grasping the word at the time. He does know what it is; still, he’s much more adept at chemistry and accounting than politics.

Don’t sit there and laugh when your spouse has difficulty answering a question. Don’t just sit there when asked something crucial. As Mahmoud struggled briefly to answer his question about communism, I had one of those episodes of laughter that started with mild shaking while attempting to contain it, and then accidentally turned into an open guffaw as I said, “You’re not a communist, dear!” I couldn’t tell if the officer was amused or not; I think he may have looked a little mentally exhausted. I’m fairly sure I saw him shake his head to himself.

We were then asked why we decided to get married. Thankfully Mahmoud’s mind was back in its usual engaged, agile place of thought, because I suddenly took on the form of a small, potted cactus growing on a silent corner of a desk. I think it was so simple it was too complex. Why did we get married? We love each other. We love being together We love waking to each other every day, we want to see the rest of our lives by each others’ side, as a couple and a team. As, to quote an Akon song, homies, lovers, and friends. Isn’t that reason enough?

I’m sure it was, but it was one of those moments such as for some reason not comprehending communism: I was certain there had to be a much more complicated, hidden answer. So, still I sat, and mute, waiting for the answer to whisper itself into my ear from some ethereal plain of wisdom. Mahmoud leaned in and gave the officer the needed answer then put his hand over mine, grounding me with a light touch of support. I made a brief statement. All was fine.

Maybe these aren’t true don’ts, as they did not result in a penalty for us. Still, it’s best to stay focused. Have a little fun, but don’t appear to be losing your compusure, just bring yourself back to yourself, stay confident, and support each other.

Do enjoy the experience. Overall, our experience with immigration was not as precarious as others had at times led us to believe it would be. It was also interesting. I learned more about the immigration process from both technical and emotional aspects. I had the chance to experience formal proceedings similar to what my husband had already been through upon coming to this country five years earlier as a student. It connected me more closely to the experience of immigrating and how much of a life-changing decision it really is for anyone to move into another area of the world and adapt.

I learned a little more and found reason to appreciate certain things more. My husband and I also worked as a team, scheduling our appointments and filing paperwork together, visiting the field office together to clarify instructions so that we both knew what we were doing, holding hands and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a silent offer of comfort while sitting in a waiting area on the day of facing the unknown of our marriage interview. Anything you can do with the person you have your together-life with that strenghtens you to each other is a worthwhile experience.

If you are in the same or a similar immigration experience and possibly fearing the interviews and appointments awaiting you along the process, don’t focus too much on the fear. Just do let your mind be free to take in the experience, enjoy it, and know that things are very often not as fearful or difficult as we create them to be within our minds.

Alien-Welcome3

Alien illustration courtesy of spacecrazed.com: http://www.spacecrazed.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Alien-Welcome3.png