This post is about my beloved’s experience with immigration.
I know that the current political environment is causing people to tell their immigration stories. I get that, but for years, my husband and I told his immigration story as a fun party anecdote. It has everything- romance, drama, tension, comedy, happy tears. It’s a show-stopper.
First, the fun part.
My husband came to this country with a 6-month sight-seeing visa. He had just decided to start his life over. He’d left his job, his home, his family, and come to America to visit with his sister and figure out what his next steps would be.
While he was here, he made a friend who offered to sponsor him for a work visa. Husband was all like, “Why not?”
And a year or so goes by.
Husband is then about ready to go back to Korea.
His friend once again tempts him into staying (I am endlessly grateful to this friend, btw), and talks Husband into applying for a student visa, so he can study English before heading back home to Korea.
Since Husband’s major in college had been Business English, he decided to try for the visa. His expectations weren’t very high, since student visas can be difficult to get, and Husband wasn’t exactly a traditional student’s age.
He got the visa! And in record time, too.
Husband signed up for a university ELL (formerly ESL) program. It was harder than he expected. A professor came to their classroom and encouraged all of the students to come to the Writing Center if they needed extra assistance.
That professor was my boss at the time.
Husband came to the writing center, we got set up with regular weekly appointments, and we bonded over his quest to learn English (or so I thought. Since then, he’s confessed that he thought I was cute. Being distracted, he didn’t learn a darn thing).
I liked him, even though I had no idea what to do with that emotion. I thought he’d asked me out at one point during the school year. He’d brought me a gift, and I sort of freaked out. He then changed his wording, and we continued our appointments without incident.
At our very last appointment, when we were saying goodbye, he actually asked me out. Well, he asked me if I wanted coffee, and I said yes.
A lie I have yet to live down after 7 years of marriage.
I don’t like coffee. I never wanted coffee.
I liked Husband.
There was “coffee” (hot chocolate).
A “let’s just be friends” speech.
Sadness about the “let’s just be friends” speech (my dad drove an hour to bring me double stuffed oreos).
A rescinding of the “let’s just be friends speech.”
Engagement (brief one).
I remember looking over the government documents, trying to understand the legalese enough so that I could explain it to Husband.
But I hyperventilated before I could manage it.
I did my weird, look-perfectly-calm-but-succumb-to-an-internal-panic-attack-until-I-see-stars thing.
Husband took away my laptop.
He contacted a friend of a friend who was an immigration lawyer, fluent in Korean.
Thank you, Jesus.
Why was I so scared? Well, there was a list. People were posting that the green card process was no big deal as long as you didn’t fit into strange categories, like, oh, I don’t know-
- Having a large age gap
- A very brief engagement
- Difficulty communicating (we were still working on the English)
So, we did everything so, so right, knowing we were going to have to fight to prove our relationship was the real deal. The application said to send at least three pictures documenting our relationship. We had to buy an especially reinforced envelope to include all of the pictures we sent.
We practiced the relationship questions until we could have won a couples game show. We got ready for our interview with the immigration officers while drilling each other on favorite foods. We carefully took one last look around the apartment, so that, if we were questioned about our intimate spaces, we could prove we lived together.
Immigration time. This was before we had a GPS, so after a lot of tense yelling that it wasn’t me, but the MapQuest directions, that got us lost, we’d arrived.
Yellow waiting room. Hard metal folding chairs. A lot of tense-looking families speaking different languages.
Husband and I met with a woman who tried to set us at ease (easier said than done) and the interview got started.
We were completely blindsided.
After a friendly two-minute chat with me about how my family accepted Husband, the woman turned her attention to Husband. From that point onward, I might as well have left the room.
“Have you ever willingly visited a communist country, and if so, which ones?”
“What is your experience with weapons of mass destruction? Have you ever assembled or disassembled a bomb?”
“Have you ever infiltrated another country, be you at peace or war?”
So, it turns out, Husband did his military service in Korea years ago. He had also gone the extra mile and spent at least a year in their version of the Special Forces Marines. That unit had some rather specific duties and training that, apparently, included some knowledge of bombs and regularly infiltrating North Korea for training purposes.
Screw our age gap. They’d red-flagged Husband as a potential terrorist threat.
Husband’s neck had beads of sweat dripping down to his shirt collar. I sat by helplessly.
Since I was familiar with Husband’s English level, I saw his confusion and once tried to step in to help explain one of the woman’s questions. I was told to let him answer, and had to watch him flounder.
The interview was extra tricky. They had Husband’s information. They knew he had been part of a unit that made weapons and was trained to broach a sealed country. If Husband didn’t admit to these things, he would be very much in the wrong. But, under these circumstances, admitting to these things made him look like a threat anyway.
He did his best. I tried not to bite my lips off.
Somehow, we passed.
Green card approved.
It was all so surprising for us, once it was done. Get grilled. Get out. Green card.
I don’t remember what happened next. I think we might have passed out in the car in the parking lot for a while. I remember that I kept saying, “I’m shaking,” and Husband kept saying, “Oh god, I’m sweating.”
Eventually we scraped ourselves off the floor and started calling everyone with the good news and our surprising, sweaty, funny story.
The next part, the citizenship test and interview, is another story, but suffice it to say, we weren’t so worried then. We had even more pictures in the envelope that time, of two beautiful babies who look a little like both of us.