What does it feel like to be applying for a fiancée visa for my Chinese, lesbian partner in this political environment? Pretty damn scary. I know for those who understand the shitstorm that is immigration law these days, a US citizen with a genuine relationship basis to back a visa application has got nothing to complain about. But for me it all boils down to someone in a room somewhere who gets to decide whether me and the love of my life get to be together.
It’s unfathomable what it must be like to have children being held in a separate facility, even being one of the lucky ones who got a connect to a lawyer before pouring your funds into phsycially tracking down where your child is, just to be in the same room as them, and then look into your child’s eyes when they ask, “How much longer do I have to stay here?” and have no clue how to answer. I can’t begin to conceive the emotions the parents I’ve been hearing about on every major news station have been feeling. I don’t think that’s one of those things we get to understand without actually being in that position. Yet, I think everyone knows what it’s like to understand that your life; the lives of your loved ones; all the things most precious to you – are in the hands of some bureaucrat somewhere. I think we all can get how maddening it can be being told to have faith in a system when you have no real experience to give you any.
While I can’t set it out in words what it must be like to be one of the countless immigrants uncertain about which country their family’s future is in, I can tell you what it feels like to be one of the lucky ones, and maybe you can work out the rest.
You’re freshly graduated from university and like most of your graduating class, you’re terrified of the “Real World.” But unlike the rest of your graduating class you’ve worked out a scheme to avoid the confrontation thereof for as long as possible. You’re going to have a gap year abroad (or 10).
You find yourself in an alien place where the immigration laws are not in your favor and your best bet at staying put is to convince the government that you have something to offer this country to help make its GDP a little bit higher. Though your plans were for two years tops in this place, somehow, your career found an unexpected upswing and along the way, you met her. Suddenly you’ve got no reason to leave that you can find.
So you stay.
Years pass and you somehow manage to get past the, “I don’t see how we could possibly be going in the same direction in our lives” conversations to invest a bit of faith in what you two have. You meet her family and though you’ve got no Y chromosome (and with it, the earning power and traditional values her family expects her significant other to have), her family likes you. You tell yourself that eventually they may even accept you want to marry this girl and build a life together.
At the same time you struggle with your career – being “comfortable” here, but unable to pursue the profession you’ve dreamt of having since you were a kid (Not to mention being legally prohibited from marrying the woman of your dreams). Even then, when she asks you if you’ll marry her, you say, “Yes,” completely baffled about how all this could possibly work out.
After a while, she tells you that she’d be willing to come back to your country leaving everyone and everything she’s ever known except you. You try to suppress the urge to break up with her to keep from destroying her life and somehow find the will to believe in yourself and the life you two will build in another continent. The way you feel about this person tells you that no matter how bad it could all go (and it could all go horribly, horribly wrong), it would be worse to not be together, grow old, and die with each other’s rings on your fingers.
So you start planning.
You work out a timeline that involves you leaving years before her so that you can get situated and help her land softly in the USA. You know that you will not be together for a very long time and the pain and loneliness is something nearly crippling. But you put your ducks in a row, and get yourself back home texting and Skyping at every opportunity to keep you sane.
You begin work in earnest on the fiancée visa application trying to ignore the headlines of immigrants being deported left and right, children being separated, and a country being swept up into a flurry of xenophobic frenzy. You produce a 60-page document detailing and providing evidence for your relationship with this woman, arguing that you really, really, really love her and are not trying to defraud the government. You luck out and find a friend in immigration law who agrees to look over your application a few times before you submit and after her red pen is down, you thank God you met her.
Eventually you submit your fiancée visa application in time to watch the swing vote Supreme Court Justice retire and let an accused sexual assaulter whose sole qualification seems to be the fact that he will fight women’s rights, gay rights, and immigrant rights at every step of the way. You wait, and you wait, and you wait. You read headlines of talks of revoking student visas for students from her country, of the thousands of dreamers getting lost in the system, of millions of voters who by their testaments will not trust your fiancée because she wasn’t born here. You read the news and you wait.
One day she visits, and the whole day she’s in transit you’re holding your breath because all it takes is one overzealous immigration officer whose report says that this tourist visa holder has an intent to marry a US citizen on file, before she’s not only flagged, but permanently banned from re-entering the country. You tell yourself that precedent is on your side, and it is. You have every reason to believe that multiple visits to the US and meticulous adherence to US law would weigh in her (and your) favor, and it does. But still, you doubt. At last she arrives, and it all seems like a dream.
For two weeks you try to show her all of the awesome things about your hometown, crossing your fingers that she either won’t notice, or will forgive the violence against immigrants in the news, the current disarray of our political system, the rising cost of living, and the copious supply of ignorant people all around. You hope against hope that somehow she’ll look at your home and believe that this is a good place for an immigrant to start again when you don’t believe it yourself. You quell the guilt you feel at the bringing her into this incredibly difficult life path, and you are quiet when she tells you that it’s her choice to make.
Then she flies back, and you resume waiting. Your legal friend consoles you that you have a strong case and that probably you will only need to wait another half year before the visa is approved and you can start looking at the logistics of actually moving. Your friend tells you this with heavy bags under her eyes from fighting losing battles for the immigrant families she’s been working tirelessly to keep in together and in this country. She tells you that she can’t promise anything (because you can never promise anything) but sighs as she tells you that you are two of the very, very, very lucky ones. You believe her. But still you doubt.
Now you’re writing an article hoping that you can help someone understand even just a little bit what it’s like to be or love an immigrant in this country, knowing that there are millions of others who deserve sympathy far more than you or your fiancée. You finish your article working to find the positive spin that concludes a sad narrative knowing that the best one out there is the one that's true – At least you know it could be a lot worse.