Anniversaries and Immigration

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Two dozen years out and it’s still a humbling thing to think that someone chose to leave her family and home country halfway around the world in order to spend her life with me.

Perhaps if our decision to get married hadn’t been so essentially impulsive, we would have been a bit better prepared for the hassles we faced with what was known at the time as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)—now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operating under the Department of Homeland Security.

Then again, if it hadn’t been for hassles with the INS, we might not have made the decision we did. See, M was here on a student visa that was set to expire. If she returned home, she didn’t know when—or if—she would be able to make it back to the states.

Get married, we thought. That’ll fix the situation, we thought.

Okay, we didn’t really enter into our marriage to address a situation with a student visa. But we were young and foolish enough to think that getting married, having known each other less than a year (and, really, only a few months at the time we decided to get married) was a solid enough plan, when the alternative was to be apart for months, perhaps even years. If it’s rash to get married after knowing each other only a short time, it is potentially deadly to so short a relationship to have a prolonged separation.

And so we married. And so began our long-term relationship with the INS.

I cannot express how fortunate we were to live in a city with a major INS office. The mind reels to think what the immigration process is like for someone trying to navigate it from outside the country, or even from a few states away from an INS hub.

Keep in mind, this was back before the Internet was a common thing in peoples’ homes. In fact, at the time, I wasn’t even aware it was a thing. We couldn’t just log on and download the forms we needed. We had to phone the INS, tell them what we needed, and wait for them to send out the forms in the mail. We then had to complete the forms, gather up the necessary supporting items (photographs, birth certificates, marriage certificate, translations of M’s birth certificate, etc.) and mail them into a government office that would then get back to us at some unspecified time, with essentially no means for us to track the progress of our case.

Adding to the complications was the fact that M was not legally allowed to work, so I was having to cover the immigration filing fees on top of all of our other living expenses, on what is perhaps best described as a meager income. I was trying to build a business screen-printing shirts, and occasionally temping in different offices around town when funds came up short. Making sure we had enough funds in the bank to cover a check to the INS, with no idea of when it might be cashed, was a bit of a strain.

I didn’t keep a count of the number of times we had to submit the complete package for M to get her ‘resident alien’ status, or ‘green card’. Perhaps overly optimistic, and clearly naïve, I didn’t realize just how many ways we could be made to re-do a few detailed forms, and ship off all of our supporting documents.

The packet was returned to us for the photographs (a strip of four for each of us) being the wrong size (we’d paid a professional photographer for that first set, not realizing we could’ve gone to Kinko’s for the correct-sized photos for much less).

The packet was returned to us, because it was not clear who had completed the translation of M’s birth certificate (we did—thankfully, the INS accepted that).

The packet was returned to us because we were missing a form. (It had been in the packet when we sent it). Did I mention we were having to mail in our marriage certificate and our birth certificates with these forms—not copies—the actual documents?

Rather than call the INS toll-free number to request a new form, I drove down to the office, thinking that, like with the Post Office, I could just pop in and grab the form. (The office was down near the wholesaler where I bought t-shirts anyway). Instead, I stood on line for over 45 minutes, as the number of clerks dwindled down to only one clerk at one window.

Then he was gone.

All of us in line stood there, looking about nervously, irritated, wondering how it was possible that they had just stopped dealing with us altogether. Roughly fifteen minutes later, one of the clerks returned and announced that if we had not already gotten an appointment, we would have to come back the next day, because all the day’s appointments were filled. That clerk, again, disappeared. Wait? Was I in the wrong line? I can’t just get a form from somebody? I had been waiting in line to schedule an appointment to get a form? I ping-ponged about the building, stopping and waiting in a few other lines, trying to find out if there was some way to just get a copy of the form. ‘Call the INS toll-free line,’ I was told.

Seattle INS

Love, Marriage, and Bureaucracy — The old Seattle Immigration Office–complete with holding cells.

The packet was returned to us another time because there was ink on our photographs. Sure enough, there was a smear of blue ink across the bottom of my strip of photographs—a smear that had most certainly not been there when I mailed the packet in.

The packet was returned to us because the date we wrote next to our signatures had passed the one-year mark.

Then, after we re-did those forms, the packet was returned to us again, because the INS had updated one of the forms—although, aside from the form number and issue date, I’m really not sure what was different.  But we had to fill out that new form, anyway, directly transferring information from the old form.

The whole process seemed designed to frustrate people into deciding that a green card just wasn’t really worth it—or to force them to pay a lawyer to file paperwork that really wasn’t all that complicated—at least on the surface.

By the time our forms had been approved and we had an appointment for an interview scheduled, our daughter was approaching the one-year-old mark. In all that time, M was unable to leave the country to visit her family, lest she be denied re-entry.

The interview itself was rather anti-climactic. The agent who interviewed us, apparently taking the presence of our child as evidence that we weren’t in a sham, immigration-law-circumventing marriage, asked us a few brief questions about our wedding and our backgrounds, then signed off on all our paperwork and sent us on our way.

Our later dealings with the INS—to get M her full U.S. citizenship status—took place when the Internet was more of a thing, a new immigration office had been built in our region, and processes had reportedly been streamlined. It was much less dramatic and frustrating. And, despite her nervousness, M passed the immigration exam handily.

Still, even with all the immigration hoop-jumping we had to endure, I’m glad we made the essentially impulsive decision we made.

Happy anniversary, M. I love you.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Happy Anniversary: Flagpoles and Drawers

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On the night I first met my wife, M, I climbed to the top of the flagpole outside the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. As I reached the top, one of our fellow party-goers shouted out, “Go, monkey-man!” So I did what anybody would do in those circumstances. I clung to the pole with only my legs and feet, and beat my chest, gorilla-style, then threw out a few flex poses before shimmying back down.

It was a display of bravado, born of a desire to show up two younger men at a party. Both had attempted, and failed, the climb. As a pair—perhaps one as the interested party and the other as “wingman”—they had attempted, and failed, to initiate multiple conversations with M that evening, never making it beyond an exchange of pleasantries.

M has no recollection whatsoever of the pole-climbing stunt.

What she remembers of me from that night is what she refers to as my ‘patience’ at speaking with her throughout the evening. M was born and raised in Japan, and her English was imperfect. Add in a raucous party soundtrack, and the swirl of a crowd, and communication could get choppy.

But patience didn’t figure into my perspective of the meeting. Having the attention of a beautiful and (per her own description) weird young woman was not the kind of thing that required a great deal of patience on my part. If seeking out mutually understood vocabulary extended the conversation, and scored me points for being attentive and ‘patient,’ then so much the better.

Out of control party people.

Out of control party people.

The guest of honor at that birthday party, our mutual friend D, had driven both M and me to the party. Shortly after our arrival, M set to work on the birthday gift she had brought–a sort of origami kit that formed a miniature chest-of-drawers. At first, D had intended to share in the crafty construction, but was frequently drawn away by other guests and obligations. After the umpteenth interruption, D suggested I take her place at the table where the paper furniture was being assembled.

The DIY furniture that brought us together--more complex and much smaller than anything from IKEA.

The DIY furniture that brought us together–more complex and much smaller than anything from IKEA.

In previous months, I had been subjected to some of D’s other attempts at matchmaking. And, at the time of the birthday party, possibly unbeknownst to D, I was casually dating the host of the party, D’s soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law (hey—I had nothing to do with the divorce—that marriage fell apart before I even met her).

After the initial, obligatory background questions, M and I quickly learned we shared an affinity for writing, hard rock, and violent cinema. It was a stiltedly animated conversation, with small bursts of excitement at each common reference point, and a fair amount of laughter over our often-clumsy attempts to bridge the language gap.

origami drawer

The actual miniature chest of drawers–still alive today.  Thanks, D!

The flagpole incident took place hours after the chest of drawers was completed, when we had all filed outside in the final moments before the party dissolved into various groups loading into separate cars and heading out in multiple directions.

I didn’t see M for another two months after that—when a family emergency led to D gifting M her ticket to an Alice in Chains concert that I was also attending.

The night of the concert unofficially marked the start of our ‘courtship’—a shaky period of largely reckless interactions, tempered somewhat by fortunate circumstances, that ultimately necessitated a definition-of-us conversation. To even our own surprise, that talk led to us abruptly moving in together and setting a wedding date—in no small part due to the impending expiration of M’s student visa, and the uncertainty surrounding her ability to return to the U.S. if she were to head back home to Japan.

Looking back, I’m still awed by the strange urgency of our coming together—a time I still picture as the two of us tumbling along on the front edge of an avalanche.

But I wouldn’t hesitate to ride that avalanche again, or to climb any number of flagpoles, in order to embark on that same path of mutually-sought understanding and love–a path we’ve been traveling for over half of M’s life, and almost half of mine.

Happy 22nd, M!

Matt Walsh Freaks Out Over Supreme Court Decision He Hasn’t Read (Or Didn’t Understand)

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It’s more than a bit comical that Matt Walsh accuses Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage case) of reading “like a lengthy Facebook post written by a 17-year-old” given that Walsh, utilizing the ‘you’re-not-the-boss-of-me’-style language of 6-year-olds, titled his own angry rant about the decision “Gay Marriage Still Doesn’t Exist No Matter What the Supreme Court Says.”

Walsh really should have added two or three exclamation points and at least one angry emoji to that title.

Walsh claims, repeatedly, that Kennedy and the other majority justices simply made up the right to marry for, well, adults who Walsh thinks are gross and icky. He claims that there is no legal precedent for such a decision, and that the majority opinion “barely attempts to offer anything resembling a constitutional defense or a coherent thought.”

Matt Walsh on his porch--Why bother with an actual analysis of a Supreme Court decision my audience will never read anyway?

Matt Walsh on his porch–Why bother with an actual analysis of a Supreme Court decision my audience will never read anyway?

I’m guessing Walsh didn’t actually read the legal arguments offered in the majority opinion. Barring that, one can only assume that Walsh was so consumed with rage over all those icky and gross people being allowed to marry that he was incapable of comprehending what the opinion said—or that he’s just too stupid and childish to understand the “constitutional defense” that is offered, and offered in great detail, with multiple citations of precedent cases.

After all, Walsh does not actually link to the decision, so that his readers would be able to check the validity of his arguments. Instead, he links to another article on The Blaze (which does link to the Court opinion), and to stories on CBS News, NBC News and even, yes, to MSNBC, as evidence that the court “upended the institution of marriage, dismantled the rule of law, undermined the will of the people, and canceled out the legislative process entirely.”

Let’s take a brief pause so that you can check out the Majority Opinion. It is rather lengthy, but, in case you don’t want to read the whole thing, like many Court opinions, there is a “syllabus” at the outset (the first five pages in this case) that explains the overall issues, legal precedent, and basis for the decision.

Majority Opinion

Had Walsh read even the syllabus (and been able to comprehend it) he would have realized that the court argued:

  • The “institution of marriage” has had an evolving definition over time, which basically means his whole argument about what marriage “really” means is only so much, to borrow a phrase from Justice Scalia’s recent Obamacare dissent, jiggery pokery.
  • The rule of law was not “dismantled” in this case, but worked exactly like it was supposed to—utilizing legal precedent, and examining the specific impacts of particular laws and legal questions, to arrive at a decision about how laws can be equally applied to all adult citizens of the United States. That’s kind of the job of the Supreme Court, Matt.
  • ‘Undermining the will of the people’ is, perhaps, a bit more complicated. Yes, there are states where people voted to keep same-sex couples from marrying, just like there are states where people voted to allow same-sex marriage. But, to borrow a bit of bumper-sticker-style wisdom, that’s the great thing about rights: we don’t get to vote on who is allowed to have them and who isn’t. Everybody gets them.
  • As for “cancelling out the legislative process”—laws are subject to judicial review. That’s how that whole “balance of powers” thing is supposed to work. Funny thing is that laws can be “cancelled out” if it turns out that they’re illegal.

But Walsh tries to make the argument that the same-sex marriage decision is evidence that liberals have taken over everything throughout all of America, and are doing all they can to attack Christians and make the once-great United States of America into some gross, icky thing where Matt Walsh has to put up with gross, icky people, just because liberals want to make people like Matt Walsh all mad and uncomfortable and stuff.  Walsh seems to forget that there are plenty of Supreme Court case decisions that liberals haven’t been particularly happy about, but when you have a persecution complex, you have to ignore all evidence that doesn’t allow you to play the victim (especially as you accuse others of playing the victim).

There are multiple meltdowns throughout Walsh’s piece, including this string of ‘ideas’ that sound like an affirmation for people suffering a break from reality because of the Court decision: “There is no right to gay marriage. There is no gay marriage. It’s not real. It’s not possible. It’s make-believe. It means nothing.”

It almost makes you feel sympathetic enough that you wish one of Matt’s super-heterosexual friends would grab him by the shoulders, slap him, and tell him to get a grip.

Walsh continues on with a segment that he subtitles “What is a Right?” He makes the claim that, to liberals, “a right is some sort of cosmic force that guarantees him access to whatever he happens to want,” going on to enlighten everyone that “Constitutional rights” and “human rights” are, instead, those rights bestowed on us by our “Creator.” So, rights are not a “cosmic force,” but rather granted by our “Creator.” Good thing Walsh cleared that up. It all makes sense now.

But just a few follow up questions–does the Creator grant us rights based on what we want, or what we need, or is there some other criteria?  And does the creator only grant those rights to heterosexuals?  Or, maybe the heterosexuals get some of those rights to themselves, but not all of the rights only to themselves?

Also included is a segment subtitled “What is Homosexuality” in which Walsh argues that anything other than good, old, heterosexual, marriage-based boning is just a bunch of twisted urges that people can walk away from.  Or, in other words, if you think you might be something other than completely heterosexual, you are confused and looking to justify your desire to engage in sinful behavior.

Okay, Matt, we all get that you’re confused by the idea that there are people who think sex might involve more than just attempts to make babies, and that gender identity might involve more than the binary boys vs. girls. But your confusion doesn’t mean that you are an expert on human sexuality. In fact, your confusion pretty much means that you’re the opposite of an expert on human sexuality—some might even say that it means you’re completely ignorant and should probably not say anything else on this topic–at all–ever.

In Walsh’s view, there are greater goods to be achieved by marriage, such as stability in society.  But, he asserts that somehow that stability is undermined unless marriage exists only so that families can be created–and created by fertile, heterosexual couples. Walsh does not feel the need to fully explain himself here, as we all know that families are only and always created by heterosexuals marrying and having children—no exceptions. We also know that having children is the only reason people get married, and that anyone who is not heterosexual does not have/belong in a family.

Walsh says that even though the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage in this case, there are still limits on marriage that the court is willing to enforce, and wonders why that is. Of course, most of the examples of marriage limitations that Walsh cites are pointless—a human and anything non-human, three or more humans, multiple humans along with other non-humans, an adult and a child, etc. These arguments are meaningless, because the Court is not asserting that marriage involves anything other than two adults willingly entering into a legal relationship, which is the question the Court was charged with answering.

Those situations Walsh hightlights where there is potential for further clarification of legal definition—including the example of a brother and sister wanting to get married, or multiple people wanting to get married in a polygamous union—are not involved in the current decision. Arguably, it is possible that cases involving such relationships could come up in the future. But they are not at question now, and the same-sex marriage decision does nothing to allow such unions. For now, the decision allows each adult to enter into a (non-incestuous) consensual marital relationship with one other adult—which means it is giving all adults the same, basic right, instead of granting it only to the people Walsh thinks are not gross and icky.

Ignoring the entire history of marriage, which has involved a range of issues much more than simple love and procreation between two God-fearing Christians, Walsh makes the absurd claim that marriage is only and always a union condoned by God and God alone, having nothing to do with the state. He, for example, ignores the fact that marriage predates even the Jewish religion, not to mention the Christian religion, and that much of it involved such events as arranged marriages that were tied to issues of property and inheritance, including those property exchanges where the wives were considered part of the property. I’m guessing Walsh is okay with at least some of the changes in the definition of marriage that have occurred over time; although if that is the case, it would essentially undermine his own argument of an eternal, monolithic definition of marriage.

Walsh further asserts that allowing only heterosexual marriage does nothing to harm gay people, and that, “Before the legalization of gay marriage, the government wasn’t ‘involved’ in marriage, as so many have claimed.” This is just patently stupid. One would have to be completely ignorant of what the law says about property rights, transfer of property rights, legal say over medical decisions, legal say over custody rights of children, and numerous other legal rights, responsibilities, and benefits that come with marriage to make such an argument.

And even if Walsh was ignorant of the myriad rights and legal benefits that marriage confers, he would have understood at least some of those issues if he had bothered to actually read the Majority Opinion, or even the syllabus of the Majority Opinion, wherein several specific situations of the petitioners are made clear, involving (gay) adults and their families being deprived of rights because they were not legally allowed to be married, or because one state recognized that right, but another did not.

It’s irresponsible enough to assert that something represents an illegal power grab by one’s political opponents simply because one disagrees with that thing. It’s even worse to assert that something lacks legal standing when one has not bothered to read and understand that thing. And it’s worse, still, to assert that something lacks legal standing when one has read and understood that thing, and simply decided one would rather argue to the contrary for one’s audience, knowing full well that said audience will not bother to read and understand the original thing and are simply looking for someone to lay out an argument that supports their own anger and lack of understanding.

In this case, giving Walsh the benefit of the doubt would mean one of a few very distasteful options: that he either didn’t read the Court opinion, or that he didn’t understand it. Otherwise, he is deliberately lying to his readers.

In the end, Walsh’s argument comes down to his view of what is right, based only on his beliefs. But rather than asserting that it is his view, he asserts that what he views as right is the absolute truth, and that it is backed up by God Almighty as it has always been and always will be.

Walsh apparently doesn’t recognize that even God changes God’s mind—I mean, at least if you believe in that whole law/gospel, Old Testament/New Testament business.

Still, I will grant that Walsh is right about one thing.

There is no such thing as gay marriage.

It’s just marriage now.