In September of 2000, I was working as a bartender in Orlando. That’s how I met Neil. He was on holiday, and he stayed in the hotel I was working at. He begged for my number for a week. Eventually I relented, and we went on a few dates. The day he flew back to his home in England I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried. My heart was broken. We lived an ocean apart and I was never going to see him again.
He called me the next day, and we began a long distance relationship. He visited me here, I visited him there, we ran up $500 phone bills. After 2 years, my Mom told me that if I was never going to date anyone else, we really needed to try living in the same country to find out if our relationship was going anywhere.
I applied for a work visa and I was denied on what seemed like a persnickety technicality at the time. I was assured that we could iron that all out once I was in England, so I went over as a tourist. I was aware that my tourist status would run out eventually, so after 6 months we went on vacation to Paris, and I re-entered England as a tourist again. At some point we decided to actually get married. My Mom started doing some research and discovered that getting married ‘the wrong way’ could cause problems down the line, and we decided to start over from scratch and apply for the appropriate visas and get all the paperwork done right.
I moved back to New York and Neil stayed in England. We got an immigration lawyer. We filed paperwork. So much paperwork. There were notarized affidavits from friends and family members certifying that they had observed our relationship and it was ‘real’. There were medical exams and financial reports. We jumped through hoops. We jumped through hoops for 2 years to get Neil into America legally.
He came over on a fiancé visa, which meant that we had 3 months from the day he entered the country to get married. If we did not get married within that 3 month window, he would be deported, and we would have to go through the whole process again.
Mom and I were prepared for this. We started planning the wedding before Neil got the fiancé visa. We had everything all set for the wedding 6 weeks into the fiancé visa.
My grandmother died the day Neil moved over here. She had been sick with COPD for a while, and we knew it was coming. The timing was terrible. I couldn’t take off work to go to the funeral because I was about to take time off for my wedding. My Mom went down to Florida to handle the estate and she was never the same. She came back from Florida and was just sick. At first the Dr thought it was Mononucleosis. It made sense, she got run down dealing with the emotional ordeal of her mother’s death and the physical reality of handling her estate, and the added work of dealing with my upcoming wedding.
Mom’s health got worse instead of better. She went into Nyack hospital with pneumonia and a weakened immune system. Plans for the wedding went ahead because if we didn’t get married, Neil would have to leave the country and the whole process would start over from the beginning. Mom got transferred to Cornell Medical Center. We talked about bone marrow transplants to restart her immune system. She started to improve. We talked about holding 2 wedding ceremonies, a tiny one in her hospital room and the planned one in the church.
Mom died of a lung hemorrhage on February 9th. The wedding went ahead on February 19th. Everyone said we should cancel. My anniversary would forever be intertwined with the memory of my Mother’s death. But I knew. I knew with every fiber of my being that my Mother would want the wedding to go on. She would not want to be the reason Neil got deported. The best way to honor her was to go forward with the wedding she had put so much time and effort into planning, and to start a life with my husband.
We got married with my Mother’s photo on the altar. Our honeymoon in Florida started with a memorial for my Mother because, ever the planner, she had booked my grandmother’s church for a small gathering because we knew my grandmother wouldn’t be well enough to attend the wedding. When Grandma died, no one thought to cancel it.
After the wedding, and a bittersweet honeymoon, and the memorial for my Mother here in Rockland, after all of that, we began the process of turning the fiancé visa into a spouse visa.
More paperwork. Biometrics. During this time immigration and homeland security had become intertwined, and the offices that handled our case kept changing locations. They lost Neil’s medical forms and we had to get X-rays redone among other things.
Another 2 years of waiting to see if we would be granted a visa. And during this time, we kept hearing that the best proof of a ‘real’ marriage is children. I was supposed to dutifully produce more good little citizens for my country in order for my husband to be allowed to stay? No thank you. I said repeatedly that I would do my duty and produce the good little citizens my government required once I had a promise in writing (in the form of a permanent resident card) that they wouldn’t deport my husband. Why would I want to bring children into a situation where it would require a transcontinental airplane trip to see their father?
Eventually Neil got his green card. He is a legal permanent resident, and we have dutifully provided enough good little citizens to replace us.
Neil is not a citizen. All of the steps of the immigration process are expensive. A grand total of 6 years of paperwork from fiancé visa to green card represents thousands of dollars invested in that paperwork alone. Citizenship was something we always thought we would get to when we had time and money. And so far, there has always been something else we needed that money for. A hospital bill here, a trip to see family in England there, a new furnace, a new car…
Neil is not an American citizen. He is an immigrant. He’s the best kind of immigrant to be in this day and age. He’s white, and his accent is familiar, easily understandable. No one is going to assume that he is a Muslim or illegal by looking at him.
Yesterday, my government tore Families apart at our borders. Fathers with visas were denied entry into my country. It is the nightmare scenario that my mother warned me about all those years ago. Alarm bells are ringing in my ears. The clanging is loud and relentless. This is not normal. This is not ok. I will not be cowed into silence.
This is my country and I will stand up and fight for the rights of my family.
We are all immigrants.
If you go back a couple generations or a dozen generations.
We are all immigrants.
We came from England, and Germany, and China, and Mexico, and Brazil, and Ireland, and Iran, and South Africa, and Egypt, and Pakistan. We are Christian, and Jewish, and Muslim, and Buddhist. We are refugees, and entrepreneurs, and students, and scientists. We are stronger together. And if you build a wall, we will tear it down.
Written by Katy Geldrich-Turnbull, obtained by Sweet Lemon Pies with permission.