Saturday, July 08, 2006

Detour Ahead - Citizenship Denied

Our trip to Phoenix for Jorge's citizenship exam didn't go quite like we had hoped.

The day started out with a big curve when just as we were about to leave for Phoenix, which is a 3 hour drive from Yuma, we realized that we didn't have several documents that we were supposed to take with us. We had left Jorge's passport, our marriage license and some other things in Ensenada. Yikes. As a result we were an hour behind schedule getting on the road. In the end we were able to get some copies of those documents faxed to us before we left. We weren't sure if they would accept the faxes but it was the best we could do at the time so we just had to go for it and leave that in the Lord's hands.

On the drive up Jorge continued to study for his exam...he knew all the history and civics facts and felt prepared for the exam. In spite of leaving late we arrived to check in for our appointment right on time. It took over an hour for them to call Jorge's name and finally it was his turn. I wasn't allowed in with him so I was praying out in the waiting room.

Jorge came out about 30 minutes later and he was white as a sheet! Evidently things didn't go well but it wasn't until we got downstairs that he told me what had happened. To make a long story short, the lady was very tough and only wanted yes and no explanations allowed. Our case is different from the norm because we don't "live" in Arizona and we don't "live" in California...we actually live in Mexico, but our "residence" is established in Arizona. So when Jorge tried to explain our situation she wouldn't allow him to go on. Jorge says it was a very intense meeting and he felt like he was being questioned like some sort of accussed terrorist trying to prove his innocence.

There is a clause in the immigration laws that says that if a resident alien is married to a US citizen and the citizen works for a mission organization and the couple lives in a foreign country then the time abroad counts towards the time requirement for eligibility to apply for citizenship. Unfortunately however, Jorge was not allowed to give any explanations of our special circumstances.

I decided to go back upstairs and try to talk to someone to see if they could explain to me what happened. One of the problems with dealing with INS is that it is so difficult to get an answer when you have a question. I was afraid that if we left that office without understanding why Jorge's application had been denied then I would never be able to get a straight answer later by phone. It wasn't easy but finally I was able to talk to a supervisor. She didn't help me much but the one thing she did say is that in a few weeks we will get a report sent by mail which gives an explanation of the decision that was made and it tells us what course of action to take if we want to make an appeal.

So, the long and short of it is that Jorge citizenship request was denied but we will have the opportunity to appeal.

We have no idea what this will mean for us in regards to time, how long this whole process might take and when we might be able to get a solution to this whole ordeal. Our hope is that we can get this all resolved before returning to Colombia.

Initially we were discouraged and frustrated but now that we've had time to process everything we are at peace and all we can do is take it one step at a time and trust that the Lord has some purpose in this and we trust him for the outcome.

One thing that encourages us is that perhaps the Lord will use our difficulties to help other people in the same circumstances. We know there are many other people (fellow YWAMers, for example) who have the same circumstances and this whole issue of immigration can be like a dark cloud that hangs overhead. No one that I talked to at the INS office, not even the supervisor, knew about this special clause but I know it exists because I researched the INS website and I found where it is explained. So maybe our case will help draw attention to this and make it easier for others who come behind us.

So, the saga continues!