In Nashville it is very common to hear people make ugly comments about illegal immigrants. The city has even gone as far as allowing law enforcement officials to detain people they believe to be in the country illegally. The process to become a legal immigrant is long and costly. Contrary to the Hollywood version, marrying a US citizen does not automatically bestow citizenship upon you. My wife and I were married in 2002 and it took two years of paperwork and petitioning and a change to immigration law called the Life Act before I could even move to the United States.

In order to emigrate to the United States ther are a number of different visas which can be simplified into the following categories: family, employee, and humanitarian. Each visa has specific application paperwork with multiple pages to be filled in and requires different kinds of supporting documentation and attendant fees. These fees run in the hundreds of dollars and are non-refundable and the slightest error in your paperwork or missing documentation could result in your application being rejected. Hiring an immigration lawyer is an option but has no guarantee of success. My wife and I are both native English speakers and fairly intelligent but struggled at times to fill out the forms, which at times seemed to contain contradictory instructions. Finally we came up with a plan to fill the forms out in pencil then go over the requirements before we committed.

Having your paperwork approved is only the first step, usually there is an in-person interview. The in-person interview happens in most cases in a consular office or embassy if you are still outside the United States or a “local” field office if you are already in the country. These heavily guarded offices usually require the interviewees to arrive hours in advance and endure the elements before having their case decided in minutes by an immigration officer whose decision is final and cannot be appealed. For our final interview for my permanent resident visa, or green card as it is commonly known, my wife and I travelled to the Memphis field office. We spent the night in Memphis and arrived at the office at 7am and there were already people waiting. We were not allowed into the building until 9am and were not called for our interview until close to 11am. Our interview lasted approximately 20 minutes with an immigration officer who looked up briefly from the file in front of him to ask us for copies of our divorce decrees and marriage certificate. At the interview, we were told that my application was approved and I would receive the card in the mail. To this point we had spent approximately $5000 over a four-year period and didn’t know what the outcome would be. For families seeking a better life, that is a gamble they may not be willing to make.

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