Posted on November 30, 2012
ex·o·dus — a going out; a departure or emigration, usually of a large number of people
One week ago today we left the Dominican Republic for Florida. I had planned to write an update long before this, even on the day of travel, but there was no time.p
For us, this trip was very significant, an exodus of our family from the Dominican Republic. Far more than a flight, or even the end of the visa process we had been in for three years, but the departure, as a family, from a country that had been a part of our lives for many years.
It is not that this is the end of our relationship with the Dominican Republic for it is is inextricably intertwined in our lives. We met in the Dominican Republic; we married there. We lived together and separate for several years there — eight for me, four for Karan. Our children were born there and part of their heritage is Dominican. No, we are not finished with this country but one week ago our relationship changed forever. It was a shift.
In 2003 I first moved to the Dominican Republic. Over several trips, in many suitcases, I brought many things there. In 2008, Karan moved to the Dominican Republic and in 2009 he moved in with me and our lives and possessions merged. In 2010 I moved back to Florida with the children, taking our most precious things, getting rid of much more and leaving Karan with a scaled down version of our home.
For two years and ten trips, I traveled to the Dominican Republic. It was as if I haven’t really left. The umbilical cord was stretched thin but not cut. Each time I returned, I was in my second home, with my husband and with my familiar belongings that I left behind. It wasn’t about the things but rather what they represented. Like having your toe dipped in the pool makes you feel like you are participating in the water in some way, so the objects that I left behind made me feel like I was still living there.
But that all changed on November 20th when we were surprised and delighted to get Karan’s passport delivered with his visa. Until then, we still didn’t know what was going to happy. We had positive news but nothing concrete. We had to keep that toe in the water and also be prepared to leap if our news was bad. With the visa, however, we knew we could finally leave, together, and that changed everything.
On November 21st we completed all business in town in the morning and in the afternoon/evening we started moving out our things that had buyers, packing up what we wanted to keep and gathering the mounting trash pile.
On November 22nd we loaded our suitcases into a taxi and took them to a hotel in Gazcue. I stayed at the hotel while Karan returned to the apartment to clean it and hand over the keys. In typical Dominican fashion, after leaving the place spotless, and ten waiting several hours, the landlord decided that he wasn’t sure he would return any deposit and also wanted the padlock Karan had bought. Knowing that we had no recourse since we were leaving the next day, Karan kept the lock and left. Then Karan went to get our certified marriage certificate we had paid for, a document we would need in the United States. More waiting. He didn’t get back to the hotel until nearly 10pm.
After a quick clean up we headed out for a last night/celebratory dinner at a local Italian restaurant. At that point I was so tired from all the stress, adrenaline and then moving we had experienced over the last few weeks that I felt I could barely keep my eyes open. Even now, a week of good rest later, I am still worn down.
But we celebrated anyways because the moment was well…momentous and we had to acknowledge. Then after the meal, we collected ourselves and returned to the hotel for a restless sleep until morning.
We woke up with plenty of time so we walked to a restaurant the neighborhood, Villar Hermanos, which we had visited often when we first started dating. There we had a rather unsatisfactory breakfast as they were out of most of what we wanted and the rest of the food came cold. At least the coffee was hot.
After breakfast we picked up some sweets at the local market and walked back towards the hotel. One last errand we wanted to accomplish was to exchanged some money, about $300, from pesos into dollars. Just as we turned up the street to our hotel a man approached us with a wad of pesos and telling us he can change the money for a good rate. Now we are not neophytes in the Dominican Republic, we knew to be careful. Karan took the money out to count. Then he handed me part of it for the taxi fare. Next thing we know, the money changer said to count it all and took both my pesos and Karan’s and handed them back to Karan. We were both watching and didn’t catch the trick but in the slight of hand he had pocketed the bulk of the money and just left us with the taxi fare. After handing it back he said something about how it would be better to do the exchange at the hotel. We agreed and walked off, not realizing until we were back at the hotel that we had been duped. A nice send off from the country we were finally freed of.
Freedom, that was just it. Freedom for Karan to travel to the United States, yes that was what the visa allowed, but it was also freedom for me that I wasn’t bound to traveling to the Dominican Republic to keep my family together. I could come and go when I chose now.
The rest of the trip was rather uneventful. We went through customs in the Dominican Republic with no issues. San Juan was our entry point to the United States and we went through together. It was all very surreal. Karan got photographed and fingerprinted twice and signed some papers. Then his visa was stamped as admitted and we were off to our connecting flight.
The flight from San Juan to Jacksonville was long and we were able to rest a bit. Then, the moment came that we had been waiting for, we exited the plane, walked out to the greeting area and Marcos and Elsa ran as fast as they could to hug us. Karan got the most hugs but I didn’t mind at all…
Posted on November 20, 2012
Above: Karan receiving the packet from the Consulate.
In the Dominican Republic, progress is like trying to go up a slide that is covered in molasses. The amount of effort it takes it do small things is insane. People don’t keep appointments, answer their phones, the phones don’t work, the signal is bad and you can’t connect, everything breaks down all the time, power goes out, the rain comes (which stops everything like it was a volcanic eruption), jobs are changed, responsibilities shifted, papers lost or not properly stamped, the wrong information is given or no information is given at all. Daily life in the Third World.
When you spend some time living in a Third World country, your expectations get worn down until you are surprised if anything works or gets done on time. You surrender to the obvious lack of control. That is where I was this morning. Being a holiday week, I awoke with the awareness that we had today and tomorrow to find out anything or the week was lost. Yesterday I had received a form email from the Consulate saying that they would respond to my inquiry within 48 hours. They wouldn’t and I knew that. My lawyer friend had emailed on Wednesday of last week and they still hadn’t responded to her.
I just couldn’t do nothing. On Friday a congressional aide inquired for us, a favor for a friend, and were told our petition was approved, yet we still had no word from the Consulate nor anything in writing. I had gotten excited so many times before, only to have my hopes dashed, that I needed more confirmation. My lawyer friend suggested we go to the Consulate the following morning with the information on the specific congressman and where they called. I emailed a follow up to the aide.
Meanwhile, we had already paid for the delivery of the visa in the passport on the date of the interview. The company is called DomEx (modeled after FedEx) and you get a tracking number. Karan suggested I check the tracking number to see if it showed anything. We had checked before and it showed the visa was in transit in the Consulate. Today, however, it showed the visa had been received on today’s date and was in process. We got excited but I still wasn’t sure what that meant so I called. I gave the lady at DomEx the tracking number and I said I wanted to find out the status. She then says that we can’t pick it up from the office because the courier had already left. I was still cautious about what that meant, unable to believe that the visa was, in fact, ready, so I ask when we can expect the package to be delivered and she said the package would be delivered today!
Part of the magic of this country is that after trudging up that molasses laden slide day after day, every once in a while you get a break, with no warning, and it feels like jet propulsion. It is actually just normal progress in the Western world but here it is all relative.
It was 10:30am when we got the news. We got the passport 4 hours later. While we waited we could not stop smiling but there was still a slight tension in the air. We didn’t want to be fooled. What if the passport came without the visa? What if it didn’t come? We knew these were foolish fears so we didn’t say them out loud. Instead we just smiled and waited, not able to eat or work. Finally at 2:30pm, Karan heard the gate open downstairs. Like two kids on Christmas morning we rushed to the window to see if it was the delivery man. It was.
There will be plenty more challenges in our lives but after this we are ready. We leave on Friday, one month to the day of my arrival. In all these days this trip, with all this stress, we have had only a few difficult hours between us. No relationship is perfect but after all we have been through, we do not sweat the small stuff.
Whew, feels good to be vindicated.
Posted on November 19, 2012
Today I feel like a balloon floating up in the air, still visible as I slowly float up but too high to grasp.
Friday morning I despondently booked my ticket to return to Florida alone. Friday afternoon we got some hopeful news that our petition may have been approved. It was just enough hope to wait a little longer so I cancelled my ticket.
The weekend passed slow. Time doesn’t pass here, it’s more like a slow drip. In the States my life is full, jam-packed, and I try to squeeze in even a few hours a week with no plan. Here, the days just hang, like ripe fruit that you think is going to fall at any moment but stays clinging to the tree.
Today is Monday. We knew we would know nothing over the weekend so I was hoping against hope that we might hear something either way today but no. I so desperately want a confirmation, not only because the approval is what we are striving for obviously, but also to know that I made the right decision to stay longer. It is agonizing to feel pulled in two directions.
On the one hand I have surrendered to this process. It has been 4 weeks today that I have been here. I lost one client but picked up two more. I am missing a lot in Florida but I have this rare abundance of alone time with Karan that we may never have again. With the stress and the sacrifice is also peace and indulgent love. Clearly it is not all bad.
But the yes and no, back and forth, has been very taxing. When we heard the visa was under Administrative Review and there was a chance we might still be denied, it felt like all the heartache of all the love I have every felt all piled on at once. I couldn’t think, couldn’t eat. The pain doubled me over. But then the hope came and I rose up again.
Now I simply float. I have no confidence to tether me. Not yet. I am just here, waiting and watching from a hopeful place, just an uncertain one. A process like this causes one to lose one’s footing, to feel like the floor is cracking beneath you, so the only safe place is up, floating above.
This is Thanksgiving week. I am missing so much with the kids. There will be more holidays together. I feel that everyone who is a part of this journey, who are helping us and cheering us on, are part of this team, an extended family, so even though I can’t float home yet, I am still a part of it all.
Posted on November 18, 2012
This week has been an emotional roller coaster. Since our visa interview on October 29th where we were told our visa was approved pending the submission of three documents, our entire focus has been getting those documents. One document, the police report from the Dominican Republic was delayed two weeks. It was agonizing to think that we were delaying the process by not having the documents. Then holidays got in the way.
Finally, on November 13th we submitted all the documents, and as I wrote in the previous post, we were shocked to find out that we weren’t actually approved. We left the Consulate frustrated and dejected, our minds racing with possible reasons for the delay. This was especially painful because earlier that day we were actually convinced we were going to be given the visa that day and we started planning when we would leave. But as the hours passed we started to think that perhaps we were mistaken. Still, nothing prepared us for the news that the visa was still undecided.
I am blessed that I have the support of good people, many of whom I have become close to through our visa process. One of them, an immigration lawyer of Dominican descent who lives in the U.S., offered to see if she could find out what was going on with our case. She had me fill out a form giving her the authorization to inquire. She tried to fax the form to the fax number listed on the website for the Santo Domingo consulate but the fax would not go through. I tried from here with the same result. So she emailed it to them and then called the phone number the immigration officer had given me to inquire about the case. The Consulate said they would not accept inquiries over the phone.
The next day she called again, this time asking for someone’s first name and that got somewhere. They told here the full name of someone with the same first name and asked if that is who she meant. She said yes and they said that the person didn’t work there anymore but then transferred her to someone else. Then, and only then, was she able to find out that our case is under what is called “Administrative Review”. At this point the Consulate did not give details nor did they respond to the email from the day before.
The definition of an Administrative Review is as follows:
“Administrative Review” refers to a Consular Official placing the case “on hold” because the Visa Petitioner or Beneficiary FAILED TO PASS the security name check or background check, or because the Consulate or State Department or Homeland Security NEEDS TO INVESTIGATE some issue or matter in the case more closely. Cases placed into Administrative Review can ADD WEEKS OR EVEN MONTHS to processing time and final decision on visa issuance, typically in most cases AT LEAST 4 to 8 weeks additional time. Under current regulation, there is no right of appeal within State Department or Homeland Security for administrative review status. It is suggested that visa petitioners and beneficiaries keep track of the status of their case as best as possible, and secure, if possible, the reason or reasons their case has been placed into administrative review, which at least helps to relieve some anxiety during the waiting time.
It was devastating news. I have been in the Dominican Republic nearly 4 weeks and it has been a strain. One of my regular clients has cancelled her contract with me. Money is tight. I am missing so much in the States and the pressure of the holidays are encroaching. Yet I have been stubborn in wanted to stay and see this through. Four to eight weeks more was simply not possible.
We reeled with the news. Despondent, we had to face, yet again, the possibility that we may not get it. Even though we knew there was nothing in Karan’s past that would cause us to be denied, this has not been a fair process. The reality is that this process is completely subjective to the immigration officer. In our first petition, we didn’t have all our documents but instead of giving us the opportunity to submit them, we were denied and our petition marked as fraudulent. This time, our case was much stronger but we were still grilled by the ‘Fraud Protection Unit”. Then we were allowed to submit the missing documents but, at the whim of the Consulate, that still wasn’t enough.
With an Administrative Review (AR), it is initiated on the part of the Consulate but in our case, there was nothing in our file to justify this. I believe we are, in fact, victims of profiling because of the circumstances that my Indian husband is living in the Dominican Republic and now applying to live in the United States. The Consulate has mishandled this case. At no point should we have been told our case was approved and even pay for the delivery of the visa when in fact it was not approved yet. The Consulate should also not retain my husband’s passport.
Perhaps this has happened to us to draw attention to an unjust process. In researching about what an Administrative Review is, I read some heartbreaking stories of couples, who just like us, had the rug pulled out from under them. One couple had their visa approved and delivered. Then they noticed that the name was spelled wrong so they went back to the Consulate. The Consulate took the visa and then decided to initiate an AR and the visa was delayed for 6 months. Meanwhile the husband who was waiting for the visa had quit his job and bought plane tickets but then couldn’t use them.
There is much talk these days of immigration reform but I have yet to hear them mention family-based immigration, only the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Family-based immigration is the process we are in, where a U.S. citizen petitions for a member of it’s family: husband, wife, child, parent, etc., to be allowed to immigrate to the United States. It is the easiest form of immigration to control because there is a U.S. citizen that can be held accountable, yet in many ways, this type of visa is harder to obtain than a tourist or student visa. In theory it makes sense: make it harder for someone to come and live in the United States versus just visit. The problem is that once someone visits the United States, they could easily petition for a change of status of just stay illegally. With family-based immigration you need to submit far more criteria including a residence in the United States. It seems like when it comes to immigration reform, this is the place to start.
I am all in favor of due diligence to be sure; we do not let bad people into the United States. My issue is that this diligence is hit and miss, not part of the process. Why should my husband be singled out? Who is to say he is more of a risk than anyone else? If the objective is to keep our borders safe then by all means do so but the same rules should apply to everyone. My suggestion is that when you apply, you should get fingerprinted and then all the agencies can check you out. It should be standard. Even if it cost more it would be worth it if the process could be expedited. Let’s keep families together. The pain that this process causes families is extreme. If the process was more thorough it could be quicker and more fair.
Another issue is that the database that is used to check the applicant often generates what is called “false hits”:
There are reportedly an alarming number of false hits caused by similar or identical or very similar names, or errors, inconsistencies or discrepencies in listed names in official documents. This is true especially in countries, such as the Latin countries, where there are only a few surnames and name-similarity is common, or record-keeping accuracy in official documents is dubious. Reportedly, approximately half of all names in the NCIC database are Latino, and this has resulted in a high number of false hits for individuals with common or very similar last names at Consulates in the Latin countries. Applicants presently are not allowed the opportunity to prove that they are not the same person as that on the database, nor is there a way to initiate security checking in advance of the visa application. [Source]
Clearly reform is needed. As for us, all is not lost. After spending two days with no hope, on Friday, November 16th, we got some more help. I put the word out via social media that if anyone knew a congressman to please contact them on our behalf and perhaps we could speed up the process or at least get some answers. One friend did just that and since she had worked for this particular congressman in the past, he had is aide call on our case. I am not sure what agency was called but the aide was told our petition was approved the day before. That gives us tremendous hope to be sure but until the Consulate confirms this, or better yet, until we get Karan’s passport in hand with the visa, we can not relax.
Posted on November 14, 2012
Photo credit above.
Sometimes I write because I have ideas I want to share. Other times I write to stay sane. This post falls in the second category.
I have now been in the Dominican Republic for 3 weeks and 2 days. The pressure to return is increasing by the minute. Clients are getting restless, my mom is stressed with the kids, the kids are stressed without me, all the while I am stuck, stuck between two worlds yet again.
I arrived on Oct. 23rd. On the 26th Karan picked up his medical results, a requirement for the visa, and on Monday, Oct. 29th we had our interview. After a very long day we were told we were approved pending the submission of three documents. We then spent the next two weeks waiting for the documents until finally on Thursday, Nov. 8th we got them. The consulate was closed on the following Friday and Monday so it wasn’t until Nov. 13th that we could submit them.
The morning started off bad. We overslept and when I looked at the clock it was 6:44am. We had set the alarm for 5:30am because we needed to be outside the consulate by 7:30am. We got dressed and rushed out the door without a chance to eat anything.
At this point I thought this was really just a formality. We give them the docs, they confirm that they are, in fact, the correct ones, and then the visa goes into the cue to be processed. Not so fast…
We got to the consulate right on time. The lines were long. We showed one of the workers the papers and they moved us ahead in line. Our turn came, we handed it all in, including Karan’s passport. Everything was checked and stamped. All good we thought. Then the lady behind the window hands us a number and a temporary pass to enter the consulate and says in Spanish “Para coger se lo.” which means “To get it.” I was taken aback. I didn’t expect that we would be going inside at all. Her words made it sound like perhaps we were going inside to “get the visa.” We were very excited.
Inside we waited 8 hours, all the while our empty stomachs grumbled. We realized once we were inside that we had forgotten to take any money to buy food with. It was a rough wait. Finally, around 2pm our number was called to window 22. It was an older, American immigration officer. We were sworn in. He was very nice and polite and said “Well, did they tell you last time about the administrative process?” “No, I said.” “Well he continues, you have provided all the documents we have asked for so there is nothing more we need from you. Nothing more you need to do.” Then he paused. “We are waiting for an answer from the system, we asked for this a few weeks ago, and we do not have it yet. I will keep your case file on my desk and check it every day. As soon as we get an answer, if it is okay, we will process the visa.”
So then I ask “Are you saying that there is a chance our visa will not be approved?” “Yes he said, if there is something in his past that would not be favorable but if there is nothing then that would be favorable. There is nothing more you need to do. I can’t explain the process but you need to understand it is our duty to protect the United States.”
I was dumbstruck. After we thought we were at the end, approved, and we had done EVERYTHING that was asked of us, now they say, no, not yet and maybe just no. The officer apologized that we still had to wait but he could not give us an answer as to how long. He said that Hurricane Sandy delayed things and if he didn’t get an answer by next week he would ask again.
I am trying to rise above this and be zen about it, that there is a higher purpose, a plan, but I am having a hard time with this one. Karan has nothing in his past so there is nothing to find, but I do not trust the process after everything we have been through so I am paranoid at this point. In my heart I still feel we will get it but I also feel beaten down. After all this time away from the kids and all the responsibilities in Florida, I am most likely going to have to return without Karan while we wait some more. It feels like failure.
Karan, in anticipation of leaving, has stopped his business here. He did not order hair so he has none to sell. He was going to take a break and just focus on the U.S. first. Then start the business up again. If I have to leave without him, I’m leaving him here with no job, no income. This delay will cost us more than $1000 in living expenses and tickets. After this debacle I am convinced I need to travel with him so that is another round trip ticket at peak holiday rates plus money for Karan to live while he waits. This process makes me livid.
The consulate is giving us the run around. There is no reason for this. It is simply unfair. It is standard protocol to do a background check with Interpol before a decision is even made to grant an interview. They either skipped that step, which makes no sense, or they are checking something else. Is this because he is from India? It is because there are Muslims in India and it borders on Pakistan and Bangladesh? Karan is Hindu with no political ties so it makes no sense. Any red flags in our application should have already been addressed. That is what it means to be approved but for us I guess it is yes but no.
So now the consulate has Karan’s passport and everything else yet we have nothing. One step forward and several back. If it wasn’t for all the support of everyone who knows our story and the unexpected help from friends, like the immigration lawyer who is going to call and see if she can find out what the f**k is going on, I would give up. But I won’t give up, I’m not defeated, just really fed up with it all.