November 13, 2002

How Your Views of the INS a...

How Your Views of the INS and Terrorist-Screening Change When You Have an Immigrant Wife: Dr. Frank has an excellent post on this topic (scroll to the one under "So that's why they let him in"). For those of you who haven't experienced it, picture the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a kind of DMV on steroids, where things take five times as long, and mistakes can ruin your life. Here's a snippet from Frank's post; though I recommend reading all of it:

My own experience with the INS and the visa application and processing system has been one of endless, tedious screw-ups caused by poor communication amongst departments, general incompetence, and ludicrous procedures that plainly run in the face of common sense. The various departments involved (The State Department, Justice Department, INS and SSA) seemed hardly able to communicate with each other at all; none of them recognize each other's documents or directives; each almost seems to be in a state of denial that the others exist. In the midst of my routine fiancee visa-marriage-adjustment of status process, everything ground to a halt because of a data entry error at the port of entry and a dysfunctional database. The fact that my wife had two last names (a maiden name and a married one) apparently caused a total meltdown of the INS computer system, which is extremely odd for a process solely dedicated to dealing with marriage visas. Most irritating of all, perhaps, is the fact that government personnel now routinely use 9/11 as an excuse for just about any screw-up or problem. [...]

I couldn't help thinking: if they can't keep track of two people who return to their offices day after day begging to be kept track of, how the hell can they handle the cases where someone is trying to evade detection? And while they were putting the little English country girl with the provocatively-placed ankh tattoo through the ringer for the umpteenth time, or shuffling through the 300 plus pages of photocopied financial records that I had to file each time we talked to anyone, I couldn't help wondering whether Mohammad Atta had this much trouble. I'd bet he didn't.
It's something Emmanuelle and I have wondered dozens of times over these past 14 months. Bush came to power promising to drastically reform the INS (in fact, he campaigned heavily to Arab communities in Michigan and elsewhere about the unjustness of the "secret evidence" system ushered in by the 1996 anti-terrorism bill). ... Hopefully I'll soon go back to the INS, but this time as a reporter, not a terrified customer.

Posted by at November 13, 2002 11:21 PM

I'm hoping a little "union busting" of the civil service rules, embodied in the "Homeland Security Bill" will start addressing some of these issues. Sure woulda been nice, however, if Bush had tackled the problem head on, instead of hiding under the umbrella of the WOT. I guess we'll see. Entrenched bureaucracy is difficult to disentrench.

Posted by: Ray Eckhart at November 13, 2002 11:45 PM

Our talented pal Tony Ortega finally got his beloved to the USA! I'm sure it was a freakin' nightmare.

Posted by: Ken Layne at November 14, 2002 12:02 AM

One of my wife's earliest memories is of an INS officer telling her she was "the littlest wetback" he had ever seen. My sister-in-law, a citizen, married an Indian who was deported a few months *after* their wedding because his "lawyer" (who was trained as a lawyer in India but had not passed the bar here, but was nonetheless allowed to practice under INS rules) failed to file some paperwork - It took just about four years to get him back. Thank God he gat back just two months before 9/11!

Bush's promised INS reforms were one of the few things I was looking forward to from his Presidency. Now that I am concerned with both treating imigrants respectfully AND keeping out terrorists, I STILL think splitting the INS is a good idea. Those two jobs do seem completely different to me.

Posted by: Timothy Roscoe Carter at November 14, 2002 12:02 PM

I don't have any horror stories, but I am indignant that my (Chinese) wife and I must beg and scrape and prove to some bureaucrat that we are really in love. If the INS thinks I married my wife as a business deal to get her citizenship, let them prove it. Somebody told me America was a free country; has anyone in the INS ever heard of the fifth amendment?

Posted by: Floyd McWilliams at November 14, 2002 06:58 PM

What a nightmare. I was transferred by my company back to the US in early 2001 with my Venezuelan wife of then two years. We applied for a resident visa on September 25, 2001, after 911. We fill out all the forms which were kicked back a time or two for failure to cross t's and dot i's but finally along with checks that totaled nearly US$1,500 got them accepted. The INS took her passport and still have it now nearly 14 months later. They did give her a piece of paper (these pieces of paper cost US$110 each) with a picture that says she has been "paroled" to the US. These "paroles" last for one year so we are working on the second one as I write and they still have her Venezuelan passport. I asked what we would do should an emergency (she has elderly parents) occur and she would be required to travel back to Venezuela. They said that they would return the passport but the procedure would stop in place and we would be required to start over from the beginning and would include another payment of the nearly US$1,500.

When we go to the INS office - a 100 mile round trip - we are treated just like every other supplicant - like shit. My wife will not allow me to go with her to their office anymore since she is sure that my raising hell with those assholes only puts her name further down on the "pending" list. I don't think so, since I am certain they already know they are assholes and my simple confirmation has no weight whatsoever.

I have asked myself a hundred times if I would let the Venezuelan government keep my passport for 14 months. You guess the answer to that one.

Larry R. Duncan
Mission, Texas

Posted by: Larry R. Duncan at November 14, 2002 07:07 PM

As a naval officer, I spent a lot of my time assisting foreign nationals in the U.S. Navy navigate that bureaucratic morass. They would routinely send paperwork months after they had expected it to be filled out and return, then berate these Sailors for missing the deadlines.

DoD finally worked out a deal to get a specific INS office dedicated to active duty military members, and I believe they also streamlined the citizenship process.

It would be nice if they could just fix the system for everyone, and I don't believe that streamlining the process necessarily has to be at the expense of security.

Posted by: Bill Herbert at November 14, 2002 10:18 PM

Wow, these stories are horrible, although they don't surprise me.

In L.A., where we have an immigrant or two, you have to line up three hours before the place even opens, if you want to have a spot. Often, the people inside do not speak Spanish, which is funny, because 98% of those standing in line *do*. One time, when we'd waited in line for three hours, an employee asked us what we were in line for (I think it was the charmingly named "advanced parole" that poor Larry is still dealing with), and the employee said "Oh, then you come to this line right here!" We went to that line, and when we got to the guy at the counter he said "Wrong line. Go back outside. Next!" We tried to protest, and explain our situation. "NEXT!!!" My wife uttered an obscenity ... I think it was "Fuck!" ... and the guy responds by having the security guard escort her outside, and ban her from returning that day.

Took three years to get a 10-year visa & green card, all in all. During that time, we had to apply for "advanced parole" every time Emmanuelle left the country. The first time the process went pretty speedy .... 10 days, maybe? The last time it took around four months, and only came two or three days before our non-refundable plane tickets needed to be used. We actually called Congressman Waxman's office to intervene, and because of that he gets my vote every time ... though I have no idea where he stands on INS reform (his staffers said he was very interested, of course).

What's worse, and what few people realize outside of civil rights fanatics and people like us, is that the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act gave border guards and INS drones the unappealable power to ruin your freakin' life with one lousy stamp. We lived in terror of "the dark room" -- that room off to the side at LAX, where jabbering Russians and freaked-out Arabs and bewildered Asians would sit with Emmanuelle, while the immigration dupes made tasteless jokes about people's names, and ruined the lives of maybe 1 in 10 of the people there, all of whom had just been on an airplane for 5-20 hours. Fucking lovely, all that.

I might be in touch with some of you later, as I prepare a post on post-Sept. 11 immigration reform....

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 14, 2002 10:43 PM

Remember personal info?

However, to do so he had to go back to Egypt and re-apply to enter the US as a student. A Muslim Egyptian applying for a student visa? No problem... actually, he was held up for several months. I've been thinking of trying to get his story together (all names/places changed, of course) for my blog, but I don't know how willing he'd be to tell it.

Posted by: Steve Gigl at November 15, 2002 09:01 AM

My best bud has been married to a Dutch national,who has been here since she was 4. She's probably getting close top 40 now.She still has neither green card nor citizenship. Her parents applied for her SSN back in the stone ages when I guess they gave then to anyone who asked for one,s o she is able to hold down a job and they never hassled her for papers when she got her first Drivers Licence so she is a functioning American in every respect she can be. Obviously they never travel abroad, and she is still wondering what to do at this point, after sending letter after letter to the INS with her very meager paperwork explaining she is at a loss as to what to do. She has never once recieved a reply and now kinda lives in fear of them sending her....where ever, since her parents moved here from Indonesia after his service in the Dutch Airforce was over,a nd no they are not Indonesian although without doubt the INS will think she is, since that is where she flew in from long long ago.
As was pointed out above by another commentator, digging out a dinosaur of a bureacracy such as the INS is gonna be difficult at best, but if there was ever a time when the US populace would ignore the bleatings of the INS stalwarts as their ricebowls get smashed, now would be the time.

Hmmm, the democrats want a lifevest to hold to,they would be well advised to grab this one and get a slew of votes in the process, both from the security standpoint as well as the rescuees from the INS/Gestapo

Posted by: DavidD at November 15, 2002 10:00 PM

Other people have a much easier time:

Posted by: Lonewacko at November 16, 2002 03:34 PM
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