Immigration is Humbling…

My last post about immigration got Albin and I thinking about how humbling the residency process is. Even if you are an upstanding citizen who works, pays taxes, doesn’t do drugs, and follows the directions down to a T in regards to filling out your paperwork, you can still be treated poorly and/or denied access. No matter what, you have to prove that you’re worthy to come into that country, and in our case, it’s not even on our own merit; I’m allowed to live in Costa Rica because I married a Costa Rican and maybe someday Albin will be able to say the same about the U.S.

Here are two humbling situations that have happened to Albin and me in our process to enter the U.S. without being stowaways:

  1.      This one just makes me look ridiculous … pride comes before the fall. Don’t forget this a no-judgement zone. When we first married, we were trying to get Albin a 10 year tourist visa into the U.S. so we could visit my family at any time. He had been rejected before, so I went into this meeting determined because now was in attendance. Albin tried to prepare me for the fact that there would be a long line of Costa Ricans waiting to be interviewed. I brushed him off and told him that I wouldn’t have to wait because I was a U.S. citizen at the U.S. embassy. Being the entitled American that I was, I passed the long line of people sitting in rows and went straight to the doors where citizens could sit inside (with A.C.) and briefly wait to be attended. Albin reluctantly followed me, but I’m sure he was pretending like he didn’t know me. In front of the dozens of people waiting in the line, the guard stopped me and asked why I was there. When I told him that we were there for Albin’s visa appointment, he told me that we needed to wait in the huge line. I told him that he must have misunderstood, I was a U.S. citizen. He asked if Albin was a U.S. citizen. Well, no he wasn’t, but surely there were exceptions for the spouses of citizens. I think the guard almost laughed in my face and I’m positive everyone in line that had witnessed my arrogance were pretty pleased I was swiftly put in my place. I then proceeded to grab Albin and do the walk of shame to the back of the line. Pride is ugly, y’all.
  2.      After we received aforementioned tourist visa, we went back to the U.S. for the first time as a married couple. Since being humbled at the embassy, I was not as pompous as I had been previously. As we filed into the border control line in Atlanta, we were told to stay together since we were married. When we were called to come forward, the official stamping passports wouldn’t allow me to come with Albin despite me saying that we were married. He (very rudely) told me to go to the window across from his. Not wanting to cause a scene, I went to the other window and the immigration official treated me well there. As I was finishing up, I heard the man working with Albin literally barking at him to put his fingers on the scanner to be fingerprinted. Albin was clearly not understanding, not because of his English (which is excellent), but because the lid was down on the scanner and the man didn’t realize it. I went over to help Albin and the man told me to leave. I started to get that protective wild hair and told him that no, I wasn’t going to leave and that I was going to help my husband because clearly they were having some communication issues. He stopped what he was doing and said, “You’re married to him?” in the most degrading voice ever. He knew we were married because I had told him that when he had first separated us. His tone dripped with intentional disapproval. If it hadn’t been a federal offense, I would have jumped over the counter and slapped the guy right there. I was livid. I told the official again that yes, we were married and that he was mistaken and needed to lift the lid on the scanner in order for Albin to be scanned. As the officially reluctantly stamped Albin’s passport and scowled as we walked away, the official that had helped me told me to ignore the other guy. Clearly we weren’t the only ones there aware of the official’s inappropriate behavior if another official felt the need to tell us to ignore him. The problem was that it’s hard to ignore someone when they make derogatory statements about who you are. It wasn’t as much humbling as it was completely humiliating for Albin. He still gets all jittery when we’re about to go through border control, but thankfully we haven’t ever been separated or treated poorly like that again.

Like I said above, it’s a humbling process. In my first example, I just needed to be knocked down a few notches, but in the second situation, we had no control over how we were treated because of Albin’s nationality. He had done nothing wrong and the official had no right to treat Albin in that way. While I would have loved to file a complaint, I was scared. I didn’t want to be marked at the black sheep of immigration since we would be spending a lot of time in customs and border control for the rest of our lives. In a way, both situations were a reality check for me. In the first, I was whacked out of my superiority complex … which was necessary. In the second, this naïve white girl got her first true taste of prejudice, and it opened up my mind to the very real problem that is racism. In a way, both experiences were good for me because both taught me how I don’t want to be perceived when faced with racial differences.

 

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Immigration

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that anything that has to do with immigration gets my gag reflex going. For those of you who want to know if we got married in the U.S. or Costa Rica first (because yes, it matters in the process), we married in the U.S. first and then got it certified in CR. We turned in our paperwork almost right after getting back from our wedding, but there were some complications and one of our papers expired before we could get scheduled for a meeting with immigration. Side note: we were paying a lawyer (who was a family friend) good money to take care of these things for us, but we found out too late that she was not doing her job very well.

While reading over our documents one night, it hit me that my tourist visa would be expiring in one week and that due to the meeting complications, I was going to be illegal here. Not to mention that I already had a job … which if you don’t have the correct papers, can lead to a swift deportation. Don’t take this lightly, I’ve seen normal people deported from CR before. I started sweating immediately and we called our lawyer. She casually confirmed my suspicions and said I need to leave the country immediately (this was the moment that the family friendship started to deteriorate).

After a minor breakdown and hours of ranting, we bought bus tickets for several days later and hightailed it out of there. We went to Bocas del Toro, a small chain of Panamanian islands near the southern coast of Costa Rica. Minus the panicking and the exhaustion of several buses and water taxis, the trip turned out to be a blessing. It almost made up for the fact that we didn’t get to go on a honeymoon and it was honestly one of the first times since we had gotten married that we felt relatively normal.

While the trip was a blessing, the residency process was not. We finally were given appointments with immigration and did what we had to do, but no matter how organized I was, something always went wrong. Like “they lost our original marriage certificate” kind of wrong. I mean, I should have never given them the original document, but I was naïve to the ways of the Costa Rican filing system (i.e. possibly nonexistent).

I was also unaware of how difficult it was to get fingerprinted here. At the time, there was only one place in the capital to get fingerprinted for the residency process. The first time I showed up, I was oblivious to the line stretching out the gate and around the block. After waiting far too long, I overheard one of the guards saying something about running out of numbers. Only the first 50 people in line were allowed to be fingerprinted that day and I was not one of those first 50 people. The next time around, I decided I would be there when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I was not the only person to have that thought. In fact, I wasn’t among the first 50 people to have that thought. Fail. I approached the guard and asked what time she thought I should arrive in order to be among the first 50. She thought getting there between 1-2 hours before opening time would suffice. Sooo, basically camp out at the crack of dawn. I’ll admit it; I had to have a crying/cursing Costa Rica session in my car to pull it together. After my pity party, I went back to the guard and asked her if there was any other way. She told me that sometimes they would give out more numbers in the afternoon if there was space. The next week, I rolled up in the afternoon hoping for the best. There were huned’s of people there. I went up to my guard (we were becoming fast friends) and she had sympathy on me. She took me to another line and told me to wait there. Besides getting the stink eye from all those people I had apparently just cut in front of, I was feeling pretty confident.

As I came to the front of the (shorter) line, another guard asked me if I had brought the correct seals. What seals? No one had mentioned seals, the instructions I had been given didn’t say anything about seals, and can I bribe someone to ignore the fact that I didn’t have seals? No. Go look around the block and ask at the banks and law offices, they probably have them. I literally ran around the block looking for the seals and of course, no one had them. Finally, desperate and furious, I stopped at a little soda (which is like a little hole in the wall restaurant), and the cook sold me some seals for 20 cents as she served up some rice and beans to another customer. What the…?

By now, I’m panting and sweating and all my guard friends are cracking up at the poor gringa’s plight. I must have done something right though, because as they laughed, they let me pass everyone in line. Success. Not only did I get fingerprinted that day, but I made friends with some guards who clearly needed some comic relief and found an unlikely love for a greasy cook selling 20 cent stamps and Diet Coke.

And then we waited … a long time. About two years in, we finally called the immigration office regarding my visa and I remember overhearing Albin talking to the lady and getting increasingly frustrated with her (which is unusual because Albin is often much more merciful in situations like these). She refused to help us because she said it was impossible that my residency had taken that long and that residencies are processed within 90 days. Albin assured her that wasn’t the case for us and that we just had a question. Nope, a two year wait was impossible and therefore she could not answer our question. He hung up with a prompt “gracias por nada” (thanks for nothing).

Two and a half years later, I was finally given my temporary residency permit; even though it would expire after one year, there were tears of joy that day. I am currently waiting for my permanent residency permit that I get through having my baby in Costa Rica (anchor child anyone?) and I was told it would only take 90 days to be processed. That’s what I was told in regards to my temporary permit, so I’m not getting my hopes up this time. The 90 day limit is today, so I’ll keep you posted.

Immigration processes and policies are definitely a complicated matter. Albin and I have been praying about and considering moving back to the U.S., but we’re trying to come to terms with the inevitable high cost, long wait, and load of work it will take to make that kind of thing happen. It’s intimidating, overwhelming, and humbling (especially when immigrantion is a hot topic right now and people aren’t careful with their comments). Trying to do things correctly and legally through the immigration system is frustrating enough to make even Donald Trump think twice about his hateful assumptions (fun fact: Did you know Trump is married to an immigrant?).

Moral of the story: residency processes just suck. Accept it and move on. No matter where you’re applying, prepare yourself to receive a different answer from everyone you ask about ANYTHING, to spend a lot of money in filing fees (and seals apparently), and to wait. If you are married to (or are going to marry) someone from another country, you said “I do” to lines in immigration offices. Embrace it.Try to have a good attitude and enjoy the ride. All that hard work means you get to live with your foreign dreamboat, and even Trump can attest to that :).

Sidenote: If you’re not going through immigration processes, try to have some grace with immigrants despite the current attitude of condemnation that is so popular in the U.S. right now.  Not everyone trying to get into the U.S. is a druglord or rapist. As evidenced by the devastating story of the Syrian children who drowned this past week as their family tried to escape the war- you never know what extreme circumstances are bringing someone to take desparate measures. That Syrian father wanted was a better life for his family, can we blame him? That could have been you or me, risking everything to give our family a peaceful future. Don’t be quick to judge, friends, almost all of our families were immigrants at some point. 

Crossing the border into Panama

Crossing the border into Panama

He is Not the Enemy

The other day when I went to my suegra’s (MIL) house, one of Albin’s aunts was there without her newish husband. He’s from Italy and she’s a Tica and they’ve been in CR visiting for a month. Things were weird but I wasn’t about to ask what was going on. I have my own drama to deal with.

Later on in the week, we heard the full story. Specifics aren’t important, but basically the Italian’s son came to CR to visit and had some difficulty at a border crossing with a Costa Rican official regarding a requirement for crossing into Panama. Said Italians proceeded to get frustrated and newish husband made a pointed comment referring to “Latin American inefficiency” to said Latin American aunt. Said pointed comment hating on Latin Americans was not appreciated by Latin American aunt. If you’re married to someone from another country and you’ve ever even remotely been snubbed by your significant other by demeaning your country, I’m sure you can guess how fast things went downhill after that. Don’t worry, they worked it out and they’re fine now.

As I was sitting there listening to Albin’s mom, grandma, and another aunt describe the situation and totally throw the “newish husband” under the bus for his uncalled-for and immature behavior, I couldn’t help but smile.

I TOTALLY get it.

I had a moment to myself and then decided to stick up for that hot-blooded Italian. If I had a dollar for every time I took out my frustration of Latino ways on my Latino husband, we’d be loaded. Sure, his comment was uncalled-for; obviously the immigration inefficiency is not the aunt’s fault; clearly the situation could have been handled differently. I’m not saying he’s right at all, but just that I understand. How many times have I been stuck in San Jose traffic for hours and come home raging against Costa Rican infrastructure and all things Costa Rica to my Costa Rican husband? How many times have I made rude comments to Albin knowing that I’m cutting down his culture and “inadvertently” cutting him down as well?

It is so easy to blame the other person. It is so easy to take out your frustration on your mate because they’re there and they embody the culture to you. Somewhere around our second year of marriage, I realized that I was making Albin the enemy. When something in his culture didn’t meet my expectations, I would take it out on him. I’m not perfect and obviously, it seems that sometimes I can just be downright mean. I’m almost embarrassed to write this out, but I want to be painfully honest about the things that I’ve learned so that maybe someone else won’t have to struggle as much as we did. Once I realized this unhealthy pattern, I found a lot of freedom. I recognized that CR traffic was my enemy (lol), not Albin. I had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness for letting my frustration get the best of me and for belittling his country, and subsequently, him. Then I had to find ways to fight against my negativity towards whatever “my enemy” was. Let’s just say I’ve listened to millions of hours of audio books while stuck in my car.

So, after explaining all this to Al’s family; they were quiet, but I’m pretty sure I saw some understanding in their eyes. They’ve seen us go through this process and they’ve seen a lot of my ugliness. They’ve also seen me grow, learn, and become more flexible. The best thing I saw in their eyes was grace. They might not quite understand why I am the way I am or why I’ve struggled in the ways that I have, but they see me trying hard and they respect it.

Moral of the story? Your spouse is not the enemy. Rather than verbally vomit all over your beloved because of something they literally have no control over, speak life over them. I promise it will make everyone involved feel a lot better.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Has this happened to anyone else? I’d love to hear about it.

 

How to Marry a Foreigner (in 500 simple steps)

For the record, I don’t mean to come across as negative in these blogs; I’m just trying to be real. For all of those bicultural couples who have been smooth sailing from day one, I’m super impressed, but I wonder if you really exist. If you do… this probably isn’t the blog for you- unless you want to share your secret.

It’s no secret here that our first year of marriage was anything but a “honeymoon period” and that year two and three were almost just as hard. There were a lot of good things that happened as well during those years, but this fourth year is when we can really see the proverbial fruit from those first three years of hard work. Now that I feel like I have some experience under my belt, I just want to express my process in case someone out there going through the same thing.

Sometime during our first year, I desperately typed in “how to marry a foreigner” on Google. True story. Skipping over all the residency process garbage, I actually found an about page describing how to marry a foreigner. It was all in 7 simple steps that were something like this:

  1. Go to a foreign country.
  2. Meet people from that country.
  3. Choose a foreigner that you are compatible with.
  4. Get to know the person and confirm your compatibility.
  5. Understand laws and conditions about marriage in your home country and the other person’s home country.
  6. Marry the person.
  7. Decide where you will live and begin the process of gaining legal residency.

Sounds pretty simple to me. I remember wondering why I was being such a wimp if it was an easy process. I mean, didn’t anyone else have to wait three and a half years to receive a one-year temporary residency permit because the Costa Rican government lost your original marriage certificate and claimed you never submitted it (even though you have a form from them saying you submitted it)? Didn’t anybody else have fights in Spanglish even though they were “compatible”? Didn’t any other Gringa decide to not change her last name lest her children be named with two same last names? Was anyone else laughed at in the U.S. when they wrote their address on immigration forms as “200 meters south of the former Burger King, first yellow house on the left”?  After reading this, I definitely started having a “woe is me” moment.

Well, the good news is I’ve grown since then and I’ve realized that while getting married to someone is pretty simple, it’s the actual marriage that isn’t so simple.  It’s been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I have gotten to know myself, Albin, and God in amazing ways. I’ve learned to navigate (better) through Costa Rican bureaucracy, to fight in my second language, and to get over the fact that I didn’t change my last name. Not only have I learned to drive a stick shift in the madness that is CR transit, but I’ve also learned to follow and give directions by only using present (and past) landmarks.

What I’ve learned the most is that with time, foreign things become less foreign and can even become, dare I say, charming (except for immigration, that God-forsaken place will always be foreign and NEVER charming).

So that being said, I think the list could go on and on and be called “How to Marry a Foreigner in 500 simple steps.” For now though, I’ll simplify and rewrite those original 7 steps and add one of my own.

  1. Pray. A lot.
  2. If you meet someone from another culture and feel they might be “the one”, pray even more and think about what each of the following steps imply.
  3. Recognize that bringing two people together from different cultures requires a lot of work and ask yourself if you’re willing to do that work, and possibly live far from home.
  4. Get to know that person and start seeing a godly counselor. Now.
  5. Understand laws and conditions about marriage in your home country and the other person’s home country. Go into this process with more patience that you’ve ever had. Expect things to be frustrating, to make no sense at all, and to never be a simple process. Have no expectations and you won’t be disappointed. Prepare for long lines, different answers from every person you talk to, and more forms than you’ve ever seen in your life.
  6. Marry the person. No joke, the wedding planning will be a breeze compared to proving you’re not an illegal alien. I mean, haven’t you ever seen the final interview scene from The Proposal? If you haven’t, I’ve included the link for your viewing pleasure.
  7. Prayerfully decide where you will live and then begin the process of gaining legal residency.
  8. Become a team. This means that you pray (more) together, wait in line together, fight for one another, hate immigration together, don’t go to bed angry with one another, don’t blame the other person for a ridiculous trait their country has, have lots of sex (to release tension acquired at immigration), and encourage one another. It’s the only way.