Thursday, October 20, 2011

It can't hurt to ask

When relating our family' s little immigration saga to a friend who went to hell and back to adopt a baby from Rwanda, said friend mentioned a woman who works for our state senator and might be able to help us:

"She has phone numbers, direct lines, civilians don't have access to," she said.

I was appreciative, but humbled, especially in the face of the crazy bureaucratic hoops she and her husband had to jump through over the course of several painfully long years. My initial instinct was, well, our problem isn't so big to warrant calling Senator Leahy's office. Is it?

But when I recently overheard the girls playing a game called, "Daddy died in the war," then Ian called to say he had seen some really cheap airline tickets from Boston to London over Christmas, I realized this was getting serious.

"Christmas?" I shrieked. You mean you really won't be able to come home by Christmas?"

"I don't know," he said. "But it doesn't look likely, and if you have to come over, we better plan it now."

As I mentioned, we received notice that my petition for alien relative had been received and was being processed. We were given a receipt number and a website to consult to find out the status. As of now, the status is under "initial review." Then there is a section where you can enter the type of form you have submitted and it will calculate processing times. When you do this, it says 5 months. Five months. Since the petition was received on September 29th, that means Ian definitely won't be home for Christmas.

But does five months really mean five months, or is that the worst case scenario. It's in the Vermont Immigration office, how many of these applications could they have to review?

Turns out the Vermont immigration service center is one of just three immigration service centers in all of the United States. There is one in California, one in Texas, and one in Vermont. And the answer to how many cases they have to review, is thousands. Who knew? 

So I called my friend yesterday and got the name and contact info for the woman who works for the senator. I hemmed and hawed and practiced what I would say to her, then I called the number. She was out to lunch and I was directed to her voice mail. While waiting for the greeting to end, I chickened out and hung up.

"Vermont is plagued with problems right now," I thought. "Bigger problems than mine."

That afternoon Esther overheard me telling someone it could be five months before Ian comes home. "I thought he was coming home at the end of this month," she said. "We're never going to see him again."

"Yes we are," I said. "We are. It's just complicated."

After a long, sleepless night with the wind howling in invisible swirling assaults around our creaking swaying treehouse, the sun rose to display almost totally-bare trees. Seeing the trees stripped of their leaves like that reminded me of just how long and cold winter is. Isla came shuffling into my room, as she often does, and snuggled up beside me.

"My warm, beautiful Mommy," she said.

"How come you always wake up so happy," I asked.

"Our life is wonderful," she said.

Where did I find this kid? 

My courage and self importance restored, I called the number again today. Miraculously, the woman I was looking for picked up the phone. I sheepishly got around to explaining my problem and apologized for bothering her with trivial matters, and she cut me off:

"This is what I do," she said. "This is my job. Problems like yours are exactly what I am here for."

Having a warm, friendly, experiential wisdom-infused voice in my ear was profoundly encouraging. While she made no promises, she assured me she would call and check on the status, and she would also send me plenty of other info about what happens next after our petition is accepted. I hadn't realized there was a "what happens next" part, but apparently, there is, and it is just as daunting as, and even more expensive than, the first part. It was at this point I cracked a joke about the dog house I was building for Ian to live in once he finally got home. She laughed.

She was all ears, soft sympathetic ears. The concern in her voice validated my stress which I've been doing a really good job at denying. She also had access to lots of information, and said, with confidence, that it wasn't likely any of this would be worked out before Christmas.

And now I'm wondering just how cheap those airline fares to London are.

Knowledge is power. Even though the facts are not what I was hoping for, now that I know that these bureaucrats mean business, as daunting as it is, I feel better. All this not knowing is not good for a person. It a strain to see in the dark. 


Sheri said...

Wow, Betsy, what a rough time for you. Isn't it daunting having to make a phone call like that, you never know who you'll get on the other end of the line. Thank goodness for kind voices. I hope they can make things happen for you!!

And thank goodness for lovely souls like Isla,'our life is wonderful'. She is one cool chick. ; )

Rowena said...

From a woman who knows what it's like not to have the hubs around for extended periods of time: I'm pulling for you!!! Hope this gets resolved quickly and smoothly!!!

samvt said...

Good luck Betsy. Stuff like this can drive you nuts. Hang in there.... it will get worked out. (and maybe book that trip to london for the holiday?)

Seamingly Sarah said...

how sad to think he'll be gone that long and the things the kids say. but you're right, having a plan or knowing what comes next, being or at least feeling in charge of the process helps a little bit. happy thoughts for you, esther and isla (oh and ian too, he's probably even lonelier).

Liz said...

I'm glad you made the call... and London for the holidays sounds lovely!

Was Living Down Under said...

Agh so sorry Betsy. Truly. I know what it's like from both perspectives (yours and the children) to have daddy away for so long. And even when he gets back - reintegration is an adjustment. Good for you for calling her. And how lovely that she wasn't mean like some bureaucrats can be (it's why I avoid official phone calls).

The plus side is that you'll be accruing more air miles, no? More flights=more miles=free holiday later? :)

Thinking of you and fingers and toes are crossed that it gets resolved sooner rather than later...

PS: Isn't it great that kids can sometimes help you see the brighter side... Isla and her 5 year old perspective is gorgeous.

i.ikeda said...

I know a bit about what you going through, having gone through the same process with my husband's visa. It does take long, but surprisingly not as long as I expected. The second part for us actually didn't take nearly as long as the first part of the petition. They scheduled the interview very quickly and then we were done. The biggest hurdle is getting there, with all the paperwork to file, all the documents to gather, his medical examinations (well, at least for a green card we had to do this), and of course all the expenses.

Things seem to go so slow for a while, but it'll be here sooner than you think. And I definitely agree that you did the right thing by calling her. As she said, that's what she's there for.

I hope you get to go to London for Christmas, it sounds like a lovely idea.

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

Okay WOW. I now have to go back a few posts to read exactly what's been going on! (A girl gets busy here & behind on some of her fave blogs, and all hell breaks loose in Vermont!)

Anyway, I can tell this much is true: you need some good juju coming your way, so here are thoughts that all will happen smoothly and quickly.

I'm going to go back in the archives now to see all of what's going on. :)

Stay strong, Betsy!

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

(a little later today)

I got caught up. :) *le sigh* Well.

I was sitting here, thinking "What on earth could I say that would be of any comfort?" and realized there is pretty much not anything. Ha! ;-) Just like I wrote, though: good, good thoughts to you, the girls and Ian, and I hope things come to a quick and satisfactory resolution, which is his safely returning to you all ASAP!

Katriina said...

I agree that it's better to know the full extent of the crappiness of the situation, and I'm so glad you were able to get some clarity on what to expect. Make sure you do go to London for Christmas, whether those tickets turn out to be cheap or not-so-cheap. It's so clear from your posts what a tight and loving family unit you are, and you must all miss each other like crazy.

Megan said...

So sorry about all of this... sending good thoughts your way.

Zoe said...

I never get to check your blog at work - my college has tagged it as porn!! This means I can't catch up on your saga as much as I would like, and as a Brit married to an American and living in Tennessee, I feel very invested in this. I hope you and the girls get Ian home soon.

Having read your recent post about the petition approval, I reckon that calling your senator definitely helped. I had issues this summer renewing my British passport. It took weeks longer than the time listed on the website, and I was told nothing could be done and it looked like I wasn't going home for my first visit in two years. In desperation, I contacted the British Consulate in Atlanta. Within hours, my passport application was complete and I received it the next day. As you were told by your contact, that is what such people are there to do, to be our advocate.

I'm looking forward to hearing that Isn is coming home soon, but Christmas in England ain't all bad.