Fatma first entered the United States on a visitor’s visa late last year. She had recently gotten married in Jordan, and her husband had relocated to the United States after obtaining his “green card.” At the time, I wondered why and how she came on a visitor’s visa. I thought that the spouse of a citizen or permanent resident must enter on a resident visa. Well, regulations change, and it was none of my business, anyway.
They settled into married life, and then she decided to travel back to Jordan to visit her family. Since her visitor’s visa was good for multiple entries for five years, she felt safe to make the trip. Her husband stayed behind because he finally got a wonderful job, after months of sending resumes, attending interviews, and consulting the employment agencies. They did not plan to be apart for more than the duration of her visit– a few months– so she went, and visited her family.
Several months later, she boarded a plane to return to the Untied States.
Upon landing, she was taken into a private room and interrogated regarding the purpose of her travels. She spoke through an interpreter, since she does not speak English. I became aware of the situation when my daughter phoned me in a panic.
“They’ve taken her into a room! They’ve been questioning her for four hours!” Fatma is my daughter’s sister-in-law.
Her husband, with my son-in-law and my grandson, had been waiting for her to emerge, but they never so much as caught a glimpse of her.
“They’re going to send her back to Jordan!” my daughter cried. “She needs a lawyer. We need to find a twenty-four lawyer. Now! They are putting her on the next plane!” They would put her on the next plane for another ten hour flight, without letting her even see her husband for a few minutes, knowing that she would not see him again for a long time? They would do that?
My daughter’s internet connection was down, so I got on my computer and discovered that such a category of lawyers does exist— immigration lawyers available twenty-four hours. I texted my daughter five phone numbers, and waited, and wondered what could have gone wrong with Fatma’s re-entry to the United States.
My daughter called me back an hour later. She had spoken to several lawyers. They couldn’t help, because Fatma is not a citizen or permanent resident, and therefore is not legally entitled to representation.
“Well, what’s the problem with Immigration? Why won’t they let her enter the country?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said my daughter.
“What did they ask her? Why did she say?”
“They asked her if she was married and she said no. They opened her suitcase and found the wedding photos.”
“That’s it,” I said, ” you do not lie to INS! Don’t they know that by now? Haven’t they learned that you cannot lie to INS?” I started shrieking.
“You cannot lie to INS!”
“Why not?” asked my daughter, “she lied to them the first time, and it worked.”
“You do not lie to INS! They can SMELL lies!”
I was flabbergasted that Fatma and her husband would even consider lying to INS, but upon reflection, I realized why they had done so.
He had just obtained his permanent residence. He won’t be eligible for citizenship for three more years. As a permanent resident, he can apply for her residence visa, but the process will take years. They have no legal path to bring her here in a timely manner, and he has just become established on a career path here, so he does not want to give that up, for fear he won’t get another chance. So now they sit, apart, he in the States, she in Jordan. He will be able to visit her once or twice a year if he is lucky, if his new position gives him more than the measly two-week vacation that Americans get at the beginning of their career paths.
They’d better not try another lie, because now she has a flag on her file, and future efforts to immigrate will be scrutinized. This new family now hangs in limbo, this Arab family that is trying to become American, trying simply to join other family members already here, to have and raise their children in a healthier society than that from which they’ve emerged. Her husband is from Iraq.
His family was able to evacuate Baghdad because of the war. They relocated to Jordan, where they lived for several years, and then, one by one, came to the United States. I hope Fatma will be the next one to come. I almost hope they think up another lie that won’t be smelled by INS. Newlyweds should not be separated during the first years of their marriage, especially after all the hardships these families have already suffered, through no fault of their own.
Now, however, they will have to endure several more years of hardship, for the sin of having lied to INS.
INS did, indeed, put her on the next plane, and her husband went home to candles, roses, and tears.