I had been fighting for many years to be able to live in my own country with my Canadian wife, but the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was blocking me from my right to pursue happiness in this way. Even after writing letters to every senator and every presidential candidate two times around and famous celebrities, such as Ellen DeGeneres, contacting immigration lawyers and the ACLU, as well as talking to anyone who would listen, it seemed that my dream was no closer to being a reality. That is until June 26, 2013 when suddenly DOMA fell, after being declared unconstitutional. Mindy and I celebrated in spirit with thousands of other bi-national gay couples around the world just waiting for the simple right to come home. The only thing separating me from my dream was a pile of paperwork.
Step One – Filing the I-130 Petition
I had to fly from our residence in Chiang Mai, Thailand down to Bangkok to file the petition to sponsor Mindy since the American Consulate in Chiang Mai does not handle immigration claims. Directly across from the American embassy is the Homeland Security office. Except for paying the $420 filing fee at the American Embassy, the entire petition process occurred on the 15th floor of Tower Two of the Sindhorn Building Complex.
After turning in the petition form and the supporting documentation, paying the filing fee and fixing a mistake I had made when filling out the form (I was not born in the 1800’s), I was asked if I could stay a little longer because the “officer would like to speak with me”. Not sure what this meant, I waited patiently having plenty of time before my return flight to Chiang Mai.
Within 10 minutes I was summoned to the window and asked to raise my right hand and swear to tell the truth. After staring in awe at a big red “approved” stamp through the glass as I verified the details of the form under oath, I was told that my petition had been approved. In shock and gratitude that the officer had turned what normally takes 30 days into a matter of minutes, I thanked her for expediting the process. She looked at me square in the eyes and said, “You have waited long enough”. I almost cried right there in the Homeland Security office as this was the very first time that my marriage was recognized by my own government and my struggle was validated. I left the office with my approval letter in hand and my hands held high in triumph.
Step Two – Packet 3
Our joy diminished though after waiting for two months without hearing anything. We finally inquired at the Field Office in Bangkok as to our next step only to find out that they had sent out an instruction letter only one week after my petition had been approved but we never received it. Damn!
But at least we were back on track. It turned out that the next step of applying for a green card was to complete Packet 3, which involved an online portion (Form DS 260) and the filling out of an Affidavit (Form I-864) for me, proving (and swearing) that I could financially support Mindy. There were a LOT of supporting documents needed for this, such as tax records, proof of domicile, proof of employment etc. Mindy also needed a background check for every country she had lived in since 16 years of age. This meant we needed background checks for Canada, Germany and Thailand and of course the latter two would need to be officially translated into English.
We immediately got started on the large amount of paperwork needed for Packet 3. The most frustrating part was the background checks. Both Canada and Thailand required fingerprints for their background checks so Mindy went to the local police station to inquire how to get fingerprinted. Although they had the materials and the know-how, she was told she had to go to a special office in Bangkok to get them. She could only get fingerprinted locally if she were arrested. Mindy briefly considered stealing a pen or something since getting arrested was much cheaper than flying all the way down to Bangkok, but then realized this theft would have shown up on her background check so decided against it.
Instead, we booked a ticket to Bangkok. After sending out all the background requests it was just a matter of waiting for them all to come back. Canada’s came first, then Thailand’s (which turned out was already in English), then Germany’s. After translating the German document and getting it officially authenticated at the German consulate in Chiang Mai, we mailed the entire Packet 3 and crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t get lost in the mail on the way to Bangkok.
Crossing our fingers must have helped because they received it the very next day. And only two days later we received an email inviting Mindy to an interview at 7am less than a week away in Bangkok. We were both flabbergasted and excited about how quickly this was scheduled. We suddenly had so many goodbyes to arrange and we had to move out of our apartment, but the most pressing thing we had to do to prepare for this was of course the medical exam, which turns out takes two days. The first day we went and they took Mindy’s blood and a chest X-ray. We went back a second time so Mindy could answer many questions from the doctor about her medical history. Although she had had all the required vaccinations as a child, we could not track down the records so she had to get some of them all over again. Ouch!
The Interview (Packet 4)
So, we flew to Bangkok the night before the scheduled interview. The next morning we left the hotel bright and early for the US embassy. We passed the Vietnamese embassy, the New Zealand and Qatar embassies before Mindy took her place in the line and I was told that I can not go in with her. My nervousness showed in the questions I asked, “Do you want some gum for the interview?”, “Do you need some water?”
Seeing how tired I was Mindy told me I could go back to the hotel and wait there. There was not a chance in hell I wouldn’t be standing there when she got out!
I watched her go through security, turn left and wave to me through the glass before she disappeared. Then it finally hit me that my dream was close to coming true. And so I waited…and waited, hoping that the next time I saw Mindy she would have been newly approved for a green card.
With no place to sit I stood for quite awhile, then I started pacing, then stood some more, then paced some more. One hour went by, then two, then three. I saw so many others come out and slowly all the people waiting outside disappeared. In the third hour there was only myself and a monk waiting (a fellow monk was hoping to go to Cornell University to give a speech on religion). We waited and paced together. I began to get worried that we didn’t have all the documents we needed or perhaps we somehow made a mistake or…my mind went crazy with all the possible reasons she might not be granted a green card.
Just before 11am (the fourth hour), the door opened yet again and this time it was Mindy. “I got approved”, she declared. YES! That was one of the nicest hugs we have shared. On the walk back to the hotel room I listened to Mindy tell me all about the interview and I could not stop smiling. They asked her many questions about our finances, her new job and where we plan to live in the States. The last question, however, was “Why apply for a green card now?” Ah yes, that was an easy one – because we finally can! And with that the officer typed a bit on her computer and clearly not aware of what this meant to us, nonchalantly said, “ok, you’ve been approved for a green card. You’ll be able to pick up your passport in a week.”
Arriving in the United States
A few days later we picked up the passport with the US Visa inside and we were told we had six months to arrive in the USA. But we didn’t need that long. Within a month we found ourselves driving from southern Ontario to Buffalo, crossing the border along the way.
We were told to pull over to go inside the immigration building, which we were more than happy to do. Once inside, Mindy was called to the counter right away where she turned over the package she had been given in Bangkok with strict instructions not to open. The officers made us laugh by teasing us that perhaps we had indeed tried to open the package and that they couldn’t read the Thai on the front. One of them told us to sit down and said, “It will take up to 8 hours to process…” and waited for our shocked reaction which he most certainly got, before he continued, “but it will be closer to 20 minutes”.
It took more like 5 minutes before Mindy was recalled to the counter. After giving her fingerprints (with some more funny jokes thrown in by the officers) the officer said to Mindy, “You are now a permanent resident of the United States. Congratulations!” I literally jumped for joy and cheered, “yaaayyyyy”. After a few pictures next to the Statue of Liberty next to the exit, we left and continued on our way. Even when the conversation turned to other things, I could not stop smiling. My dream had finally came true!
Update: After 3 years of being a US permanent resident, Mindy qualified to file for citizenship. With the political situation the way it is, we wasted no time in getting in the paperwork. She was summoned within only a few weeks to get her biometrics done at the nearby immigration Field Office.
Then we waited for the letter to arrive inviting her to an interview and to take the citizenship test, which we discovered is oral and she had to get 6 questions correct out of 10 in order to pass the test! We got to work on studying the 100 possible questions they might ask and before long Mindy knew them all by heart.
We kept checking the status of her citizenship application on line and the line seemed to be moving rather slowly. We put in the application in July, 90 days before her 3 year landing date anniversary, as is allowed when getting sponsored. Mindy had her interview and passed her civics test with flying colors in April, 9 months later. About one month later, in May, we both attended her citizenship ceremony in the same Field Office where she had done her biometrics and her interview/test.
I felt a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of relief! Besides my wedding day, this was the best day of my life.