My American Idyll was recently interrupted by a dose of reality by the Department of Homeland Security: the green card interview. I have been waiting to become a permanent resident for a long time, but chance just didn’t favor me on two separate occasions. Then, out of the blue, I married a naturalized American citizen (born in India), and the path to the green card opened up for me, just like that.
In retrospect, the granting of my green card, which allows me to live and work in the United States, occurred with very little fanfare; so cut-and -dry and legalistic were the proceedings that it was actually anticlimactic. How was the immigration officer to know that I had waited for this day since I was 7 years old, when my family left the United States for our home in England, only to eventually move even farther away to India when I was 9? To him I was just another green-card-by-marriage application.
We started out early in the morning of July 17th for the USCIS office in Tampa, which is where the interview was held. The waiting room was quiet, filled with dozens of hopeful green card and citizenship applicants. There were some “foreigners,” like ourselves, but the room was largely filled with Hispanics, most of them there for their citizenship interview. Our appointment was at 10 am. We were in the building by 9. 10am came and went; soon it was 10:30, and then 11, and my name hadn’t been called. I had a sense of foreboding, and an all-too- familiar paranoia soon engulfed me: what if the USCIS had made a mistake and there was no record of me in their system? What if they had decided to postpone the interview and had failed to inform us? I was beginning to convince myself that something was going to go wrong.
But here is where I give the USCIS credit. Their staff were polite and helpful, and one officer managed to go inside the interview area, confirm that my name was on their list, and inform me that they delay was because one of the interview officers was on leave that day. “They will call you soon,” she said to me reassuringly.
A gruff, stocky white man, who had earlier chided a couple because one of them couldn’t speak English, called out my name. A mild sense of doom returned — he had seemed to me the least likable of all the immigration officers we had seen that morning, and he was going to interview us? Oh no.
I prepared to approach the doorway, when he stopped me and said that my husband was to go in first. He would interview him, and then they would call me in. I handed my husband the file with all of our papers and photographs of our wedding, knowing that my fate –our fate — was hanging in the balance. It’s true that we were both confident that the interview would go smoothly, because our application was solid, but now that the moment had arrived, I was unnerved.
A short while later — maybe 10 minutes? — I was asked to go inside. I beamed at the officer, determined to project warmth and confidence. I had to take an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He quizzed me for a while about how my husband and I had met, when and where, asked me about my step-son, and then proceeded to verify several details in my application. Everything seemed to be going well. He was pleasant and even bantered with us about some restaurants in our neighborhood in Florida. Finally, without much further ado, he pronounced that everything seemed to be in order and that he just needed to get the higher-ups to sign off on the application.
That was it. He soon came back with a letter declaring me to be a legal permanent resident of the United States of America and informed me that the actual green card would be in the mail soon.