While I was studying medieval history at the University of Oxford, I met the girl of my dreams. Although we met as students in England, she was from the Netherlands and I was from California. Over two years in Europe and the two summers in the United States we spent together as a couple, I got to know her and I fell in love with her. Last summer, I proposed to her, and to my delight she accepted. Little did either of us know that a long bureaucratic process lay ahead of us in our quest to get married and start a life together in the United States.
Shortly after my fiancée returned to the Netherlands at the end of last summer, I assembled all of the papers and evidence required for the fiancée visa we would need in order for her to legally enter the country to marry me. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received my paperwork at the beginning of October. At that time, the average processing time was five months for the fiancé(e) visa (known as the I-129F) at the California Service Center, where my application would be processed. Given that I knew the second step of the visa process would take about six to 10 additional weeks at the American Consulate in Amsterdam, my fiancée and I began to plan for a wedding at the end of July 2013. This was 10 months in the future and well within any added time needed for the potential delays I could imagine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to foresee how the nation’s current immigration debate might impact the California Service Center.
As of Dec. 31, 2012, the USCIS posted on its website that it was processing fiancé(e) visa applications there from July 18, 2012. As of Jan. 31, 2013, the USCIS posted on its website that it was processing fiancé(e) visa applications from July 18, 2012. As of Feb. 28, 2013, the USCIS posted on its website—you guessed it—that it was processing fiancé(e) visa applications from July 18, 2012.
The California Service Center had been processing applications from that one day in July for two to three months? For this to be true, next to no visas would have had to be processed over that time, given the average processing times for this visa from the past two years. The stated average wait-time had gone from the five months I read when I applied to an official 7 1/2 months as of Feb. 28. Assuming no change, the wait now could be more than eight months. Such an exceptional slowdown would be confusing if there wasn’t a concurrent increase in another place.
While the DREAM Act that President Barack Obama champions to help naturalize the children of immigrants who entered the United States illegally hasn’t yet fully been realized in Congress, the president did move forward with an aspect of it under the executive action he took on June 15, 2012. This action, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), aims to allow the children of these immigrants legal leeway in terms of their legal status in the United States. The idea will likely bring relief to many families, but it may be a victim of its own success. More than 400,000 of these applications were submitted in the first six months of its implementation, with a significant percentage of them going to the California Service Center. So many were submitted that on March 8 the California Service Center sent some of its overflow to the Texas Service Center. Most of these applications (which greatly outnumber fiancé(e) visas) have been approved quickly, with the current waiting time at about six months. To achieve these numbers, it appeared that the USCIS had significantly slowed or even stopped processing fiancé(e) visas to cope with the DACA workload.
I believe in waiting my turn, but the fact is that in attempting to follow the letter of the law, it appears I was being overlooked—as were many other Americans who have fiancé(e)s waiting overseas—while DACA cases took center stage. This made sense, given the political stakes of DACA cases, but it’s nonetheless unfair to people who have to be apart from their fiancé(e)s for so many long months, given that travel to the United States by the foreign party isn’t recommended while the fiancé(e) visa petition is under review. Add to this the uncertainty of a wedding date, since the delay seemed to increase over time. If our wedding date has to change, my deposits will be lost, my priest will likely not have another opening for up to six months, and all of my fiancée’s family may not be able to attend due to health concerns.
Having had no luck inquiring about the visa situation with the USCIS myself, I contacted Congresswoman Lois Capps to see if she could help me. To my surprise, interceding with federal agencies on behalf of constituents seems to be one of the main roles members of Congress undertake. There was a form specifically for this purpose that Congresswoman Capps’ staff sent for me to fill out. This was the first time I had really felt plugged into the representative Democratic system of which we are all a part. As I wrote this commentary, I received word from Congresswoman Capps’ office letting me know that the USCIS had responded.
According to their response, I should have a decision within a little more than a month’s time. This could get close, but thanks to the hard work of Congresswoman Capps and her staff, things are looking up.
Frank Gonzales, an intern at New Times’ sister paper, the Sun, is checking his inbox. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.