To Tapachula and Beyond!

Posted on June 6, 2011


Immigration hassles.  They’re inevitable if you’re married with (or wish to marry, or have to marry to stay with) someone from another country.

For you, immigration messes might mean that crossing borders together isn’t easy — you juggle multiple passports and forms, you check visa requirements months in advance.  For others, perhaps crossing borders together isn’t a possibility at all.  In either case, a plethora of uncertainties face the cross-national couple:  What do you do if your boyfriend is undocumented (or as legalese ungloriously calls it, an “illegal alien”)?  What if you don’t know the truth of your fiance’s immigration status?  What if your spouse has to lie in the interview for his residency permit?  What are all these terms and form numbers anyway — greencard, residency, EAD, AOS ,K-1, I-131, 10-year bar, conditional and unconditional PR?  A foreign language, that’s for sure!  At its worst, immigration can be a real nightmare, and at its best, a headache.

For Juan and me, I thought immigration headaches would mostly occur on to the U.S. side of the issue.  But a couple weekends ago, I found myself sitting on a bus to Tapachula, in Chiapas.  Having run up against the deadline of my tourist visa in the C-4 countries (El Salvador, Guate, Nicaragua, Honduras), and not receiving another extension as anticipated, I hightailed it to Me-ji-co.  What a bandita, no?

México! Ay ay ay ayiiiiiiii

As I took an 11-hour bus ride to Tapachula on Friday, and another one back on Saturday, I asked myself, “So how did I end up here?”  I always thought it would be easy to live in El Salvador, that I wouldn’t face immigration difficulties.  Maybe that’s the arrogant American in me, thinking that somehow El Salvador would WANT me here.  Turns out to be just the opposite.  Indeed, in many ways the Salvadoran immigration process is more cumbersome than in the U.S.!

Now I’m not saying that U.S. immigration is easy.  But as someone who has worked in immigration law, I honestly believe that there is room in U.S. immigration code for unique personal circumstances.  At its core, U.S. law is humane, in the sense that it takes the human individual as the basic object of the law.  It takes into account not only entry and exit dates, but also the needs and desires of U.S. citizens in their relationships with foreigners.  It leaves wiggle room for exceptional situations.

Of course U.S. immigration law isn´t nearly as rights-based as it should be.  Moreover, it’s extremely costly, which results in too many adjudications based on a person’s class.  But if we leave out icky institutions like ICE or border patrols or hardline state laws (ahem, Arizona), the federal U.S. family-based immigration law does strive towards justice.  I realize I’m writing this as youth who would be eligible for the still in-debate DREAM act get deported.  I realize several states are clamping down on immigration with ridiculous and abhorrent local laws.

Despite all this, most of you in relationships with latinos and Latin Americans will find that, even if your immigration situation looks grim, it will work out in long run.  Whether it takes several years and interviews, or several lawyers and court dates, a real relationship — that is, one based on mutual love and respect — between a U.S. citizen and a foreign national will almost always prevail.  U.S. law rewards those who can argue a compelling case, and it really does consider keeping families together to be compelling.

In El Salvador, and several other Latin American countries, law in general is evolving toward a rights-based framework but is not quite there yet.  As a result, many legal processes consist solely of the bureaucratic, procedural shell of the law.  No chance here to eloquently argue your case; it’s law that is purely paperwork and picky rules.

So I went to Tapachula because of picky rules.  I got my exit stamp and then re-entered the very next day.  Because you do what you gotta do.  And that, ultimately, is the point I’d like to emphasize in this post.  While immigration is a hassle, you DO it.  You work through it.  If it’s a mess, you sort it out.  If it’s a headache, you take the necessary remedy, or wait patiently for it to reside.  If it’s a recurring nightmare, it might require some therapy (i.e., good lawyers) to make it leave you alone.  Whatever action it requires, you do it.

We deal with immigration officials, we file paperwork, we pay thousands of dollars, we marry young, we wait months for visas to clear, we translate documents, we move across the world, we fill up our passports, we go to Tapachula (or farther!) and back … but we DO it.  So take heart!  Because in return, we get to be with the person we love.  And that, we know, is worth it.