G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Lennard claims her piece isn’t a reflection on enduring persecution faced by couples who truly want to be married despite their different nationalities. But since she’s writing the piece in Salon and since she provides hints that she’s a bit of a rabble-rouser and a liberal, it’s safe to say that she disagrees with the ways that the Feds go about trying to tease out which marriages between citizens and green card applicants are legitimate and which are not. For what it’s worth, Andrew Sullivan believes that the process is an “absurdity”. Lennard writes:
I don’t have a green card marriage. I do have a marriage green card. The process to get it, as anyone who has gone through it might attest, was a dizzying, panic-inducing bureaucratic obstacle course; a strange lesson in state determinations of love and partnership.
“How did you meet?” the terse woman at the USCIS asked my partner at our green card interview in early 2012, a few months after our wedding.
Proof of love when it comes to green cards is something both specific and ephemeral. The idea is to show, as our immigration lawyer explained, not only that you love each other and want to be together in this country, but that you would have gotten married anyway. It’s an important hypothetical, which technically gives the government insurmountable leverage. Proving what you would have done anyway is impossible, and this is the catch. The possible world in which borders and governments don’t threaten to tear people who love each other apart is too far from this one to speculate over. I don’t know what I might do there. What place marriage would have in such a world is another question entirely.
Most couples pass muster when it comes to the would have done it anyway condition. In 2011, 270,761 couples applied for green cards through marriage and only 7,290 were denied. But what gets to count as proof?
When amassing evidence of love for the USCIS, a couple essentially aims for a facsimile of doing what people who get married anyway do — which, going by government guidelines, refers to anachronistic, income-stable, middle-class American Dream aspirants. Such people barely exist among all-American couples, let alone green card hopefuls, but the simulation persists between the lines of USCIS guidelines for proof.
So you’d expect that Lennard had a difficult time convincing the Feds that hers was a legitimate marriage. That wasn’t the case:
Our green card interview went smoothly. We had been a little concerned — I had been arrested a few months earlier while reporting when Occupy stormed the Brooklyn Bridge, and my partner has what you might call an active history of dissent. My charges were dismissed by a judge, but paranoia prevails when so much is at stake. (My partner doesn’t have a passport currently; I still fear flying across the Atlantic, just in case, for some reason, I can’t get back.)
Lennard should really just come out and say that she disagrees with the government’s various limitations on immigration. Because the Feds could do a lot more to make sure that those applicants are legitimately married. Lennard points out that just over 3% of green card applications based on marriage are rejected. I know personally of at least 10 sham marriages. Just based on anecdotal evidence,very many more sham marriages make the cut compared to the number of legitimate marriages that don’t.
Instead of following a couple or automatically checking their Facebook page or interviewing their friends, the Feds ask a few pointed questions. Big deal. If there is to be a barrier to entry at all then it has to put up some sort of resistance. If the most treacherous gauntlet such a couple faces is the question “What is her mother’s name?”, then this says much more about the futility of the system than it does about its hegemony.
And lawyers naturally suggest that applicants at least follow and display some vestige of the American Dream. The point here is to fly under the radar. To get the federal agent to move on to the other case lying in his pile. If a couple wants to get through that pile quickly and not basically force the agent to spend more time looking into the case, they follow the pattern. Lennard should next write a piece about how she faced some tough questions from a job interviewer and then reflect, perhaps on Labor Day, about how she’s merely meditating on the guidelines for someone proving that they’re a good employee.
Making an imperfect system more perfect will depend upon your idea of perfection. If the goal is to limit fraudulent marriages then something even more invasive than “how did you meet?” would be useful. If the goal is to grant all comers a green card – hell, just get rid of green cards completely – then perfection looks quite different.
A different direction for an essay would be to look at how two people may be drawn towards what they believe is a legitimate marriage because of the green card carrot looming off in the future. Maybe a woman really does love a man a little bit more because of what he can offer her just by his natural citizenship and financial sponsorship. How do we determine if that love is as legitimate as another kind of love? Certainly many marriages are based on similar superficialities. That topic might be less attractive to a place like Salon because it implies that attraction can be based upon incentives rather than some romantic notion of human attraction.
Another point worth mentioning: discussing the overreach of the Feds as if this infringes on some sort of right afforded to citizens obscures the fact that the Feds are vetting non-citizens.