Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Immigration anxiety at the county jail

I've never visited anyone in jail before. I caught something of a phone conversation of the woman next to me in line about someone having to buy someone a Lamborghini if they were going to stay friends, and I used that to strike up a conversation.

She was there to visit her husband. She's white, he's Mexican. They'd been together for 13+ years, and her family didn't understand why she put up with him. So we had a little chat about the energy dynamics in relationships, and she gave me insider's tips about visiting people at the county jail.

She & her husband have 4 kids, 13, 12, 8 and 3, I think. I told her about my asian taxi passenger, and how much I've learned about visas and immigration law over the past few months.

They didn't get married until 2003. They would've been much better off if they'd gotten married pre-9/11 because post-9/11 the politicians decided that anyone who'd ever come into the country without documentation would be automatically banished for 10-years.

There are basically two ways to get a green card (permanent residency):

  1. Green Card Lottery
  2. Marriage to U.S. Citizen
There used to be a problem where people became spouse of convenience or spouses-for-hire. So the government started a program where an INS officer interviews the couple (together and separately) to determine if theirs is a "legitimate" marriage. Basically they ask questions that you only know the answer to if you're living together. One of my taxi passengers had a friend who convenience-married her Canadian friend. The passenger said they failed their interview because the "wife" didn't know the address of their supposed shared residence.

This woman at the Jail had applied for a spousal green-card for her husband, but Immigrations told them they had to go to the consulate in Mexico for their interview. So they went all hopeful to the Mexican US Consulate for their interview in 2008.

Their hopes were dashed in an instant, when the officer said that since her husband had been brought to the U.S. without papers when he was 12 (1986 or so?) that he was banned for 10 years. Basically the interview was a trick to get him to leave. The INS employees don't actually care about the people whose lives they affect, because they're just doing their job implementing the law.

So rather than split up her family, he came back, and worked under his brother's name. She said it was especially stressful for him - the constant anxiety of living life without papers.

Mr. Crawford asked about California's Proposition 34 (death penalty), who won the election, etc. I didn't know about the propositions, aside from that California's 3-strikes law was toned down a little.
Very chatty fellow - probably a side effect of the isolation. He looked a little skeletal.

If any of you want to send him something, Atomic Fireballs and chocolate would be preferred. He said something about how they can't hold a person for more than 60 days without filing charges, but the public defender's office said something which leads me to believe Mr. Crawford may be in for longer than he expects.

I was curious how he got all the way down to San Luis Obispo, but the glass wall/scratchy phone connection made the conversation a little disjointed. All the guys on the other side of the glass were either wearing orange or tan uniforms...

It was nice to meet Jennifer, the woman who was visiting her Mexican husband. Perhaps she is the reason I felt compelled to come here. Anxiety about the "worst case scenario" adds fuel to the fire, and helps to manifest what you'd really rather not have. If she follows up on the tips I gave her, their chances for getting INS to ignore her husband when he's released would improve (their lawyer says this is a possibility). Even though they're just doing their jobs, people slip through the cracks all the time.

Phones #10 and #12 don't work very well, fyi.

(Originally posted to on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 01:45:13 PM EST)

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