Issue #17 – Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014
By Sandy Pierre
I Married an Alien: Or How I Found Love, Libertarianism, and a Shotgun Wedding, Courtesy of Uncle Sam
Dec. 31, 1999 – Millennium Eve: I was holed up in my apartment, nursing a bad cold and surrounded by a mountain of freeze-dried food, a water-filtration kit, and gold bullion, watching the news for word of the Y2K Bug and TEOTWAWKI. In between sneezes, I watched people all over the world enjoying fireworks and having a great time. After several hours of this, I realized I’d been had. Y2K was a bust and I was missing the biggest party of my lifetime! I slammed a bottle of DayQuil, put on a black dress and a pink feather boa, and staggered off to a party at a friend’s house. My plan was to make an appearance at the party, then head to downtown San Francisco to watch fireworks.
At the party, I struck up a conversation with an attractive man. He turned out to be a French university student doing an internship in the Bay Area. His introduction to my native country had been less than gracious; he was strip-searched at the airport and detained for two hours, despite the fact that all his papers were in order. Customs officials also stole the bottle of wine he had brought as a gift for his new boss. We chatted for a while, then I prepared to leave; I didn’t want to miss the fireworks. The hostess pulled me aside and encouraged me to stay a little while longer. “Don’t you like my French friend? You two look good together.” I lingered, and missed the fireworks, while romance blossomed with the stranger from France.
Sept. 11, 2001 – Tuesday: I was taking the day off to go camping with my dad. My French boyfriend Alex was now living with me. I turned on the morning news while gathering my camping gear together, and was greeted with the sight of the local news guy telling me that the Twin Towers had fallen down. Both of them. I was in shock, like the rest of America. I got little sympathy from the Frenchman; he clearly didn’t grasp the enormity of the situation. To be honest, I’m not sure he even knew what I meant by “Twin Towers”. I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to go ahead and go on vacation. But my dad, a native of New York City and rattled by very little, saw no point in not going, and I think now it was the best thing we could have done. We spent the next three days in the woods and the fog, not glued to a television set watching destruction like everyone else.
As shocked and horrified as I was by the terrorist act three thousand miles away, I had no idea how much it would impact my own life. My boyfriend worked at a hotel which catered to an international clientele in downtown San Francisco. After Sept. 11, the hotel’s business plummeted. The employees sat around bored and depressed, with little to do but process cancellations. Two weeks later, they laid Alex off.
Without his internship, Alex no longer had any legal excuse to be in this country. We had to make a choice, and make it fast: go our separate ways, or get married in order to stay together. We decided to get married. Two weeks later we took our vows at San Francisco City Hall, surrounded by my local family and a lot of strangers, but not my grandparents from the East Coast and none of his family from France.
You may think it’s relatively straightforward to get a green card for your spouse. You obviously have never lived the adventure of marrying a foreigner, or an “alien” as the U.S. government calls them. What ensued was the gathering together of about an inch of documentation needed to prove that our marriage was “bonafide”. I had to submit my tax returns for the past three years. I had to prove that I made a certain amount of money, so that I could support my husband financially if necessary. I was making well over the financial minimum, but then, I was a college graduate working in the high tech industry. If I’d been a few years younger, I would have needed to get my parents to financially sponsor my husband, which would have required THEM to provide three years’ worth of tax returns, records of all their financial assets, etc. Most disturbing of all, I had to swear to the U.S. government, in writing, before a notary public, that I would be financially responsible for my husband for no less than ten years… even if we split up! Oh yeah, and I had to pay them around $400 to process my paperwork.
Over the ensuing months, Alex and I navigated the INS’ maze of red tape. I’m sure it helped that he’s fluent in English and I’m the kind of anal-retentive who has every possible receipt and ticket stub neatly filed away for later retrieval. Nolo Press’ “Immigrate to the U.S. Through Marriage” was my bible. The green card became the stick with which I’d beat my husband about the head for any bit of bad behavior. “Don’t drive so fast… you might not get a green card!”
The day of our interview arrived. May you never have to spend a day in an INS regional service center; they must be architecturally designed to instill a feeling of nausea, fear and humiliation. As we waited in the lobby, another couple was called in for their interview; when they emerged a few minutes later, the woman was weeping. I had a Russian-born coworker who had married an American and had had her interview a few weeks before us. She had told me it was a terrible experience and that the INS agent seemed unfriendly and suspicious… despite the fact that my coworker was pregnant with her husband’s child! Fortunately, our interview went fairly smoothly.
Months and months of agonizing waiting passed, and finally the magic card arrived in the mail…. and it had a two-year expiration date on it.
Nov. 11, 2004 – It had been almost five years since the night I met my husband. We’d been married for over three years. And I still didn’t know whether or not the U.S. Government would allow us to stay together. I wouldn’t know for certain for three more years. I had to write another check that day, for $200 this time, and no longer made out to the “Immigration and Naturalization Service”… now it was the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”. I guess the government needed to make sure that my gainfully employed, highly educated, multilingual spouse from one of our oldest allied nations wasn’t a terrorist.
Five years earlier, I was a fairly typical politically alienated American who dutifully voted each election for whichever candidate turned my stomach less. I had never been a Democrat or a Republican, although I flirted with the Greens briefly in my youth. But this experience opened my eyes. Perhaps more importantly, it pissed me off! Aside from the sheer idiocy and waste of making it so difficult for American businesses to hire my husband, there was something deeply offensive and embarrassing to me about having to jump through so many hoops and expose so many details of my personal life in order to be with the man of my choice. How dare Uncle Sam first push me into a marriage I wasn’t prepared for, and then remain entangled in it for years, like an overbearing mother-in-law from hell who insisted on examining my bank statements, my utility bills, my tax returns, and demanded to see a paper trail of where her son and I were living, working, and going on vacation.
I’d been a good girl all my life, with not so much as a speeding ticket. But over those five years, I joined the Libertarian Party, the Free State Project, started reading books and magazines I wouldn’t have touched in the past, marched in my first anti-war protest, learned to shoot a gun, and “threw away” my vote on a third party candidate for President. I was tired of my dirty old peeping tom of an Uncle; I wanted him off my back.