I am doing my very best to tamp down these feelings, but they keep peeking over the abyss of my desperation – little glimmers of hope. Maybe this visa problem can be fixed after all.
I’ve been reading and rereading stuff all day – legal notices, official websites, forms, instructions for filling out forms and internet help forums, etc. In preparation for my visit to the embassy, after compiling a huge folder full of documents (could these dental records be helpful? maybe! toss them on the pile! should I bring her baby teeth too?) I figured I’d print out an application for the passport and fill it out in advance too – what the heck. It included 5 pages of instructions in teensy weensy print. Somewhere hiding in the middle was this:
It seems we don’t have to ask for citizenship – we can “claim” it. “Legal custody” I can prove with documents, but “physical custody”?? (Maybe I really will bring those baby teeth along.)
I am starting to believe just a little – can it be true that my daughters are US citizens already?
But then there is the catch: “evidence of permanent residence status”. And the hope slides back down my esophagus.
I know for a fact that this requirement doesn’t exist for biological children. My American friend T² has gone through this twice with her bio kids who had never set foot in the States and don’t intend to ever live there.
So – maybe no equity for adopted children. No matter what the “Child Citizen’s Act” of 2001 says.
I guess I will find out on Friday.
My girl turned 16 today. The 16th birthday is a big one here. She can now vote in elections and legally buy alcohol – and as a proud mother, I will add that she is much more excited about the first new right. Her only real experiences with alcohol so far have been 1) eating rum balls in grade school and 2) babysitting puking classmates at village festivals. She’s not enthused by the whole concept of drinking.
We started today with an invitation for breakfast at the neighbors’ B&B, then went on to a lunch invitation in Graz with Omili. We did some shopping, came home and now she is out with a bunch of friends. She is aware of what has been going on with her plans to go to high school in the States, but she has been pretty okay about it. We will see what tomorrow brings.
The huge file of documents is compiled, the forms filled out, the photos and self-addressed, stamped envelopes prepared . . . I can’t think of anything else I can do to make this go well.
Sucky sucky sucky day.
Up at 5:30. Three hour train ride to Vienna. Arrived 20 minutes before our “appointment” at the embassy. Traversed the security and metal detectors – which turned out to be the most pleasant part of the visit.
From then on it was being sent from window to window to window by clerks who were not capable of listening, much less comprehending our situation. We spent the entire hour standing and talking through glass with a succession of harried people. “Just a minute, I have to ask my colleague.” How many times did I hear that today? The best conversation was when one of them explained to me that in order to get a passport, my daughter had to apply in the U.S. for citizenship first and that she had to fly there for her interview on an American passport.
The next discussion revolved around my copy of the Child Citizenship Act of 2001. I had highlighted sentences that supported our view of the situation. The clerk’s rebuttal was that this version was old and out-of-date. I responded that I had downloaded it from the embassy’s own website. “When?” she asked. “Two or three weeks ago,” I answered. She left to go consult a colleague. Then she returned and admitted that I was right – they still had the old version on their website.
The same woman later told me that with a J-1 cultural exchange visa, my daughter could live wherever she wanted. Back home, I immediately emailed the State Department to see if that were true. The answer:
Section (j) Subsection (2) States that Exchange students are not permitted to reside with their relatives.
So I take everything I heard today with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, my daughter took it all with a torrent of tears. It became crystal clear to her that she was not on par with a biological child and somewhat confusedly stated “How am I supposed to prove who my birth mother is?” Or I should say, I thought she was confused. When we talked about it later, I could see how she connected the two situations in her mind. Her birth mother gave her up so she doesn’t really belong to her anymore. This difference in treatment at the embassy tells her that she doesn’t really belong to me. This citizenship thing is now a symbol for her. And that means I can’t stop until we achieve it.
Unfortunately, there is no way to save this immediate plan of ours for a high school exchange year. At least, I don’t see a way anymore. The advice we got from the American side turned out to be true: “Find a different school or find a different living situation.”
Let’s start with “a different school” – one that is accredited to supply the forms for a normal F-1 visa. My internet search showed me my choices within 20 miles of my sister’s house:
Heritage Christian School, Kaplan Test Prep School, Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, The Prairie School, Nashotah House, Christian Life School, Magellan Day School, Cavalry Baptist School . . .
I’m sure they are all very nice schools. And yet . . . I do not think so.
How about a different living situation? Hey stranger! Would you take my daughter in? She is coming in three weeks.
Again. I do not think so.
So here we are. Stymied.
I have given up. I wrote a letter to the school (and a few other people involved in this situation) that my daughter planned to go to. I am not going to actually send it off. It was done more in hopes of some cathartic effect – but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The day ended in a skype session with the sister in which I cried and she made plans to contact our congresswoman.
The day began with an email from fired up Sister Ambassador and instructions for making an appointment at the USCIS (the INS’s new name, as I now know).
I tried. Here’s a screen shot of my results:
I then relinquished the driver seat to the Ambassador for the rest of the day and headed for the couch. I spent hours binge-watching old episodes of “Friends” mostly because the remote control was out of reach and it was too much effort to stand up. A slight headache came and went. The pukey bucket stood ready but was never used. My husband remarked at how bizarre it was to see me watching TV. At some point, I realized how long I have been fantasizing about spending a day like this.
Which is really kind of sad.
The couch potato afternoon did do me good. It seems something akin to hope really does spring eternal. Or else, as my sister and I discovered, we are both insufferable silver lining spotters.
By evening, I was sufficiently soothed to get active again. First thing on the agenda was a talk with my daughter. I explained that these problems had nothing to do with the comparative value of bio and adopted kids. It is just that some people could use adoption as a way of getting around the system, so there are some extra precautions taken. I made sure she really understood.
Later, in another bout of internet research, I miraculously I stumbled across a new form to download – one specifically for my situation (applying for citizenship for adopted children living abroad). Up to now I had been going by the information on the US Embassy in Vienna website, which, as I discovered yesterday, is hopelessly out of date. Luckily, this find made me feel better rather than even more frustrated. My mood was improved again after a nice Skype session with my mom (probably instigated by the Ambassador.) In this talk, I realized that it is time for a new plan. (Which plan is this now? Plan J? Plan K?) First step: the foreign exchange year (which will probably not happen) and the citizenship quest (which has to) have now separated into two distinct issues. There is the tiniest of chances that they will come together again once we reach the States, but I am no longer counting on that. Somehow I don’t think our congresswoman is any match for the Department of Homeland Security.
So, as of today, Plan J is to get the school to allow my daughter to be a guest student for a month and then we will fly her home for the school year here. (They owe us at least that much, don’t they?) At least she will get a little taste of the American high school experience and have things to tell her friends.
Plan K is to set the citizenship process in motion for both daughters this summer. At some point – if all goes smoothly – we will all be asked to come back for the interviews. The upshot: two visits home in the space of one year!
Fantasy Plan L – way off in the distant future – is to return to the embassy with our certificates and forms and receipts and documents and then to watch in satisfaction as they hand over the passports.
I woke up today strangely inspired. I had this idea to write a modern version of Homer’s “Odyssey”. Here’s a summary of what I have so far:
The story begins in media res. It’s been seven years since the end of the war, but Odysseus is still hanging around Troy waiting for his appointment at the Greek Embassy so that he can finally sail home. Someone takes pity on him and he is allowed to enter the fortress. Rough winds blow him from one mythical creature to the next. The first is a Lotus-eater who confuses him so much that he almost forgets why he is there and what his goal is. He is then blown off to the Cyclops whom he tries to blind with the bright highlights on his copy of the Child Citizenship Act (I’m still trying to work that little detail in). This incurs the wrath of the Cyclops’s father Poseidon, God of the USCIS. From there it is on to Circe whom Odysseus is able to get on his side for a while, but then he is tossed back into the Waiting Room of the Dead. What follows is another epic battle with a six-headed monster and then suddenly all Odysseus hears are the Sirens, so he sticks his fingers in his ears, closes his eyes and says “la la la la la la . . .” until he escapes the fortress and lands back in Troy.
After some more delays that seem like years, the Goddess Esta grants him a waiver and he finally returns to Ithaca in the guise of beggar. In order to prove he really comes from there after being gone for so long, he first has to shoot an arrow through a dozen axes.
Okay. So it needs a little work. But I bet “Hamilton” sounded like a pretty dumb idea at the start too.