Nothing is Really “Automatic” in Immigration

Some mistakenly believe that citizens of other countries “automatically” become U.S. citizens upon marriage to someone who is a U.S. citizen. This is very incorrect. Nothing was “automatic” about visa and citizenship issues for my family, although we had it easier to some extent than many good people who just want to work and live their lives in peace.
In 2003 I moved my family from Brazil to the United States. At that time only my son and I were U.S. citizens. My wife and step-daughter were Brazilian citizens and my son held dual citizenship (yes, it’s legal, please don’t trouble me with misread laws and interpretations). Legally, our son acquired U.S. citizenship “at birth” due to his blood tie to me, so he is not “naturalized” in any sense. Still, we had to document with a U.S. consulate the fact that he was my son in order to receive a document to that effect. That’s understandable. What was difficult was the visa process for my wife and step-daughter.
It took me months to get the documentation together, including tax returns from a person who agreed to “sponsor” us. The United States rightly does not want to open its doors to people who will become financially dependent on the government, so it requires that the household income be a certain amount higher than the federally-defined poverty level in order to receive an immigrant visa. Since my income was actually lower than poverty level, as I was receiving mostly in Brazilian currency and my mission support didn’t bring us above that level, someone in the U.S. “sponsored” us by agreeing in a notarized statement that he would be responsible for any bills we incurred in the U.S. if we needed government assistance. Thankfully, we never got to that point.
As I indicated above, I agree in principle with this policy. The problem is that although my income in Brazil was below the U.S. poverty level as defined by the federal government, that does not reflect my earning-potential in the United States. I saw a couple and a family turned down for a visa the day of our visa interview in Rio de Janeiro because of lack of finances. Yes, that’s right, American citizens were denied the right to bring their family to the United States because their overseas income had been too low. It is my opinion that this rule should be waived for all U.S. citizens who are bringing very near relatives, including spouses and step-children, to the United States.
We got through the bureaucracy, though, and in October 2003 made our move to the United States. Last year (2007) Christiane put in her paperwork to try to naturalize. A few months ago she was called in for her test and interview, and passed everything except the written portion. Apparently she misspelled a word. The interviewer re-schedules the interview, also asking her to bring in a notarized translation of our Brazilian wedding certificate and the past three years of U.S. tax returns. These were documents that were not mentioned anywhere in the naturalization process but were required by the official who interviewed her. She was crushed by the experience, and went into the interview today expecting the worst.
She passed! Thank God! Our interaction with the government immigration and naturalization officials hasn’t ended, though. My step-daughter “automatically” receives derivative U.S. citizenship due to her mother’s naturalization, but in order to make this “automatic” condition official we will have to pay a few hundred more dollars for a certificate to this effect. Once we’ve done that she’ll be eligible for a U.S. passport. As for Cris, we will need to request a U.S. passport for her and get her registered to vote.
Today we are happy. Cris and our little girl are American citizens. A dream that began several years ago is reaching fulfillment. We are grateful to God for what has been achieved and I appreciate the process it took to get here, but I want to make it clear that the immigration and naturalization process in this country is in serious need of reform. It didn’t need to be “automatic” for my wife and step-daughter to receive first their “Green Cards” and then citizenship, but it should have been easier for us all. If it was a challenge for us, imagine how difficult and distant the “American dream” is for those honest, hard-working people in other countries who yearn to “breathe free” but have no U.S.-based sponsor or even close relative. For most it is not only not “automatic,” but practically impossible.
May the Lord of the nations bless the United States and all the countries of the world.
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