I wanted to recap our immigration story from the beginning so I took an older blog draft and edited it to fit our current situation. After the appointment at the Consulate on Tuesday, Rami was told that I would be able to make another appointment to talk to someone more about our situation. I promptly called and emailed and was told it was actually not possible to do this.
I was in Durham, NH looking out a window onto the quiet town glowing with the reds and yellows of autumn. My Italian dream-of-a-semester in Ascoli had ended long before, graduation was fast approaching, and I was writing a piece for my final portfolio. The recount of my final trip to Italy read like this:
“The breeze is warm. I have never left. Italian floods my mouth again. I am remembering – my world. And suddenly I have visions of grey hair falling soft around my face in Piazza Popolo with my grandchildren chasing pigeons; rattling off Italian that echoes on the stones laid by the Romans. I see a small house with stone flower boxes; vines clinging to the brick. I am airing out my rugs and hanging my laundry on a line. I am old but I am thin. I am healthy. I am more Italian than American….
I am a drifting soul. I have to choose and I know I’ll always be getting on that plane with its nose pointed toward Boston. I know Europe will slip back into my memories as something that is too perfect to be real. Something that is almost unreachable. Because – I am American. Sono Americana. Per sempre. For always, forever. I know my tears will dry by the time I see Boston outside my airplane window, and I’ll call my mother and my brother and I’ll smile because I’ll be home….
…When I am older and the skin around my eyes is wrinkled from the years of New England sun, I know that I will still sit on the end of my world as the ocean tags the shore. My heart will strain under my chest and I’ll wonder if I have taken the right path, wonder if my dreams were truly impossible, and wonder if I would be happier if I was standing on the other side of the ocean. Home. My heart beats to the rhythm of each letter. I dig my feet deeper into the New England soil.”
I thought I had predicted my life then. I thought I had everything sorted out at the age of twenty-two – for that is surely what we are preached to do: graduate, get a job, get married, have children, live by the coastline where you were raised, be true to your roots. I thought my visions of living abroad could never overpower my love for my home in New England. But within those carefully written lines, my heart was not as content as the facade of my prose.
The wonder was still there because a part of me had remained in Italy – tangled on the boughs of the olive trees and floating gently in the bottom of a forgotten bottle of Chianti. But even when I boarded a plane for the third time a year after I had written the words I just mentioned to begin a summer internship in 2012, I believed it was temporary. I would be home sooner than later. I told everyone I would be back before the leaves began to glow those fiery colors. But I missed the foliage that year – instead, I was dancing under lemon trees and falling in love in the heat of the Tuscan sun.
I found a man that so happened to make me appreciate coffee – which then led to gifts of blueberries from the local fruit stand, late nights strolling lesser-known towns around Tuscany, drinking wine in abandoned castles, walking arm in arm through street festivals, and whispering stories, hopes, and beliefs in the middle of the night. Rami completely revealed dreams that I had thought were too impossible to come true. He made me feel more loved than I had ever been. I had attempted to reprimand myself into a lifestyle that I thought was destined for me, but life had another agenda – and I could not be more exuberant with the outcome.
Though Rami did have to work on the night of my birthday five years ago, he promised he would make it up to me with one of our signature jaunts around the Italian countryside – and he delivered. On December 8th, we took a ride down to the one town that originally created this love affair I have with Italy. The one I had such longing for when I wrote in 2011 – Ascoli Piceno.
After snaking through the Apennine mountains, we rounded the last corner to see the glimmering lights of the city that stole my heart. Ascoli, with its ancient towers rising out of the sea of terracotta impressed even Rami – especially with its grand marble-paved piazzas complete with Christmas lights. They even had carols lofting through the air from speakers spread throughout downtown. I was on top of the world. Or so I thought, but that night, Rami proposed with a beautiful ring that he had somehow successfully hidden from me even though we were sharing a suitcase and lived in a closet-sized apartment.
He proposed with forever – that no matter where we were, we’d be together – and I realized my dreams of grey hair in the piazza outside of our room, may not have been as far away as they once seemed. He had wanted to bring me back to the place where I had fallen in love with Italy, the place that had brought me to him, to propose, and he made it absolutely beautiful. I knew that this was forever, that this was right, that we could get through anything as long as we were together. Later, we sat out on our balcony with glasses of wine as I watched my ring glisten in the moonlight. I was floating on happiness.
The rest of our trip that week brought us to Assisi where St. Francis lived with underground spas built on the remnants of an ancient Roman amphitheater, and then back to our favorite fortress on the peak of the town of Montalcino; where we sipped the same Brunello wines as we did the first time we traveled together at the end of the summer in 2012. A full circle of a love story containing old memories, new places, and favorite romances.
Now, my future children will chase pigeons on in the shadow of the Duomo, but they’ll also feed the ducks in Boston’s Public Garden. They will speak English, Italian, and Arabic. I will grow old alongside a man who I love and he loves me unconditionally, and that piece of my heart that had been withheld in Italy was released back to me again – this time, allowing me to be whole again, but in doing so, I had to realize that my New England dreams were crushed.
I was engaged to a man that has been banned from the United States for life.
When I first told people this, there was usually a bit of confusion, then shock, then a skeptical side glance at me wondering if I was getting married to a terrorist. So I originally wrote this blog because I wanted to lay this all out to try and remove the confusion and explain my situation. Rami was never a terrorist, nor was he an illegal immigrant. But because he attempted to do the right thing to stay in the US, he was caught up in a large miscommunication that cost him his freedom to travel here.
Rami studied in California for four years on a student visa, but with moving cities and a serious motorcycle accident, he wasn’t able to complete his degree in the allotted time frame. He asked his College if he could extend his visa, and they authorized and gave him the paperwork in order for him to do so. When he returned to Florence on a visit in 2008, he went to the American Consulate to officially ask for an extension of his visa so he could complete his schooling and sell his car and take care of finances before moving home to Italy. At the consulate, they told him if it was simply for a few more months, he did not need an extension and could travel freely on a VWP (or Visa Waiver Program) which is how many non-US citizens are able to travel for short amounts of time without a visa. For example, if a US citizen wants to go to Italy for a two-week vacation, we don’t need a visa, we just show them our passport.
Rami never over-stayed and did not have a problem with his travels after the meeting with the Consulate. He did travel back and forth to the States twice, but on the third trip back to the US, his Syrian background struck as odd when he was passing through security in Chicago in 2009. The officer told Rami his name was strange (for an Italian passport) and that he spoke English too well ( he doesn’t have an accent at all and if you were speaking with him you’d think he was American…minus the tight Armani t-shirt) and he was taken in for more questioning. Now, after receiving an FOIA, we see that that officer saw that Rami had been marked as denied a visa, but on Rami’s forms, he had marked he had not been denied. From his understanding, he had asked for a visa extension/another student visa at the consulate, but they told him he simply didn’t need one. This led to confusion. He had understood his visa was no longer valid and he did not have a new one, so he respected the VWP rule stating he could only stay for 90 days at a time and routinely went back to Italy as he was instructed. After reading his file, the officers at the airport asked if he had ever been denied a visa, to which Rami responded no – for he was never informed that he had been denied. But that was what was put on his record from the consulate.
What we think may have happened is that this was the only code that could be programmed into the computer when he asked for an extension, or maybe the consulate just gave confusing information, regardless, because Rami was thought to be lying to the US, they considered this fraud. Rami was thought to be a potential immigrant attempting to overstay in the US after already being denied entry. This caused a permanent ban to be placed on him. He was sent home to Italy in handcuffs – even though his home for the past years was in the opposite direction – in California.
Of course, he explained this to me I first met him, but it didn’t stop me from loving him. I never thought that this could be such a complicated problem that would drag on for ten years, but as our relationship grew stronger, I realized we were going to have to do some research to figure out how to get him back into the States – at least to visit home with me, never mind to see his brother still in California. Soon, I was skilled in visa applications, government websites, and legal lingo that I never in my wildest dreams would’ve thought I would need to know. I began to understand the complexities and the corruption of my own country’s immigration and legal systems, and how difficult it may be to bring my husband to my hometown – even just for Christmas.
We were married in August 2014 in Florence, Italy. If we hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to stay with Rami in Italy, and Rami wouldn’t have been able to even visit me in the US. We thought about a fiance visa, but when we started to realize that this would mean we’d be apart from each other, possibly for years, before we even got married, I decided to move to Italy instead. We didn’t want to be separated.
After six months of searching, I finally found a lawyer that would take our case. We now have filed for an I-130 and though it normally takes six months, it took us over a year to be approved for the first document. This is the first step in a spousal visa. This is our only option. We cannot get him visas to visit. If we want any chance at even a partial life in the US, we have to immigrate. I could write forever about why I don’t feel this is right, but I’ll leave that for another day. If we continue through the next steps of the visa process, we’ll most likely be denied in our interview because of the ban.
I will then have to apply for something called an Extreme Hardship Waiver. The waiver will prove that I, as an American Citizen, am in absolute need of Rami in the country. Simple sadness and wanting to have him with me are not enough. I will have to go to therapy, my expenses will be looked at, my family’s expenses as well, and family will be thoroughly questioned – trying to prove that I need my husband with me in all areas of life – something I believed to be common sense up until recently. Since when is love government regulated? Many have thought and told me that if we get married, surely you can just bring your husband into the US. I only wish that was the case. It’s incredibly complicated. The process will cost us thousands of dollars, years of time, and stress to the max – simply because we want to be together.
The US wants us to prove that people in international relationships aren’t marrying just for Green Cards, which I understand, but I feel like there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. I understand that to many, this whole process will be extremely strange and foreign to them, but it is more common than you think. I just recently met another girl in the same predicament.”They even have my husband’s Facebook password,” she told me. No stone is left unturned in the government’s study of us. I’ve been prepared to show journal entries, photos, and receipts proving that we’ve been on vacations together. They’ll want phone transcripts, medical histories, and all the bills in our names. Then, after a year or so (let’s hope it’s only that long, though our records seem to take much longer) we’d be approved.
Since Trump took office, we’ve halted our immigration process. We’ve now spent almost five years happily married and living in Italy. We love our life here. Immigration is not looking promising, though we’ll look towards the 2020 election to see if any hope is there. Right now, we were just hoping that maybe they’d listen to us – to just let us visit, but the appointment yesterday was full of lies and now, we’re not sure of what the next step is.