ties” a term used by the Department of Homeland Security (or
DHS, see www.dhs.org) to set up parameters for the granting and
denial of visas to immigrants and non-immigrants declares that in
order for a person to be granted entrance to the U.S. for tourist
or immigration purposes, they must possess a bank account, family
ties, or employment in their country of origin. These ties, along
with a laundry list of other stipulations, are used by immigration
officials to determine the eligibility of persons to be granted
visas to the U.S. It seems, however, that in our current political
climate, strong ties are in fact not enough to gain access to the
U.S. even for a short Christmas visit, if you possess certain characteristics:
namely an established relationship, personal or otherwise, with
a twenty-something Sanmiguelense whose American boyfriend, a Milwaukeean,
wishes to return to the U.S. for Christmas with his girlfriend who
has never been outside of Mexico because of her strong family ties
and job as a primary school teacher (think “strong ties”).
After calling the U.S.
Embassy in Mexico City (see www.usembassy-mexico.gov) using
a 1-900 number, scheduling an interview appointment for the review
of her visa application (the average wait time for an interview
is 47 days), filing an application with a fee of one hundred dollars
(one week’s salary at the average rate of pay in Mexico),
and thinking that a short visit to Wisconsin would be no problem
for two adults seeking to visit family, she is denied a visa based
on the fact that she possesses a romantic relationship with an American
man. She is informed that if she and her boyfriend were to become
engaged and marry within 90 days, she would be granted her visa,
but in no other circumstances would she be allowed legal papers
to cross the U.S. border. Once again, she wanted to visit the U.S.
for a short period, for the Christmas holiday, while holding a job
as a teacher in San Miguel de Allende, and whose entire family lives
and has lived in San Miguel for generations. And yet, as she is
unmarried and involved with an American man, she is denied the visa
for extra-legal reasons.According to the Immigration and Nationality
Act (INA), first written in 1954 and amended in January 2004 when
the DHS took over control from the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, “every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant
until he (sic) establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer,
at the time of application for admission, that he (sic) is entitled
to non-immigrant status” (for more information, see www.uscis.gov).
Within the INA there are specific stipulations that determine if
a person may be denied visitor status to the U.S.
Examples being: history of drug trafficking, terrorism, previous
deportation from the U.S., intent to work illegally, or being from
a state that sponsors terrorism (to access the full text, see www.uscis.gov).
These, in combination with the other stipulations named above (labeled
vaguely as “strong ties”) unite to form a strong “Open
Door” policy while maintaining and enforcing national security
along the borders of the U.S. Since September 11, 2001, the entrance
of foreigners to the U.S. has become intensely bureaucratic, especially
if their country of origin lies on a list of states that sponsor
terrorism. As a result of this, many students, scientists and researchers
have faced immeasurable problems at entering or re-entering the
U.S. to study or further the cause of scientific research for the
U.S. and the world.
back at the case of the Sanmiguelense and her American boyfriend,
none of these stipulations seem to apply as she only seeks to enter
the U.S. for a holiday, and then return to Mexico for the beginning
of school in January. Mexico is not a state that sponsors terrorism,
nor has it ever been. The family in question has no history of trafficking
drugs or participation in terrorism. She full well intends to return
to her job in Mexico, not to pursue a career in the U.S., and as
she has never traveled to the U.S., she has never been deported.
According to a representative of the U.S. Consulate in San Miguel
de Allende, this situation happens all the time and that Consulate
officials have no influence over the actions of consular officers.
After researching this topic, La Jerga has found that in fact there
is no one who has an influence over the actions of consular officers,
and that the actions of these officials are condoned by the U.S.
government. Although, “by regulation the U.S. Department of
State has authority to review consular decisions, but this authority
is limited to the interpretation of law, as contrasted to the determination
of facts.” (for more information, see www.travel.state.gov
and click on “Temporary Visitors”) While an appeal for
a rejected visa is possible, the State Department may only analyze
a case according to the laws written in the INA, while consular
officers retain full access and control over the determination of
what constitutes “strong ties”. Exactly what “strong
ties” are, is never outlined in the INA itself.After consulting
a lawyer about this topic, La Jerga has learned that, in the lawyer’s
experiences with the U.S. Embassy, the granting of a visa remains
in the arbitrary hands of U.S. consular officers, and that applicants,
many times, are impacted by the officers’ whims rather than
any specific, outlined policy, and that applicants from Latin American
states like Mexico have far worse experiences than applicants from,
for example, the European Union.
European tourists seldom need an interview, a set of fingerprints,
or even a visa to enter the U.S. As consular officers have no legal
document that defines “strong ties”, nor anyone who
will reprimand them for extra-legal action, these officers have
no reason to fairly treat prospective visitors to the United States,
even close neighbors from Mexico.
When ties of family, career, bank account, place of residence and
a history of life in one place is not enough, and a legal decision
is made based on a personal aspect of an applicant’s life,
the extra-legal has occurred. When an applicant who meets all the
pre-scripted criteria is denied, the denial is based on a mis-interpretation
of facts: a mis-interpretation that lies in judgments of an individual’s
potential for certain action, rather than an interpretation of the
facts at hand.
Think of the U.S. dependence on illegal immigrant labor and how
those persons desiring legal visa status must pay the price: there
are thousands of illegal immigrants who enter the United States
to work in restaurants, on farms, and for landscaping companies
where business owners need cheap and easily exploited laborers.
Many American companies would buckle under the weight of being forced
to pay all of their employees fair, if even minimum wages. Despite
the political rhetoric of controlling illegal immigration, politicians
benefit from these waves of people seeking to feed their families
in the items that they buy and the investments that they make.
The contradiction lies in that the people who seek to enter the
U.S. the correct, legal way suffer the personal opinions, misgivings,
and prejudices of U.S. consular officers, people who represent the
political rhetoric of anti-illegal immigration, and there is no
check against their behavior. It seems to this reporter that instead
of four more years of the rhetoric of controlling illegal immigration,
perhaps the U.S. should seek to establish structure to their legal
immigration procedure in order to influence legal behavior over
the temptation of illegal entrance.
Why would the U.S. not seek to replace the numbers of illegal immigrants
with legal ones? Please see part 2, in La Jerga’s next issue.For
more information, please access the above websites, or call the
U.S. Embassy in Mexico City at 01-900-849-4949. Or you could call
their complaints line at 01-800-719-2525.