The day had come. I had been waiting for it since the year 2000 and finally, it was here. My stomach was in knots from the day I received the notification on or around June 25th saying “Please report to the JFK Building on August 2nd 2016 at 8:00 am for your green card interview.”
I didn’t know why I was being interviewed for my green card. The petition was filed back in 2000 by my adoptive father who had adopted me sometime in 1990 (I had been fostered for about 6 years prior to that). Why would they need to interview me? I’m his daughter. As much as he does not want me to be, I am his daughter. And the petition was not just filed, it was also approved. I was so happy when I found out it was approved. I think my adoptive father was too. I know my sisters were. My adoptive mother feigned excitement. Getting approved for the I-130 made me that much more a part of the family.
She didn’t like that.
She didn’t want that.
The approval meant that the US counted me as a dependent and that if I decided, I can move forward with a visa for a green card or an adjustment of status. It also meant that I could finally receive the same rights as them. For over 18 years my rights were denied.
Well, not exactly the same rights. But I would at least be able to have more mobility in the world. As a Haitian citizen, having mobility and being able to travel is difficult. Not to mention how I as a black woman am treated on a daily basis.
The I-130 was filed from the country I was living in. So things took forever! It was approved in 2004. They had to verify. INS (at the time it was called that) lost the paper work and everything had to be resubmitted. My adoptive father was not good at keeping track of his mail, so we missed letters from INS. He changed his address a few times and didn’t update INS so that was another issue.
We failed to make contact so we lost the money we had spent and he had to pay the fee a second time.
So much happened between 2000 and 2004. And we were still friends. I was waiting for an escape but we were still on a medium contact basis. As much as I wanted to tell him about the pain I was feeling inside, I kept to myself because, after all, as an adoptee, I’m expected to stay quiet, not speak up, and be thankful for everything they had done for me.
So I was. Sometime between 2004 and 2012, a visa became available and all I needed was his signature on the affidavit of support. But as you know, a lot can happen in 8 years. I graduated from college and got a degree. I returned home to raise my foster daughter, I became a full time teacher, had to pay rent, electric, and all the other things. I became a slave to a country that didn’t want me there.
As a Haitian, the DR is not a happy place to be.
Between 2004 and 2012 I also wrote and published my first book detailing how I got to meet and know my foster daughter and how much pain I had gone through as an adoptee with white parents. It was NOT a hit. And as a matter of fact, it was not even written “for all to see”. But I needed a platform to tell my story. I needed someone to listen. I paid over 1000 dollars to get my book published and there it sat…barely being moved…because my goal was NOT to give it to the world.
My first book was a piece of my heart and soul and actually, I had no shame. I didn’t consider the things I had said to be so horrible that my family would want to disown me.
But they did.
In 2010, a few months after (what I know now to be) my last “family” trip, my adoptive father somehow got a hold of the book. He was not angry. But he was worried his wife would be. I understand his worry. She had controlled him for so many years, she had said horrible things to him, and also about me…she has always strongly disliked me….the little black Haitian child she “stole” over 30 years ago.
She hated me because she was jealous of me.
She was jealous of my accomplishments. She was jealous of my relationship with my children. She was jealous of my job and how much I was loved there. She was just a very jealous woman. I made her mad; according to her.
She could not stand the fact that I was Phoenix and my ability to rise had really nothing to do with her.
More than anything, she wanted the result of my success to be because of her. Ironically, the result of my success was in spite of her.
But enough about her.
The split in the family was a long time coming. I grew up feeling like I had to be thankful, but the others did not. She and I would both like to blame the schism on the book I wrote but I refuse to do that now.
In 2010 she disowned me following letters of hate, threats, and disparaging words. She even told me that she would not hesitate to shoot me if I got onto her property for any reason at all. She came by my house and stole my table she had given to me for Christmas. She returned a huge collage she had made with me in the orphanage…..kind of a “fuck you” gesture….”you should have remained there.”
In my head I knew that this disconnect will affect my ability to be blessed with the opportunity to leave the country and stay away. I had gone in and out of the country since I was around 3 years old….but it was just on a visitors visa, only granting me up to 6 months of “tourist” time but no actual rights.
I would get on the plane, get to immigration and be held up for over 2 hours just to be approved entrance into a country that should have considered me to be one of theirs in the first place. I often missed my next flight. But they didn’t. Because my adoptive father didn’t want to go about it the right way…he didn’t want to go about it at all. “You were not a priority” was his exact words when I spoke to him over the phone one night.
Knowing the break of family ties would affect my green card, I lived in fear of him withdrawing his original petition. I lived in fear of not being given the rights I was supposed to have the day I was adopted. To get him to sign the affidavit of support when the visa became available, I had to ask a friend to plead because I knew he would not do it. He thought that now that I was an adult, it was up to me.
After I was disowned, any financial support that was given to me by my adoptive mother ceased. (I was working at a job where I made 5000 dollars a year and eventually moved up to making 23000. I had used up my grandfather’s inheritance to live off of). Narcissists like to get to the grand kids because they know it will hurt you. They find ways to make sure that NO ONE is on your side. And she did. She managed to convince people that I was this horribly ungrateful evil person who deserved no friends and who deserved to die.
I lost friendships. I lost family. I even lost a girlfriend who said “I can’t be a part of this….i’m sorry.”
And so I learned to adjust to my knew detrimental fate.
Depression set in for years and I couldn’t seem to shake it. I wanted to die but I had these precious kids I was caring for. Every day I woke up and somehow forced a smile in order to let them know that my promise to them would not be broken.
I got up early, took my showers, went to eat breakfast, but my life was in a daze; even when I smiled. I felt like this whole thing was not real. That I would wake up one day and be “fine”, whatever that meant.
I could not kick the depression and often times, depression won. I would spend days in bed while my oldest (now 20) took care of the other two. I couldn’t for the life of me be in a “good” place with what was going on.
Sometime between 2011 and 2012 I received an email that said that there was a visa number available for me. I was so overjoyed. I jumped up and down..finally, this nightmare would be over. I will be able to take my kids and move to the USA and provide them with more options as they got older. I had guardianship of one and nothing at all of the others.
I didn’t know what my next step was so I started emailing pro-bono lawyers for advice. In the meantime, my now 20 year old but then 15 year old and I were looking at camps in the US for her to attend. But in order for her to be able to attend, she would need a visitors visa. We had attempted in 2008 to get her a visa to travel with me to the US for a summer but she was denied. The 2nd visa attempt later on was also denied because the consulate claimed my foster daughter had “no ties to the country”. It was during the second attempt however that I learned that in order to leave the country with these precious kids, they would have to be formally adopted.
FORMALLY ADOPTED? I had NO intention of adopting the children I was caring for.
After being adopted myself, I was afraid I would become my adoptive parents and not do a good job. So I stayed away from adopting them and it was not even in the back of my mind. But after the officer at the consular told me this would be the only way “out”, I had to start thinking in more detail of what I wanted in life. I was so thankful to hear what he had to say. He explained that since the earth quake in Haiti, adoptions were now being required in order to leave the country.
I wanted the children I was fostering to be with me. To live with me. But I didn’t want to force their name change.I didn’t want to adopt them. I didn’t want them to feel that they were not connected like I felt my whole life.
But something had to be done. I already had guardianship of my oldest so I figured I would focus on the other two kids. I fought hard for the middle child but in the end her parents would not even let me have guardianship. After several years of living with us, she rejoined her family and now I can see it was the best thing for her. She was 11 when she returned to her real family.
Getting paperwork for the youngest child was nearly impossible. It took months to get an accurate BC (the ones we had received were riddled with errors) and then we learned that even though she was supposedly born in the DR, she was not allowed to have legal status because her real mother and father were from Haiti. Originally I was going to attempt to adopt her from the DR but without a proper Dominican Birth Certificate (full legal status and all), she could not be adopted.
Sometime in 2012, I met my now wife and she worked with me through out all of this. It was confusing for her because so much is done through bribery. So much is about “who you know” in order to get things done. But she joined me on this wild goose chase.
My youngest child had to make a trip with her biological mother to Haiti to get a “delayed” BC. The experience she had there is for her to tell and I hope one day she will write about it and tell her story if she feels the need to or the desire to.
Once the BC came, we could move forward. We had to start the 3 year adoption process in order to possibly be able to put her on my visa and claim her as a dependent. During all this, the attempt to adopt my now 20 year old was proving to be impossible. Her real mother did not want her to have my last name nor did she want me to actually adopt her. And now, as an evolved adult, I understand why. I wish my real mother had fought for me the way her real mother fought for her. My real mother was drinking the kool-aid after she found out my adoptive parents had gone and adopted me without her consent. Hoping for the best was the only way for her to feel “ok” about not fighting harder.
About 3 years later, my (our) daughter was legally adopted from Haiti and even given a visitors visa to travel to the US.
So here we are. At some point before coming to the US, during my struggles and depression, I told my adoptive father that I wanted to no longer be connected to him and so we both drafted a petition for withdrawal which he signed and I emailed to NVC (National Visa Center). I received an email back that said that things of this nature could not be emailed but had to be done via snail mail. I never mailed it in. But both my adoptive father and I were under the impression that his petition was still “ok” since we never actually mailed the petition for withdrawal.
So we thought we were still safe.
When we came to the US, our daughter and I had originally planned to stay for a month to visit my wife who had since taken a job as a math teacher in Massachusetts. And then her brother got sick and we wanted to stay longer.
But i’m not the type of person who does anything illegally. So I made an appointment to speak with a USCIS representative via infopass. I needed to know what my legal status was and I was curious how I could claim US citizenship through my adoptive father who neglected to do the right thing when I was little.
He had so many chances.
I spoke to a wonderful lady who told me what to do. She told me the original petition I-130 was still good and had a priority date. She suggested that I apply for adjustment of status since I was already in the US and because I had entered the country legally.
My wife and I considered filing via marriage but I feared my ability to remember dates could mess up the entire interview. I always felt like a failure, even though I knew I was actually quite successful. I also knew that my adoptive father owed me that final document.
So she and I buckled down and filled out the I-485 for adjustment of status for me only. We were told to wait until my case was approved before filing for our daughter. Children under 18 always have legal status in the US no matter what.
The forms were filled out, everything needed was attached and we mailed it off in January 2016. It was a bear to get my adoptive father to sign the new affidavit of support. He refused to sign it for a second time and I’m convinced it was because he was angry with me for exposing the truth. He filled out the form, but refused to sign it.
We sent the form as is and we promptly received a pink slip saying that the form HAD to be signed by the original petitioner. This meant more phone calls and trying to convince him to “do the right thing”. Finally, after sending him proof that my wife was financially stable, he signed the damn form. My stomach eventually loosened up and I was temporarily relaxed.
A couple months later I received a notice telling me to go get my fingerprints taken. In May, I received my EAD (Employment Authorization Document) which allowed me to leave the country if I needed to. Receiving this card made me so happy. Finally, after so many months in wait, I could finally work in the USA and contribute to my family financially. I figured I could not have come this far for nothing.
Sometime at the end of June I received an update on my case saying that an interview was set up. I feared having to be interviewed. I didn’t know what to say. I for sure didn’t want to lie, but I was also very confused as to why I would need an interview since my adoptive father had petitioned and the petition had been previously approved. For weeks I stressed over this August 2nd interview date. I couldn’t sleep. My eating was erratic and I had managed to bite my nails all the way down several times before the due date.
Why would they want to interview me? Was something wrong? Did they not believe that I was their daughter?
My wife and I spent weeks putting together all the documents USCIS may request me to show. My blue binder was twice the normal size and contained my entire history. If this can’t convince them, what would?
I couldn’t wait until my daughter returned from camp because I knew that when she returned, I would be getting that much closer to the interview that would either make me or break me.
August 2nd came and I got up early, took my shower and put on appropriate presentable clothing. My wife and I were so nervous. We really didn’t know what the outcome would be. We came to the conclusion that whatever happened, we would go through this together and we would keep trying. If we needed to hire a lawyer, we would. If we needed to start over and go through her, we would. We would do anything and everything possible.
I even did some research on Panama the week before my interview in case I would be told “no” and we would all have to pack up and move. I knew that Panama was safe and that living there would not be horrible. Plus, they were giving away business visas.
We got in the car and drove; partly in silence, and partly in suspenseful speech. Jenna (our lesbian GPS lady) was telling us where to go and how to get to the JFK building. My appointment was for 8:00 am so we left the house at around 6:40 in the morning. Jenna reminded us that the building was on the right side when we pulled up around 7:16. I kissed my wife and said “see you later.” We had no idea what would transpire inside that building.
I went through security check and no one asked me for my ID. I didn’t get patted down, I only had to put all my belongings in the bucket and push it through the security dark conveyor belt area. I walked through and picked up my stuff and continued to the waiting room. When I got there, I was asked for the interview paper. The kind woman took it from me and kindly asked me to take a seat. It was 7:30 now. I was super early and super nervous.
I texted with my wife back and forth as I waited. I told her that I had already witnessed several people being denied their Green Card. One woman in particular (I think she was from the Ukraine) was on her second interview and she was sobbing uncontrollably. Her daughter (could have been her lawyer) was trying to console her. The interviewer came out and explained why she was denied and that they had a chance to appeal the case. Again.
One woman whom I believe was from Vietnam was there to take the Citizenship and Naturalization test. She passed the written part but did not pass the verbal part and so the interviewer told her son what had happened and what to do for next time. She didn’t cry but it was clear she was sad.
I got nervous as I saw these people being denied. I got nervous because it was all family related. It was not even marriage related. I thought for sure my interview should be pretty easy because….
- I’m fluent in English
- My Adoptive Father is a US Citizen (born and raised)
- I filled everything out correctly
- I didn’t receive anything from USCIS stating that they needed anything more from me
- I had received an EAD card
- What could go wrong?
They called my name up at around 7:57am. The woman had trouble pronouncing it but I realized she was calling me mainly because of the difficulty to say my last name.
The first thing she asked was “where is your petitioner?”
Immediately my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach. The interview sheet didn’t say I needed to bring my petitioner with me since I was over 18 years of age. So I got nervous immediately and explained that had we known he needed to be there, he would have been. But at the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself “this is not going to work out, there is NO way he would have made a trip to the USA for this…for me.”
I had no idea what was about to happen next.
She asked me to come with her to her office. My knees got real week and I thought they were going to give way. But they didn’t. I walked in and before being seated I was told to hold up my right hand. I was asked if I was going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God. And I said “yes” even though as an adoptee, the truth is often not known.
We began and she was not real kind at first. She told me that my I-485 was fine but that the original petitioner had requested that his petition be withdrawn. I kindly asked her what she meant by that (me knowing in the back of my mind what it meant but hoping my definition was wrong) and she told me that she cannot approve my case because my adoptive father had withdrawn his petition..his I-130.
I then asked her to clarify when that petition was withdrawn. And then I remembered a petition withdrawal request that I emailed back in 2014 that he had signed and I had scanned and emailed. I was also told through email that it was not valid since it had not been mailed in. I proceeded to tell the woman I understood the issue and that I, nor he had any idea that the scanned and emailed document could be honored since we were told that it was not valid via email.
She became a bit aggressive telling me that she had to honor the request. I dug through my thick binder and showed her the actual original with his signature on it. I was trying to show her as proof that a physical copy was never sent and that we were told that it was not valid because it needed to be mailed and I never mailed it in.
By now, my heart was pounding real fast. My wife was outside in the rain pacing back and forth, waiting to find out what the decision was.
“I’m going to have to talk to your adoptive father in order to know whether he wants us to honor that request or not.”
I told her that I was willing to call him on the phone immediately and she said that she could not take calls. I didn’t know what to do. I was at a loss. I was not lying. I was genuinely confused and upset that USCIS would allow me to get to this point knowing that they had that petition for withdrawal in hand. They should have notified me at some point so that I could make other plans.
I messaged my wife on the phone saying “not good”. I found out later she was crying outside.
She returned and told me we would proceed with the interview as planned but that she can’t make a decision on my case right now. She told me she would have to reach out to my adoptive father and then make a decision. She also said that I may have to start the process all over again.
Then I completely broke down.
I could not hold it in any longer. I could not keep pretending that he and I had a great relationship. I could not live in his shadow. I needed to break free from his hold. It was all about how little control I had over my fate…my destiny. Him giving me grief about signing the affidavit of support, him denying me my US citizenship….it was all coming back and I could not let her try and reach out to him just so he once again could take control over MY LIFE.
flooded the room. I began to convulse. My crying was heard down the hall. I had to tell her that contacting him could result in me being under his thumb again…and again…and again.
Getting this green card would free my soul from the captivity it had experienced from the day I was adopted into that family.
As I began to cry, she said in the sweetest and most nurturing voice “what’s wrong? what’s wrong mama?”
I spoke my truth through tears, through stories, through my experiences. I explained to her that I can’t return there. I explained to her that being adopted is very complicated and it is not as it seems.
I explained to her that I had been waiting years for this moment…the moment I could be emotionally free from them….forever.
She came over and hugged me…rubbed my shoulders and told me that my green card was going to be approved because I needed to be free. She told me that with this green card, I can choose to never talk to them again, because I have the power. She told me that the 10 year green card will allow me so many opportunities to do what I want to do…no longer under the control of my adoptive parents. The 10 year green card needs to be renewed but my status as a permanent resident does not ever need to be renewed.
She told me “I believe you” and this is why I am approving this green card.
I didn’t cry because I was mad at my adoptive father.
I cried because had I not been approved, I would still be under him. And that scared me. It scared me to think that a 67 year old man could still control me even from a distance.
It scared me that his wife could still control him, even from a distance.
I could not live like that anymore.
After telling the rest of my story and explaining how my papers are not even really mine, she approved my green card and told me that I would receive it in about 2 weeks.
She told me it was a 10 year Green Card and that now…..I…WAS….FREE.
I felt my spirit rise…..and this woman, the woman I didn’t even get the name of….this USCIS officer who I had never met…this beautiful black, strong, and powerful person…. freed me.
She did not just free adult me….she helped free baby me….child me….teenager me….college student me…..emotionally distraught me…suicidal me…..anorexic me….bulimic me….abused me.
As we were wrapping up she said:
Live for YOU
Because at the end of the day…YOUR happiness is what matters.
A bit of poetic justice?
Speaking our truths can lead to a new found freedom!
Now, I can look out onto the water knowing that I am in control of being ME.
Like a previously caged dove….I’m FREE!!!