This Side of the Pond – May 10

By Sarah Pridgeon

An article published recently in the New York Times brought back memories and gave me a much-appreciated afternoon smile. It focused on a life event that only a few of us here in Crook County have had the privilege to experience: the dreaded green card marriage interview.

For those who remain blissfully unaware of what such a thing is for and why it sends a shiver down every new arrival’s spine, it’s one of the many elements included in the immigration process when your purpose in moving Stateside is to start a life of love, companionship and grocery shopping with a significant other. It follows on from such necessities as doctor’s appointments, biometric logging and the filling out of confusing forms.

I had reason to be so interested in this article. I learned from an immigration officer during my own process that the whole thing goes differently depending on where your plane lands, so I was curious to know what new New Yorkers might face.

A hopeful immigrant who aims themselves at the dazzling lights of New York City or Los Angeles can expect a higher level of suspicion regarding their motives, I was told by that officer. I imagine there are plenty of people with starry eyed expectations of finding stardom in Hollywood or riches and fortune in Las Vegas and no qualms about their method of making it happen.

Choosing Wyoming either implies I am not one of those people, she told me, or says a lot about my knowledge of geography. Consequently, the scrutiny of the immigration officials I faced was not so terrifying as I’m sure it could have been.

The marriage interview is an opportunity for officials to grill you about your relationship with the aim of either proving you to be a charlatan or granting your happily ever after. The article included a list of questions gathered from immigration lawyers and asked the reader: could you pass this interview?

They start simply, covering such topics as how the two of you met and when you met each other’s families, moving on to particulars of the wedding such as where you bought the ring, what you ate and who attended your big day.

The immigration officer approaches the interview on the assumption that you are lying, the article said – if they come to the conclusion you are, you could face jail time and a quarter-million dollar fine. Considering the ephemeral nature of love, it’s tough not to be terrified even when you’re as honest as the day is long.

The questions get tougher as you go along, ranging from drawing diagrams of your marital bedroom to remembering what you got each other for Christmas and when you last saw your mother-in-law to confirming whether your spouse has any tattoos and how they get to work in the morning. The officer may also visit you at home, talk to your neighbors and take a look at public records.

I’d been warned about this interview several times before my own appointment came. I have two friends who went through the same thing (in whose accounts I was interested) and a number of acquaintances who wanted to tell me horror stories about a friend-of-a-friend (which I decided to ignore).

I told the husband that we would need to prepare ourselves carefully, as I didn’t much fancy going to prison because I hadn’t thought ahead. I gathered up as much “proof” of our relationship as I could find, filling a small suitcase with photographs, documents, records of online conversations and two different versions of our wedding album.

The husband looked at me askance when he realized I expected him to lift that suitcase, but I was adamant it was all going to be necessary. I then insisted we cover as many of the potential questions as we could on the journey down to Casper, going over favorite colors, past events and even the color of each other’s socks.

We soon realized we had a problem. If we were asked what we did for my last birthday, the answer would be “pizza”. If we were asked what we ate for our main meal the day before, the answer would again be “pizza”. If we were asked what we did for Valentine’s Day – yep, you guessed it, “pizza”.

This left us with a conundrum. If we told the truth, we’d look as though we’d chosen easy answers to make sure we said the same thing, but lying would be a whole lot worse in the long run.

I needn’t have worried. When we finally arrived at the immigration offices, pale from lack of sleep and quaking in our boots, we were ushered into a room with a very pleasant lady, all smiles.

I plonked my “proof” on her desk, picked up the stray documents that tumbled from the precarious pile and resigned myself to my fate. She looked at the paper skyscraper in shock.

“Goodness,” she said. “The people before you didn’t bring anything at all.”

After a cursory inspection, she shrugged and told us that was all she needed – no need for any more questions. Clearly we had taken this seriously and made an honest effort.

Instead of an interrogation that left us both in tears, she simply handed us some literature she thought might be helpful, wished us well on our journey together and escorted us out into the sunshine.

Nothing in that experience but kindness and welcome. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why I love Wyoming.