Letters from Juarez: “The wait was exhausting.”

10 Aug

When we received Lupe’s previous letter, she indicated it may be her last. It turned out to just be her penultimate letter. We’ve got the ultimate letter right here: Lupe goes to her grandparents’ house, to her cousin’s house across the street, to her husband’s arms, to several windows in the US Consulate, to the waiting area, to the phone–

August 4, 2009

The past three weeks have been full of many different emotions. As I said in my last letter, I headed to my grandparents’ house to help care for them. I strongly believe that was one of the reasons God kept me in Mexico for so long. He knew that there was something I could help with while I was there.

A few days after arriving at their home, we received a phone call telling us that one of my grandmother’s sisters-in-law had passed away. We all worried about how this would effect her, but to our surprise she handled the news very well.

That weekend, I got to meet, or re-meet, all of my grandmother’s brothers. They came by to visit and see how she was doing. Those visits helped liven up her spirits. She seemed much better after that.

The week before our waiver appointment was busy, which was our goal: keep busy and time would fly faster. Mostly, time was spent cooking, cleaning, and giving meds, but everyday for two hours my grandma and I would sit and watch telenovelas. We liked to say it was “our time.” Those were the times my grandma seemed happiest, the times we just sat and watched TV or just talked, because she spent most of the day on her little couch that faces the street. Both of my grandparents spent their days watching to see if anyone showed up to visit them. It seemed difficult to motivate them to do anything. Talking seemed to work. Even if it was talking about random stuff.

When I wasn’t with my grandparents, which was almost everyday after 8:30 pm when they were getting ready for bed, I would go and spend time with my cousin who lives across the street. It was nice to spend time with her and her family. She has two little boys. One is Tommy’s age and the other is a year-and-a-half old. It made me happy to be able to play with the kids. Although, sometimes–well, not sometimes, most of the time–it made me sad when I left because I wished that my kids could be there playing with the other kids.

The weekend that Marco arrived was a sad but happy weekend. My aunt and uncle, who I lived with for about a month, were leaving for their vacation so they stopped by to say goodbye. Even though I held back tears, it made me sad to know that I wouldn’t see them when I left.

The following day, Marco arrived at the house while my grandparents were at church. It was so nice to see him. I felt relief to have him close again, even though I looked like a clown when he got there. In my attempt to get a new look and be all cute for his arrival, I asked my cousin to put highlights in my hair and give me a manicure. That went all wrong. I ended up with orange, yellow, red and pink hair. It was bad. When he got there I wanted to hide under a rock.

The first thing we did was go to my cousin’s house so he could meet the kids. My two other cousins were there, too, with their kids. It was fun to see how the kids gravitated towards him. That day I got my hair fixed and I looked normal. That was good. For the next few days, we went over the packet that needed to be turned in for my waiver, we spent time with family, and Marco got to see how busy life is in Mexico.

On Tuesday, the day of our appointment, the morning went as usual. Up early, take my grandma’s glucose level, give her meds. Make the grandparents their breakfast, clean up. I had 30 minutes to get ready. My nerves wouldn’t let me relax. For the first appointment, I knew the packets inside and out, but for this appointment, I didn’t feel so sure.

When we were ready we walked across the street and my cousin Karina’s husband drove us to the US Consulate. We were so happy to find out that the new waiting area for families and friends had just been opened. Marco wouldn’t have to wait in the hot sun for hours.

When we arrived, we had to wait in line where all the 10:00 am appointments were waiting. The guards were not nice. Whenever someone would ask them a question, they looked at them like they were idiots. I was one of the idiots. There were two lines, so I went and asked one of the guards if both lines where for the same thing, just to be sure, and the guard looked at me like I was stupid and said, “Yes, of course they are.”

While I was waiting, to distract myself, I kept asking myself why all these girls were wearing long earrings, necklaces and all different kinds of jewelry. They weren’t going to let them in the consulate with all that. They would set off the metal detectors right away, and the big earrings and necklaces are considered weapons. When we walked to the metal detector, I kind of laughed while these women were taking forever taking off all their jewelry. Good stress relief, let me tell you.

When I got to the waiting area, the chairs each had a big white sign on them reading “Pardon, Waivers.” We had our own seating area. Once again, I was given a number. It was 7763. I waited about 10 minutes until my number showed up on the screen. I had to go to a window to pay the $545.00 fee. The teller was so rude. He yelled at the poor man in front of me. Most people get their packets put together by lawyers. The lawyers tend to put the 601 form and the G325 forms in the packets. When the man in front of me was paying, the teller asked him to turn in the 601 form, so the man was taking the packet apart so he could take out the form. The teller yelled at him, “¡Apresúrese! Yo no tengo todo el día.”* As soon as I heard him say that, I made sure I had that form ready to turn in.

My turn came and he talked to me nicely. Right away, I could tell the difference in his tone of voice. I don’t know if it had to do with the fact that I was a woman or because I didn’t wait for him to tell me anything, I just handed him the form and the money. It took all of three minutes.

After that, I had to go to a different waiting area inside the building. The wait was a little over three hours. While I waited, I had the chance to talk to a few people who were there for the same reason. One lady was there for the first time. She had no clue what was going on. She thought that once she went up to the window the first time, she just had to wait for the visa. Another man and I had to explain to her that that wasn’t the case. We told her that the first window was just to turn forms in and pay, the next window would be fingerprints, and the last window would be her interview where they would tell her whether she was approved or not.

She looked at us like we were nuts. That’s when I asked her if she had a lawyer. She said yes, that her lawyer had told her that she would most likely get a ban, but she would be able to file a waiver. She said she didn’t believe her lawyer and then I explained what happened to me. That’s when she got sad. She wasn’t prepared to stay. She thought she would just show up and that would be it. It went just like we told her. She got a ban and was able to file a waiver.

Another man I got to speak with was not having a good day. His lawyer failed to tell him that you could only pay with cash or a Visa card. When he showed up to his appointment in the early morning, they told him he couldn’t pay, that if he didn’t have cash or a Visa card, he would have to reschedule. He talked to several people and they told him that if he could get cash and be back by 10:30, they would see him again. He almost didn’t make the 10:30 time because he had to find a place that would let his family wire him money because no one would cash his check. In the end, he made it to his appointment, but he had to wait until all the other people finished.

I noticed that while we waited, even though people tried not to make it obvious, everyone would look at everyone else’s number. I was grateful for that. When my number came up, my folder had slipped to the floor so I had to pick up my papers. The person next to me tapped me on the shoulder and let me know that my number had come up. I went to the next window and waited for my turn again.

This is the window where I had to turn in the big packet and answer some questions. I thought it was going to be stressful but it wasn’t. I handed in the packet and they asked my name, birthday, when I left Mexico and when I arrived back in Mexico. And that was it. They sent me off the DHL desk to pay. The website had said that we could pay with Visa, but when I got to the desk they had a big sign saying “Cash ONLY.”

I asked the man behind the desk if he could give me a pass to go outside to get some cash and re-enter the building. You’re not allowed back in without one. He gave me one and I hurried to the waiting area to find Marco. He wasn’t there. I turned around and walked back, and that’s when he showed up. I told him to hurry and give me pesos because I had to go pay so we could be done. He did and I ran back inside.

It took forever for the guards to let me back in. Once I finally got back in, the DHL line was long. I had to wait, but finally I paid and was free to go. They gave me a phone number that I had to call the next day at 10:00 am to find out if my packet would be ready. And that was it.

I met Marco outside and we went to my grandparents’ house. All we could do was wait. Marco told me it would take at least two days before they had it ready, so we didn’t call until two days later. Nothing. The next day we went to my tia Lupe’s house. She owns a store and has internet access in her home, so she said we could use her computer. We went online to to track the package, but nothing. Marco went on to Immigrate2US.net, and there were two or three other people whose appointments were on the same day and they were still waiting.

The wait was exhausting. Almost unbearable. It did make me feel better to know that I wasn’t the only one going nuts. For several days, we would call the 01-800 number for DHL every thirty minutes. We had my mom, my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law checking the DHL site for us. Finally, on Monday we went back to my aunt’s house to check the websites. We had seen a Washington, DC number online that we could call to see if my Visa had been approved. We checked the websites and learned that the same people were still waiting. Just like us.

On Monday night, I told Marco that I had a feeling that Tuesday was not going to be our day. I had a strange feeling that we weren’t going to get the packet. And I was right. Tuesday, no packet. But that night, Marco prayed on his end, and I prayed on mine, and we both asked God for a sign that the packet was coming. It’s going to sound cheesy, but that night, in the middle of night, thunder came. I mean really loud, the sky-is-falling type of thunder. It scared me. After the first one, I said, “God is this your sign?” One more came and that was it.

I got up at 6:30 am in Juarez and dialed the Washington, DC number to find out if I was approved. I waited on hold for eight minutes. Finally, I got an answer. They told me that my Visa had been approved, but that it was still in Juarez. I hung up the phone and ran to the bedroom. I told Marco and our faces lit up. After that, I went to my grandparents’ house and told them the news. My grandpa told me that he couldn’t sleep the night before because he kept having a dream that we were approved and were getting ready to go. It was unreal.

After that excitement, we had to wait until DHL had our packet ready. We continued calling every thirty minutes but heard nothing. I went across the street to my cousin’s house for a little bit, and when I walked out I saw a DHL van drive down the street. That seemed a little strange because the whole time I had been in Mexico, I had yet to see a DHL truck. I went back to my grandparents’ house and told Marco that it was another sign. We would get the packet soon. An hour or two later, Marco called the DHL number. The packet was ready to be picked up. We were so excited. My grandpa was even giving high fives.

After we fed my grandparents and cleaned up, my tia Oly drove us to DHL and the packet was in my hands. The Visa read “Permanent Resident.” I couldn’t believe it. All we had to do now was go to the bridge indicated on the packet. We went back to my grandparents’ house, got our stuff, quickly said our goodbyes, and off to the bridge we went.

We had to walk the bridge with our luggage. The walk was about a mile and a half. It was a work out. My arms still hurt. Once we got there, I had to wait in line until one of the Homeland Security officers called me up to hand in the packet and my passport. Then we waited about half an hour. It seemed like forever. Then I was called up again. This time the officer asked me a few questions and said, “Welcome to the US. You are now a legal US resident.”

Nothing could take the smile off my face. We went to the entrance area, my passport was scanned and I was in! We were finally going home! From the time we got the packet to the time we arrived in El Paso, it was all of three hours. As soon as we were in the states, I started making the calls. It was so exciting. I kept thinking about getting to see my kids. We drove from El Paso to Tucson Wednesday night, and got up early Thursday morning to drive to California and pick up the kids. When we got there, I jumped out of the car and opened the front the door of the house. The kids had no idea we were getting there that day, so when they saw me they just stared. Once they realized we were really there, it was nothing but hugs and crying and happiness. It was one of the most magical days ever. Finally, the family was back together!

This was and is a difficult experience for anyone, even for those who get approved in the first interview. There are thousands of people who are going through the immigration process. Many of them prepare well and have a strong faith and know what is going to happen. Others think, “Oh, we’ll just show up to the appointment and it’ll be quick,” but are shocked when they find out it’s not that way. I got to see the happy faces and the sad faces. The faces I will keep in my mind are those of the sad ones, especially the families who brought their kids. The looks on the kids’ faces will stay with me forever.

After going through this experience, our family is much closer. God has shown us that we are strong. That our bond is strong. He has shown me that he really doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. Marco and I found it symbolic that the first people we saw when we got back to Tucson were Chad and Angel, our pastor and his wife. We have been blessed with so many things throughout this experience. We had our meltdowns, we cried, laughed and worried, but God helped us through it all. Now that it’s over, we can let out a big sigh of relief.

Thanks to all of you,

Lupe

*The teller said, “Hurry up! I don’t have all day.”

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