Madeline: Bona Fides

One of my favorite things about APW is getting to witness other people’s vows, albeit remotely. Brandon and I said ours at City Hall, and, for us, that was enough—we are not including a second ceremony at our upcoming reception. But it’s fascinating to read about how other couples describe and declare their lasting attachment.

Right now, we’re preparing to describe our own attachment for a whole different audience: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who are processing my application to stay in the States as Brandon’s spouse. For us, it’s not a vow that measures our commitment, it’s a list of documents we’ve been asked to submit in advance of our interview as “proof of bona fide marriage.”

What do you have to show for your love? A black orchid? (Nicolas Cage fans? Anyone?) In our case, we offered our joint Botanic Garden membership, though there was no room to tell about the times Brandon braved his allergies to let me photograph the late-Spring bluebells. We showed them shared flights to the UK for Christmas, but had no space to include the BBC Radio Four stream he puts up with round the apartment when I’m homesick. We have a family cell phone plan. Doesn’t that make us a family?

Preparations for the reception and the interview have overlapped in unexpected ways. We searched through the same archived photos of the two of us together, first for our invitations, then to submit with Form I-130. I spent almost as much time on Visa Journey as on A Practical Wedding. Our marriage certificate became my second passport.

What’s curious about this overlap is that while weddings are so deeply personal, immigration is just the opposite. In that world, I’m not a bride; I’m an Alien Relative. And while nuptials are characterized by optimism, the immigration process is rooted in doubt. Marriage? They’ve seen marriage. What they want to know is: Is it bona fide? Unless you’re gay: Your marriage still lacks recognition under federal immigration law. Yes, it’s a system that’s dehumanizing at best, and unjust at worst.

Yet just as weddings work best at the sweet spot between self-expression and established ritual, I like to think my officially “immigrating” has allowed us some moments for Brandon and I to express ourselves through bureaucracy. “Fill up the vessel of tradition with yourselves,” as Meg counsels in a beautiful line in her book. Why not the vessel of USCIS too?

As it turns out, the person who understood this best was my mother, who trained as a lawyer. Strictly following the format provided, she put together an affidavit that was both legally sound, and a personal testament to us as a couple. “ITEM 12—We like Brandon very much and are very happy for them. They have a loving and caring relationship and share a lively sense of humor. He is an intelligent and sensitive young man and we are very pleased to welcome him into the family. He has fitted in very easily.”

My mother couldn’t be there for our vows. But having her witness our bid for my green card turned out to be one of the most meaningful steps in our marriage. Could there be a better way to reassure a foreign spouse that they are not an alien?

Photo of Madeline & Brandon’s invitations from Madeline’s personal collection

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  • This is a beautiful post. While the immigration process may be tedious and awful, the silver lining is that it has allowed you (and your “witnesses”) to reflect on your relationship and your marriage. In a way, it’s a little gift from the US government (wrapped up in red tape).

  • I have a very close friend that is going through this process, and it makes me so incredibly grateful that my wife and I were born in the same country. It would be so heartbreaking and awful to be torn apart because our marriage is not yet recognized by the federal government.

    Thank you for sharing, and best of luck with everything.

  • Anne

    Thanks so much, Madeline. Knowing we may have to do this someday (my fiancé has dual citizenship, so if/when we move to the UK, where only he is a citizen, we’ll have to go through this for me) fills me with dread. Thanks for sharing that while the process isn’t easy, it is possible to go through it with grace.

  • francine

    that story about your mother made me tear up… so beautiful!! best of luck as you navigate the immigration paperwork!! xo

  • Lo

    I’m loving the long-distance posts this week! My fiance and I face a long year apart before our wedding plus I’m in the beginning stages of putting a US immigration petition together for him. The idea of going through the immigration waiting game, plus planning a wedding while I’m in the states and he’s in Dublin is kind of daunting. Oddly enough though planning the wedding has become extremely comforting and a fun (I do love event planning) contrast to the very impersonal immigration process.

  • soozy

    I’ll be getting married in July and my fiancé is a Mexican national (I’m a U.S. citizen). It is an intense process, for sure, but since I previously worked at an immigration law firm I know the steps pretty well–when wedding planning gets too stressful I opt to work on the I-130 petition, which makes me feel a bit saner–unlike a reception, the petition can never have too much stuff, and neither mom nor grandma can provide alternate opinions! I’ve got physical and digital file folders labeled “evidence” all over the place!

    Best of luck–you’ll come through it just fine, I’m sure!

    • Madeline

      “evidence”–love it!

    • x2 on the Evidence files! I still have them everywhere, even though our I-130 interview is already over.

      • soozy

        Save ’em up (and keep adding to them!) for the I-751 you need to file in the 3 months before the conditional green card expires! And then, y’know, after that, for your future grandchildren. :)

  • Your mother’s affadavit is just too sweet!

  • Good luck with filing!

    I look forward to following in your footsteps in a few months and I hope I can see it as something meaningful, like you do.


    My Irish husband got his US citizenship a month before our wedding and we then went through this 3 months later after years of difficult visa circumstances. The mountains of paperwork I prepared for our meeting were crazy – I made doubles of everything, printed off years worth of photos, took old letters and cards, flight info, bank statements, mortgage statements, rental agreements and everything I could think of. Once we were in the interview though, the (very nice) immigration officer simply asked us basic questions about our relationship, glanced over the required info, and at the end added a couple of photos to his file.
    The anticipation was much worse than the interview – if you have a real relationship I don’t think there is any reason to be anxious at all. Good luck and may you soon be able to relax! (at least until the 2 yr renewal… coming up next year for us, yay!)

  • What a beautiful post. I wish you both the best of luck.

  • Madeline – I went through a similar process up here in Canada. Though I was applying for residency at the same time as I was planning my wedding (under Canadian law you only have to be common law). I think it is a bit harder in the States and I do wonder what my husband and I will have to do if we ever move back to the States. We’ve been married almost two years now and I wonder if our marriage license would be enough proof! Beautiful story and I feel for ya!

  • Madeline

    Great to hear from so many ladies who are going through the same bizarre, tortuous process…thanks all!

  • Maggie P.

    It’s kind of weird, but despite the hassle, I’m almost looking forward to when we handle the green card stuff. I guess it’s that my fella and I are not only from different countries, we’ve got an age gap, had different religious upbringings, and come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. So I often feel like I have to justify our relationship to people who think people should only marry people the same age with the same background. The immigration thing just seems like the one judge who can’t deny us. (Cause, you know, he didn’t come from a ‘Scottish mail order spouses’ catalog)

    Thanks for writing this. It’s always comforting to see those who have gone before. The bit about your Mom actually gave me an idea. When the time comes, I might ask my parents to write something for the packet. I don’t know if it will be required for us, but it would certainly be meaningful.

    • soozy

      Definitely include affidavits! They can be stock affidavits (“I have known person 1 for x years because we were neighbors and I have known person 2 my whole life since she is my sister; I attended their wedding and have celebrated birthdays and holidays with them, etc.”) or more personal ones, but definitely grab a handful of ’em! They’re a good idea whether or not your case “requires” them. Good luck!

  • Good look with your process. I can totally relate to spending tons of time on an immigration forum (and APW too). I think I countered the impersonalness of the immigration process with a determination to make it personal. I mean, if I *have* to open up the most intimate details of my lives to a stranger (by sharing love letters or photos or financial records), I might as well tell our love story well. So…I got really into sharing our unique, personal story with the inclusion of a relationship history (from each of us), and of course all the supplemental documents (plane tickets, letters, emails, receipts from whatever, etc.) I kinda looked at it as a bizarre immigration scrapbook, and oddly enough, it’s kinda fun to go back and look at it all now. Good luck with finishing and submitting it. And especially during the waiting time to come. That’s the part that was most challenging for me. But it is all worth it in the end!

  • Sarah

    I have exactly this relationship with Radio 4!

  • Ugh, I can’t see “I-130” without wanting to throw up a little bit, but I hope that your whole green card journey goes SMOOTHLY AND QUICKLY! And I wish you LUCK!

  • Beautiful post.

    We went through the mountain of forms, also (I’m Australian and my husband is Irish; we’re living in Australia).

    Our wedding ceremony was beautiful and we had almost everyone we wanted there, but funnily enough, the statutory declaration my Dad wrote in support of our spousal visa application a couple of years ago stands out more in my mind than his (wonderful) speech at our wedding :)

  • Mrs. S.

    I have been though the same frightening process with my American husband. I have no words to describe the humiliation that the CIS has put me through. The last time I checked, whether we were American, English or Japanese, we all had the same parts and a beating heart. I am no alien, I am a human being that wants to share my home and my heart with my husband and our family.

  • Best of luck to all of you on your Immigration processes, and also a word from someone who faced the immigration authorities, presented documentation and got turned down: although at first it was devastating, it all worked out in the end.

    After getting married we applied for family reunification as per the law allowed at the country I had been legally residing for more than half my life including high school, college and work. We wanted for both of us to enjoy life in a beautiful country with better work opportunities, where I had paid taxes and social security and had my pension plan. The government interpreted the law differently and long story short, they said no.

    I packed my bags, and left what had been home and came to the problematic but lovely South American country where he’s from and where we met, to which I fortunately have dual citizenship through my parents.

    I felt betrayed by the country I had considered my home for so long., but at least we had a place both of us could stay and work in, not ideal, but we are together. And life takes strange turns.. several months later, we were interviewing at the US Embassy and being approved to immigrate, and we’ll be moving to a far better place than originally planned in a couple of months.

  • HyeKeen

    Wow – I know what you’re going through and then some! My husband is from Armenia (where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer) and not only have we had to go through the USCIS process but when we were getting ready to leave Armenia they still had the Soviet leftover of an “emigrant visa” – which basically means you have to jump through a bunch of hoops (and usually pay a bribe) to be allowed to emigrate out of the country.

    Things I’ve learned from the whole process:

    1 – Be thankful that it’s America where in general the process is outlined, with forms and fees indicated.

    2 – Give more “evidence” than you think you have to just in case. The first time we did an adjustment of status for his green card, I sent in a few bank statements, house insurance, etc. And then we were asked to provide more – so I showered them in information – affidavits from my father, stepmother and a co-worker friend, photos of us in his country with my parents and his family, photos of us in the US, copies of envelopes we’d received from family with both of us on the addressee line, etc.

    3 – It’s a long hard road but worth it in the end! We’re about to finish up his citizenship process with his interview (and hopefully) swearing in ceremony next month.

    Best of luck to you – it’s unfortunate that all the many shysters who do marry for the green card make the process that much more difficult for those of us who actually are in love and have true marriages.

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