Memories of INS at Miami Airport

In August of 2001 I entered the United States as a legal alien with a conditional, two year green card. I came exactly 2 weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks. I arrived with my American  husband of 21 months – less than two years, hence the condition attached to my green card.

With all the talk about the latest immigration policies and current upheaval in the US surrounding immigration from certain countries, I started thinking about my own immigration to America story. Leaving aside refugees, my thoughts are mainly about those people who hold valid green cards, and who have been living in the United States for a period of time, or who have recently received their green cards and wish to move to the US within the time frame they have been given. Once you receive your green card, you have a limited amount of time within which you must physically arrive in the country.

I applied for my green card before September 2001. Even so, it took a year and a half for the process. At the time we were living in London. In order to simply file the application we had to provide an incredible amount of paperwork, including police reports from all countries in which I had lived for more than 6 months after the age of 16. For me that was 3 countries – Ireland, Israel and the UK. This was proof that I have no criminal background. In addition, we had to provide multiple copies of birth certificates, marriage certificate, proof of current employment in London etc. My husband had to provide proof that he could afford to support me in the United States financially – green card holders had to sign a waiver that they would not claim any benefits (medical or otherwise) for 10 years after moving to the US – even though green card holders pay taxes the same as citizens. Once the paperwork was processed and approved the next step was medical. I was subjected to a multitude of tests and vaccinations. I was tested for HIV and drug use. I was x-rayed to show that I don’t have TB. I obtained from my childhood doctor a letter stating that I had measles and mumps as a child, or I would have been forced to be vaccinated. I had to get a tetanus and a rubella booster, because I had no proof of the most recent ones I had received. All this was paid for by me, the applicant and required a full day of  vacation from work.

As one of the lucky ones, my green card was approved relatively easily. My husband and I were called for our interview at the US Embassy in London where we were asked to show all the paperwork again, and we had to answer some questions about our relationship and our plans once we arrived in Florida. Another day off work. But I got my green card.

One would think that once you have the card, entry into the United States is simple. Not so. While having a green card allows you to enter through the US Passport line (or it did,  until now), the first time you arrive in the country with that green card, you are taken to that room. You know, that room you pass after passport control, with the big letters “Department of Homeland Security” – or back in the pre-9/11 days “Immigration and Nationalization Services”. That room is where people who are denied entry into the US are sent. That room was eye opening. That room was frightening. That room was possibly the most humiliating part of the whole green card process. While I knew that my documents were in order, and that it was a matter of protocol and fingerprints, while I waited my turn I watched families get torn apart. I saw a mother get told she could not enter the country with her husband and children. I saw an old man get escorted to a closed room for an extensive interview. Those images have stayed in my memory for more than 15 years. When my turn arrived and I was called for fingerprinting I was shaking so hard the INS officer had to hold my hand steady. I remember him saying something like “Relax, you’re almost done! Welcome to the United States” and that he was smiling, while all around him people’s lives were being destroyed.

If the process for me to get a green card took 18 months, pre-9/11, pre -“Homeland Security”, an Irish citizen married to an American, living in London, I can only imagine how much more difficult the process has become, especially for anyone living in war torn countries. And it should be difficult,because the country has every right to deny entry to people who may be dangerous. The process is there for a reason, and once a person has been approved for residency s/he should be allowed to enter the US with US citizens through the same passport control booth. End of story.



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jon S
    Feb 01, 2017 @ 12:55:52

    Well written V. Ironic that you are writing this now as an Israeli not frequenting Us airports Jon ________________________________


    • vanessabrooksceo
      Feb 01, 2017 @ 13:01:37

      The irony is not lost on me! I could have added that it’s not straightforward to immigrate to Israel either, even if you are Jewish – there’s still a vetting process. But it was long enough already!


  2. Bonnie Block
    Feb 01, 2017 @ 13:43:27

    My sister and parents endured very similar difficulties immigrating to this country many many years before you. As a natural born citizen of the United States I have to say that I do hope that the vetting process is very thorough Because it only takes one error, one person to get through to wreak havoc on this nation as we have seen so many times in the past. We all want to know that we are safe in our homeland, especially those of you in Israel. And I do believe that most citizens are willing to be inconvenienced for that safety. Remember, this is only a temporary ban very similar to those temporary bans issued by President Obama in the past. Nothing different just knew administration under much more scrutiny. Well written piece, thank you.


    • vanessabrooksceo
      Feb 01, 2017 @ 13:56:50

      It’s extremely thorough. And most parts of it are repeated throughout, leaving little room for error. I understand a temporary ban on visitors, but cannot understand refusing entry to those who have been vetted and given permanent resident status (i.e green card), whether they have had that status for 10 years or 10 days. And I really hope it is temporary.


  3. Bonnie Block
    Feb 01, 2017 @ 16:06:05

    The reason behind that is because of the questionable countries that those green card holders would have traveled to and are returning from. As we saw with the San Bernadino shooter (also possibly the Orlando shooter)and some others, they traveled to and from these countries and became radicalized in the process, even though they were valid visa holders and even citizens.


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