The United States Immigration Process: Neither Friendly Nor Easy

In 2009, my friend Malissa went to El Salvador with the Peace corps. While there, something unexpected happened; she fell in love.  In December of 2009, she was sent home early because of illnesses.  For the next two years, she and her now husband, Roberto filled out countless forms, invested hundreds of dollars and waited for him to be granted residency.

Many people wonder why so many immigrants cross the boarder illegally.  If they understood the expensive and time consuming process one goes through to help a loved one come to the United States legally, they may have a better grasp of WHY.  When I was in graduate school, we spend a lot of time talking about the inadequacies in education for minority students. During these discussions, the policies on immigration often came up.

I learned that the wait for Latinos to immigrate into the United States can be painfully long, sometimes spanning decades, whereas immigration for a well-educated European or Asian citizen could take less than a year. The truth of the matter is, even when someone immigrates to the United States legally, the process is long and arduous.

In the case of Malissa and Roberto, they started the process in December of 2009 and it was not until July of 2011 that Roberto boarded a plane for America.  I had Malissa briefly walk me through the process that she and Roberto had to complete over the past two years.

First, Malissa had to file a form in America to apply for a fiancé Visa.  The processing fee was almost $500 and she had to wait six months to hear back.  One common thread throughout the process is that phone numbers leading to real, live people were not readily available.  Mostly, they had to wait and hope.

After six months, Malissa received a letter saying that the application had been approved, but with no other instructions on how to proceed.  To figure out what to do next, she had to do research on her own.  She found one helpful website,, which details the immigration process.

After the American form was approved, Roberto had to fill out another form in El Salvador that cost almost $100 to process.  The entire form had to be in English and any Spanish had to be translated by a certified translator for a fee.  Most translators who Malissa sought out charged $60-$80 a page.

After that application was approved, Roberto had to pay for a medical exam.  The doctor had to certify that Roberto had no contagious diseases.  The final step was for Roberto to arrange an interview at the embassy.  The interview was difficult to schedule as one phone number lead to another.  For each call, Roberto had to buy a special phone card.

Through the process, nothing was easy.  No step was straight-forward or clear.  It is obvious to me in learning about our immigration policies, that the government does not want people to immigrate to the United States, legally or otherwise.

Once the interview was scheduled, Malissa booked a flight to El Salvador so she could be there with Roberto.  When they arrived at the American Embassy together, she was told that she was not allowed to enter the interview and had to wait outside.

After waiting for three hours, Roberto was interviewed and was then asked to bring Malissa into the room with him.  They went through the complicated security process together.   Finally, they were brought in and then separated so that the interviewer could ask each questions and compare their answers.

He asked questions such as, how did their parents feel about the marriage, how do they communicate, and what physical scars does the other have on their body.  I do not know if my husband and I would be able to answer all the questions as thoroughly as they did.

They told the couple that day that Roberto would be granted a visa.  Ecstatic, Malissa flew home and waited anxiously for two weeks for Roberto to receive his paperwork.  He arrived to the United States on July 2nd 2011.

Malissa and Roberto had 90 days to legalize the union or he would be sent home.  A hurried wedding was planned. They had waited to plan the wedding in case his visa was not granted, as is often the case.

After they married, Roberto had to wait another two and a half months to receive his adjustment of status which granted him the ability to legally work in the U.S.  That meant, for the first six months, he was unable to work and Malissa had to support them on her own.

It would be impossible to detail all that they went through to get Roberto into the United States legally without many more paragraphs.  Suffice it to say, the immigration process is not friendly to Americans trying to bring loved ones in from Latino countries or for Latinos’ trying to legally enter the United States.

Our government sets up these ridiculous standards for immigration.  Judging by all of the corners that the United States cuts and all of the rules that they rewrite, it does not seem that this is a process they themselves would go through— not legally anyway.