Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beautiful in Armenia and in America

This is a late  post which should have been read 6 weeks ago,  however, as I am now traveling after completing Peace Corps service, I realized I had not posted this story.  It is important to me because it points out the desires and struggles endured by persons in other countries who want to come to our United States.  See what you think and I'd love to hear your comments.  Living out of the US definitely changes one's perspective on many topics and this is probably one of the more controversial ones-----immigration.   I apologize for the length, maybe just skim this entry!!!

        Beautiful (meaning of my friend’s name in English) has been trying to go to the U. S. for 4 years.   In 2009, she met an Armenian businessman who was visiting our town and became friends with him. Without knowing any of the details, I do know that after 2 years of keeping in touch from California to Armenia, the couple married in 2011.  I have seen the official Armenian marriage certificate which Beautiful keeps along with many photos of the wedding and of the couple seeing the sights in Armenia.  During that time, Beautiful was avidly pursuing  a VISA to legally join her husband in California where he lives and owns a business.   “He is a very wealthy businessman in America”, Beautiful has told David and me numerous times.    “4 years, 4 years. I”ve been trying to go to America for 4 years.” This is the lament which Beautiful verbalized the first day we met her in our neighborhood.   From that time on, we’ve heard each step of the saga----the trips to the U. S. Embasssy where Beautiful’s  request for a VISA was repeatedly denied, phone calls to her husband in CA trying to get help with the process,  letters from the VISA Department in Washington, more trips to the Embassy with the same result------“No, you are a good woman but no VISA for you,”  is what Beautiful was told at one time in 2012.  
     Then one day, Beautiful appeared at our door, breathless, excited and waving a letter in her hand. The letter was from the VISA Department in Washington, D. C. and she wanted me to read it and call the phone number to get more information about her application.    David and I both read the letter and noted that the date was February , 2012 ----a year ago.  When we asked Beautiful about this she replied that her “agent” in CA had received an e-mail saying that more information was needed to process the VISA request and this paper had the phone number for us to call. Beautiful does not speak fluent English and was seeking our help in hopes we’d be able to find out exactly what she needed to provide to move this lengthy process forward.     Fortunately , it was 4:30 pm in Armenia which meant it was 8:30 a.m. in Washington D. C.  Skeptically, I called the designated number and received a quick automated response. “If you speak Spanish, press #1” .  (Strange, I thought, that Spanish would be the first language identified for listening to information and then realized that probably more Spanish speaking persons than any other try to immigrate to the U. S.)  “If you speak English, press #2”.  I followed the prompt , listened to the brief message and pressed O for a customer service representative.   Amazingly, a well-spoken young man answered the line and after hearing what I was trying to do, gave me a detailed list of what Beautiful’s application lacked.   I thanked him profusely, in fact, had I been able to, I would have given him a hug for his help, for not being a robot and for being a “government worker” who acted as if he really wanted to help someone  ½ the way around the world from him. Beautiful, Dave, and I were thrilled that I actually was able to speak with a live person.
Beautiful proceeded to have her “agent” in CA submit the necessary information which she had not done originally.   Now, the ball was in her court, so to speak.   

       After several weeks, Beautiful came running to our door, again excited and out of breath.  “I must have my medical exam, and another  interview at the U. S. Embassy is June 14th,, she reported.  Beautiful was more than ecstatic since this was a true sign of progress in her search for the path leading to the U. S.  and life with her husband of 2 years. We congratulated her, “Shnorhavor”, as true Armenians do, and waited to hear the outcome.  

       Thoughts continued to weigh upon my mind, though.  How can this process have taken so long and be so complicated if this woman is really married and her husband is a person living in the U. S., successfully working, owning property, and paying U. S. income taxes. (I saw his W-2 ). Are David and I naïve enough not to consider the fact that maybe Beautiful and this man married just so she could go to the U. S.?? We may be naïve, but Beautiful is not the typical woman to leave her motherland, her family, a house given to her by her grandfather, her friends, her life-----to follow a random person to the U. S.  I’ll never believe that.  For whatever reason Beautiful wants to go to the U. S., she has paid her dues in time and effort trying to bring that reality about.  She is intelligent, has some kind of training in veterinary medicine so could possibly become gainfully employed, and has a person trying to help her reach her goal of immigration.  Her family in Armenia is supportive from what she says and they realize once Beautiful gets to the U. S., she probably will not be returning to Dilijan, Armenia very often.
       The week of this writing, Beautiful, was granted her VISA as an immigrant to the U. S. She is packed to go and has an airline ticket from Yerevan, Armenia to Los Angeles, CA. We spent several hours on-line trying to pay the $165 fee necessary to get her Green Card .The fee must be paid on-line, she has the money on her debit card but we could not navigate the complicated web-site to even reach the payment screen.  Calls to the US Ambassador to Armenia’s office where we were then directed to the Consulate’s office for help were not successful. There seemed to be a problem with the website which no one could correct.  Beautiful is now seeking help from an Armenian business person and translator to see what she can do.  Delaying payment of this fee until she reaches the U. S. is possible, however, it is not recommended.   Her husband in the U. S. could go to a public computer and try to make the payment although he would be dealing with the same website we found ineffective.  

       As persistent as Beautiful has been in this whole process, I feel certain she will accomplish what is needed. I certainly hope so because this is a life’s dream for Beautiful and in my opinion, she should get a chance to live it, knowing there will be positives and negatives to her decision to depart from Armenia where she was born and has lived for 44 years.    We will keep our fingers crossed.  I want you to know what challenges and hurdles are faced when someone is intent on coming to your country and mine.  There should be rules and qualifications for immigration, in my opinion, but not total frustrations and barriers to opportunities to better one’s situation. (again , my opinion) I will keep you up-dated on this story as it continues to unfold.

       Update a few days after her departure from Dilijan:   According to Beautiful’s Mother, her daughter reached the US without major difficulties and is happy at the present .   I did not hear from Beautiful personally but hope all is well for her in this new phase of her life.
Dave and I  are leaving a cafe  in Dilijan after saying good-bye to one of my  favorite students. Although we'll miss the people we love in Dilijan, it was much easier for us to leave and return to the US than for Beautiful to do it.   

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