Understanding the U.S. Immigration System: Tourist Visas

Understanding the U.S. Immigration System: Tourist Visas from genevalopez2012.com

A friend of mine recently asked if I could share information on what the legal process entails for immigrating to the USA, as she is trying to gain a better understanding.  I am not a lawyer and any information I provide on this topic should never be substituted for competent legal advice from a lawyer.  However, I have personally been through the process of legal immigration, as I married a man born and raised in El Salvador, I have many friends and family members who have also been through the process, and I have worked professionally in therapy with individuals who have dealt with the system as well.  So, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I do have quite a bit of experience with it.

One of the arguments many people give for opposing “illegal immigration” is that they believe people should follow our laws and regulations and “do it the right and legal way.”  But what does that process entail, exactly?

I decided I wanted to tackle this topic in parts, as it’s quite a complicated process.  Though I’m known for being long-winded in my writing, even I will admit that most people aren’t going to sit through one, big post on this topic.  Ha!  While I won’t be able to address every single facet of legal immigration, the plan is to write several posts on the topic addressing some of the key elements.  Each original post will avoid my personal opinion on the topic and will simply be a resource to educate and inform, providing information from both government websites and personal examples.

Let’s Get Started.  First topic: Tourist Visas.

Whenever any citizen of a foreign country wants to visit the United States, not only must they have a passport, but they must also apply and be approved for what is known as a tourist visa or B-2 visa.  According to the U.S. Department of State website, appropriate uses of this visa include tourism, vacation, visiting friends/family, medical treatment, participation in social events, participation in amateur events as a musician, athlete, or something similar as long as the individual is not being paid for participation, and enrollment in a short course of study that does not count as credit towards a degree.

In order to apply for this visa, in most cases, one would adhere to the following process:

  1. Complete Form DS-160, the application form for a tourist visa, which can be found at the U.S. Department of State website.
  2. Schedule a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of the country in which one lives.  Wait times for these interviews vary by country.  You can find approximate wait times for the city in which you live at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visitor.html.  Current wait times for this visa interview as of today’s date, for example, are approximately 9 days for Tokyo, 16 for Baghdad, and 20 for San Salvador.
  3. Pay a processing fee of $160.  This fee will NOT be refunded whether the visa is granted or not.  
  4. Gather any required documents for the visa interview, which will vary depending on the country of origin and purpose of visit.
  5. Attend the visa interview appointment.

After the visa interview, the applicant will find out whether they are approved for a B-2 visa or not.  I recently polled a small, anonymous audience on Facebook regarding this topic.  I asked the following question:

True or False: Pending there is no serious criminal history or known ties to terrorists, the individual should be approved for the visa.

The results of my poll, found that approximately 67% of the individuals who answered the poll, believed this to be a true statement, while 33% of the individuals who answered the poll, believed this to be a false statement.  So, what’s the answer?

FALSE.

While this criteria will certainly play a role in determining whether or not an applicant is approved for a B-2 tourist visa, there is actually quite a bit more criteria that must be met for approval.  You can read the extensive list of reasons why an individual may be denied a tourist visit, by copying and pasting this link in your browser: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/waivers.html. 

An example of a reason one may be denied a visitor’s visa is that the interviewing officer believes the applicant may become a public charge while in the United States.  To determine this, the officer will consider the applicant’s age, health, family status (single, married, etc), assets and financial status, and education and skills.

When my husband and I were getting married in 2008, we really wanted his family in El Salvador to be here.  The family members who applied for a B-2 visa, brought an invitation to our wedding with them to their visa interviews.  Of those who applied, his mother, one sister, and his brother were all, thankfully, granted a tourist visa and were able to attend our wedding.  However, one sister who applied at the same time for the same reasons, was denied the visa and unable to attend.  She had no criminal history and no health issues, but was most likely denied due to lack of financial assets at the time.  According to the U.S. Department of State’s website, “The sole authority to approve or deny (called adjudicate) visa applications, under U.S. immigration law section 104(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, is given to consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.”  

If a B-2 visa is granted, it can be awarded for various time frames.  Some individuals are approved for a 5-year visa, some a 10-year visa, and others a visa that expires after a few days after entry into the United States.  This does not mean, however, that an individual awarded a 10-year, B-2 visa can enter the United States and legally stay for 10 consecutive years; it just means that their visa is good for a total of 10 years and they will not have to re-apply for a visitor’s visa each time they travel to the United States within that 10-year period.  Once an individual enters the U.S., the officer who reviews the individual’s documents at customs, determines how long the individual can stay during the particular visit, with the longest stay allowed on this specific type of visa being 6 months.

This is a brief synopsis of the typical process required for a tourist visa to the United States.  What do you think?  Any of the information surprise you?  I would encourage you to spend more time on the websites provided throughout this post to gain an even better understanding of B-2 visas.

And as always, thank you for trying to educate yourself on the process of legal immigration into the United States so that you can form your own informed opinion on the topic.

Does God Want Me to Forgive and Forget?

Before David inherited the throne, he was a servant of King Saul. The Bible talks about how well David served Saul, his loyalty to the King, and Saul’s appreciation for David’s work. But as time went on, King Saul soon became jealous of David, so much so, that he even began to try and kill the servant he once loved. As we read through 1 Samuel, we see the dark and dismal fall of King Saul as his jealousy consumes him. It’s a depressing end to what was once an incredible friendship and mentorship.

When reading these Scriptures, we often emphasize David’s response to this situation. The Psalms he most likely wrote during this turbulent time paint a better picture of David’s own struggles through it all. I imagine all he must have been thinking, all the emotions he must have been feeling. Shock, fear, anger, brokenness, sadness, confusion, grief. What a dark time in David’s life it must have been.

While David certainly experienced personal highs and lows through this time in his life, we eventually read about David’s incredible example of mercy and forgiveness. Though he had the opportunity to easily kill King Saul throughout this ordeal, he chose to spare his life. And when, later on in the story, David learned of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths, we witness him grieve deeply for them both, witness him refer to Saul, even after all he had done, as God’s “anointed one,” and compose a song praising the king for good things he had done.

I’ve always read those Scriptures as a beautiful picture of how God defines true forgiveness, focused on David’s refusal to seek revenge in both word and deed. And undoubtedly, it certainly does all of that. But as I was reading through these passages a few years ago, I was struck by something I’d never given much thought to before.

As Christ-followers, I think we can often be confused as to what forgiveness, as the Bible defines it, is and what it is not. I’ve often seen it taught in churches, or at the very least, implied, that biblical forgiveness is the equivalent of forgetting. After all, Scripture teaches us to turn the other cheek and forgive others 70 x 7 when they sin against us. But this notion wasn’t settling well with me, especially in situations where abuse was occurring.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “forgive” as the following:

  • stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for (an offense, flaw, or mistake).
  • cancel (a debt).

When we look at David and Saul’s story here, we see David wrestle through this process, but eventually, he most certainly lives up to this definition. Webster doesn’t mention anything about forgetting the offense when defining forgiveness, but does that align with Scripture? I found my answer in 1 Samuel 24.

In this chapter, we learn about how David spared Saul’s life when given the opportunity to kill him. When he makes this fact known to Saul, the king weeps and essentially begs David for mercy, which David agrees to. But then the Scripture reads in verse 22,

“…Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.”

Prior to Saul’s jealous rampage, David had lived with Saul and served as a high commanding officer in Saul’s army. David was best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan and several times, we even read David referring to Saul as “my father” and King Saul referring to David as “my son.” But despite all of this, we see in this verse of 1 Samuel 24, that though David chose to show mercy and not collect a debt from Saul, so to speak, it is also just as important to note, I think, that he did not return with Saul. In fact, he returned to a stronghold, which is a place where one seeks protection from attack.

While I believe the Church certainly gets some of the most vital components of biblical forgiveness right, we cannot forsake this equally important piece here: That forgiveness is letting go of revenge and animosity towards those who do us harm, but it does not require us to put ourselves back in situations where we are in danger, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Just as a physical stronghold protects us against those who seek to do us harm, personal boundaries work the same way, and they are necessary in life.

Forgive others, as Christ commands us. Allow Him to help you release resentment and bitterness towards those who have harmed you. But seek His wisdom and guidance, too, in learning how to set healthy boundaries with those who have harmed you. In some situations, perhaps He is calling you to reconcile the relationship and live as though it did not happen. But in other situations, He may want you to lean on Him as you let go of that toxic relationship, where there should be no reconciliation because it will only bring death and destruction to your life. Release the notion that biblical forgiveness is synonymous with forgetting and understand that Scripture teaches us that we can forgive an individual, but still protect our well-being by using the memory of the offense as the explanation for new and healthy boundaries with that individual.

DISCLAIMER:

This blog is for personal use only and not to provide specific mental health advice. By using this blog site, you understand that there is no therapist-client relationship between you and Geneva. This blog should NOT be used as a substitute for competent medical or mental health advice from a licensed professional counselor in your state.

The Real Question We Should Be Asking About the Migrant Caravan

Migrant Caravan: When Wanting a Better Life is a Crime from genevalopez2012.com

My stomach was recently turned when watching a news station’s report on The Migrant Caravan(s). I couldn’t believe some of the things “professionals” were stating about these groups of human beings making their way here, flippantly throwing around words like “invaders,” “diseases,” and “terrorists.” It was disheartening and even more disturbing to me that their large audience was taking it all in and blindly agreeing with their discourse.

I am not here today to try to change your mind about who you vote for. I am not here today to try and even change your mind about how our country should handle immigration reform. Today, I’m here simply asking us to treat human beings like human beings, in both our actions and our words.

So many individuals, including our government entities, have placed a major focus on the theory that someone is paying the caravans to do this. It might surprise you to know, that I don’t dismiss that theory. Heck, not even my husband, a native of El Salvador, rejects that theory. We both think it’s quite possible that some of these individuals are being paid, though we believe it could be either political party behind it. But, Friends, why are we not asking the more important questions?

For argument’s sake, let’s propose that some of the members in these groups of individuals are, in fact, being paid to make this journey. Even if that’s happening, they’re not being paid much. Maybe-maybe-a few hundred bucks. Maybe. But let’s look at the bigger picture, here.

These individuals are traveling mostly by foot from Honduras and El Salvador. From El Salvador to Texas, there are approximately 1,400 miles. Let me repeat that: 1,400 miles distance between the Texas border and El Salvador and these groups are traveling it by foot. Additionally, many of these migrants are making this journey with infants and children in tow, sleeping on the streets and walking the harsh terrains. It will take them more than 1 month to make this trek by foot.

The most important question here isn’t whether or not these groups are being paid to do this. The most important question here is that even if they are, why are they doing it? What would possess a woman to journey on foot, 1,400+ miles with her 6-month old baby, to a land where she knows political tension is high, where she knows she is not wanted by a great many, where she knows that she will most likely be detained by authorizing agencies that have many claims against them of violations of human rights? What would make anyone willing to do that, even for a few hundred dollars?

The answer? Desperation.

Even if you believe these recent caravans in the news are fake and made up of paid actors, the truth is, they represent reality. Because even if these aren’t “real” people (and I believe the majority are, in fact, “real”), there are thousands before them and after them who are real and who are making dangerous journeys here. We can try to pass it off as fake news, we can shut our eyes to it, and we can bury our heads in the sand, but it will not change the fact that these caravans represent the very real reality.

Even if “real” people aren’t traveling the whole way by foot, their journey is still incredibly dangerous. Women and children who try to make the trip are often raped and violated on the way. Many migrants die on the journeys through the harsh climate of the desert. Parents will take out loans to pay “coyotes” to transport their minor children to the USA. Why? Why would anyone be willing to take such risks with their own lives or the lives of their children?

Desperation.

Let’s look at a few facts. I focus on El Salvador in this post because I am the most personally involved with it and have the most knowledge about its problems compared to the other countries involved. However, the other Central American countries affected have very similar statistics.

  • According to the World Bank, 1 in 3 Salvadoran inhabitants lives in poverty, which means they make less than $5.50 per day.
  • The World Health Organization classifies homicide rates at epidemic proportions once it reaches a ratio of 10 for every 100,000 inhabitants. In 2017, the average homicide rate in El Salvador was 60 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the entire world.
  • In 2017, the homicide rate of children and adolescents in El Salvador was 16 per 100,000 inhabitants. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, so let me try to make it a little more real to you: That would wipe out my 6-year old son’s entire 1st grade class.
  • Businesses are being extorted by gangs, forced to pay money to the area gangsters in order to keep their business; in order to stay alive, even.
  • Children and youth are being forced to join the violent gangs and if they refuse, the lives of their family members are threatened and the innocence of their sisters taken as retaliation.

This is the reality that these individuals are living in every day, so even with all the risks that come with an “illegal” journey to the US border, it all seems worth it. For many, it’s no worse than the risks they face every single day in their home countries.

THIS is what we should be focused on when we look at the caravans. Maybe these particular caravans are a ruse, but ruse or not, they represent the very real reality of thousands of other migrants. We don’t have to agree with their methods. I’m not even suggesting that we should allow all of these individuals into the United States. But can we please stop treating them like dirt and referring to them as animals? Can we treat them with the dignity they deserve as human beings? Can we stop spreading rumors and fear among our citizens? Can we get out and meet our neighbors? Can we stop relying on the media, our President, and our government for all the facts about these people and can we step out of our comfort zone and start having open conversations with people who are different from us? Can we think about what we would do if we were faced with the situation many of these migrants find themselves in? Can you really sit there and try to tell me you would do anything different if you were in their shoes?

While not all who make the journey have good intentions, the majority are simply desperate for a better life. Let’s thank God that most of us in the United States can’t even fathom this level of desperation and let’s treat these people with decency. Let’s look past our political parties, our political beliefs, and for goodness sakes, let’s show some integrity and stand up for the humane treatment of a group of individuals who are literally willing to put their lives at risk to come here. Let’s refuse to justify everything that is said by someone simply because they’re on the same “team” as us. Let’s agree to disagree on political reform, but let’s all agree to treat human beings with decency and respect, both in our actions and the words we use to describe them.

They are not invaders. They are simply human beings desperate for life.

Migrant Caravan: When Wanting a Better Life is a Crime from genevalopez2012@gmail.com

Does Prejudice Have To Be Personal Before We’ll Recognize It?

Does Prejudice Have To Be Personal Before We'll Recognize It? from genevalopez2012.com

President Trump has often been accused of racism and fear-mongering and the latest Republican campaign ad endorsed by Trump, has once again brought these allegations to the forefront.  Many of his supporters adamantly dismiss these claims as outrageous and ridiculous, stating he simply tells the truth.

The thing is, Friends, our language matters.  The way we say things is important, and most especially when we are leading an entire country.  The manner in which we present information is critical.  The POTUS often uses scare-tactics to prey on the fears of America.  When discussing the problem of illegal immigration, he has referred to immigrants numerous times as rapists, murderers, and “very bad people.”  And yes, there have been some horrendous crimes committed in this country and elsewhere by individuals who entered the USA illegally.  I’m not denying that or justifying it, nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t discuss those cases when looking at policy changes to our immigration system.

The issue, though, is to hear the President speak, one would think that these bad apples are the majority and they are not.  The majority of individuals who have entered this country legally or illegally, are simply looking for a better way of life for themselves and their families.  Many are trying to escape extreme poverty, government corruption, and/or terrible violence.  Most are just trying to give their children a chance at life.  Not even necessarily a chance at a good life, guys!  Just an actual chance to live to see their 16th birthday!

But President Trump doesn’t talk about these things.  Of course not.  That wouldn’t fit in with his political agenda.  That wouldn’t build that wall.

To be fair to him, though, the President’s fear-mongering is nothing new in politics.  Look back in history and we see countless incidents from politicians and news rooms from all sides who have employed the same tactic.  It’s just easier for us to see it when we, or the causes we support, are the scapegoat.

I’m a Christ-follower.  Do you know how many people in history have been viciously murdered by individuals in the name of God, in the name of the same God I love and serve?  Millions, my Friends.  Millions.  Yet, I would find it ridiculous if people started using those facts to denounce Christians as dangerous.  Why?  Because I know we’re not all like that.  In fact, most of us aren’t.

I support the 2nd amendment, though I support some policy changes regarding gun laws.  Lots of people I know do, too.  And lots of people I know get so frustrated with the fact that after another mass shooting in America, politicians and the media prey on our fears and lump all gun owners into the same category: dangerous.  My news feed will be inundated with people’s arguments that most gun owners are responsible citizens and they’ll be furious with “the other side” refusing to distinguish between the majority and the bad apples.

I don’t support abortion because of my religious and moral convictions.  Yet, there have been quite a few individuals with allegedly the same convictions as my own, who have committed heinous crimes against abortion clinics.  I would never condone such actions and I certainly don’t want to be associated with them.  I definitely don’t want my convictions and those of the majority who believe like me, to be judged by the violence of that minority among us.  That would be crazy.  Right?

I support our law enforcement.  I believe they should be respected and appreciated for their work and sacrifices.  I also know, though, that not all who wear that badge, are good people.  There are incidents where minorities have been profiled, unjustly apprehended, and yes, even murdered by racist cops.  But I recognize that most of the men and women behind that badge are not like that and I would never condone violence against them based off the disgusting actions of the minority among them.

I’m a 34-year old white woman in America.  I didn’t live through the Civil War. I didn’t own slaves nor do I condone it.  But my ancestors did.  I know plenty of white racists today, sadly.  There are white supremacists marching around in KKK hoods and preaching hatred even today.  But I definitely don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people.  In fact, it annoys me when people assume that I am a racist because of the color of my skin, the history of my people, and the actions of a bunch of morons who happen to have the same skin tone as I do.

Am I making my point, here, Friends?

I think every single one of us in some way or another have experienced frustrations at being grouped into the same category as extremists and minorities in our individual groups.  Most of us don’t have any difficulty identifying how unfair or ludicrous it is to be scapegoated against when we are the victims of such actions.  So why is it so difficult for us to not hold ourselves, to not hold the individuals who we align ourselves with, to the same standards?  Why can we not see past our politics, our religions, our genders, our races, etc and recognize prejudice even when it’s not personal to us?  Do we have to be the scapegoat before we’re willing to step up on our soap boxes? Do we have to be the victims of bigotry before we are willing to demonstrate integrity?

I’m not an “open all our borders and let anyone come and go as they please” advocate.  I believe in a system to immigration.  I believe in enforcing immigration laws when they make sense.  But I do not support, nor will I ever support, preying on the fears and lack of understanding of my country to bring about changes to the broken system.  I will never support any leader’s policies on the issue, who demonizes entire populations based on the terrible actions of a minority among them and refuses to address all the truths on a subject, not just the ones that support their agenda.

Does Prejudice Have to Be Personal Before We'll Recognize It? from genevalopez2012.com