Sunday, September 28, 2014

Another round...

It has clearly been an eternity since my last post and much has happened. Let's do a quick review for the benefit of those who have been following and wondering, or for those who are new to our story. A lot of this will come from the perspective of my Facebook account.

January 2014

Just to recap, our last visa interview was in Seoul in 2012, where we were denied a visa and the opportunity to file a waiver. Since then policy has changed indicating that people in Carlos' situation SHOULD be able to argue for the chance to file a waiver. So that's what we were doing at the start of the year. I finally gathered the necessary documents and shipped them off to our lawyer so she could file our I-601 waiver.  Here's a picture of the stack of evidence of hardship I sent. Keep in mind this is just a portion of the waiver, as our lawyer then proceeded to construct a thick brief to give all of this context. A major undertaking.

February 2014

Our lawyer finished constructing the waiver and sent it to USCIS to wait in line to be reviewed. At the time, we were anticipating perhaps a 6-month wait.

Spring 2014

A documentary filmmaker contacted us about participating in the filming of a new project on immigration/family separation and the response of faith communities. I was intrigued and we got onboard. He came to film me, my parents, and the kids and then flew to Mexico to interview Carlos. He also interviewed our lawyer and lots of other experts on the topic. More about the documentary below...

July 2, 2014

Almost exactly at the 5-month mark, I got a text message that our case status had changed and could be reviewed online. I was enjoying a summer outing with my kids and parents at Navy Pier when I got that notification. I'll never forget the feelings of dread that flooded over me as I stopped to log in and see what the update said. And I'll never forget the anguish I felt when I read the following:

Later when the denial letter came in the mail, it became apparent that they hadn't even reviewed the facts surrounding Carlos' eligibility for this waiver, nor the merits of our hardship case. Because he had been deemed ineligible in 2012, before this new policy had gone into effect, they hadn't even looked at the waiver, simply denied it.

I had known that this denial was possible but once it became reality, I was devastated. I couldn't believe our separation was going to continue, and the fight was going to drag on.

July 4, 2014

Still reeling, I decided I couldn't deprive my kids of a proper Independence Day in the US (Carolina's first). We went all out, did the parade and fireworks and the whole deal. But all through the celebration, I kept fighting back tears. It's hard to celebrate pride in a country that continues to laugh in the face of your family's commitment. It's hard to enjoy a holiday knowing that I'm being forced to choose between my country and my spouse. And it's really frustrating to constantly rely on my dad to stand in for a husband who is stuck in another country unable to be the father he wants to be to his own children.

 It's especially hard when moments like this occur during the festivities:

late July, 2014

Undaunted by the denial, our lawyer sprang into reaction mode and filed an appeal arguing that we should have been deemed eligible for the waiver and the waiver should be approved. Another 6-month wait, perhaps.

August, 2014

The kids and I headed to Mexico to spend what was left of the summer with Carlos. Those were refreshing weeks. We settled right back into life as a family. Carolina took a little while to work out how she knew Carlos and who he was, but once she figured it out, she eagerly clung to him and followed him everywhere exclaiming, "Daddy!" My heart melted on a constant basis to see my whole family together. We did very badly at taking photos but here are some of the best ones we got:

Our trip was too short, but we had a school year to jump into. We landed back at Chicago O'Hare on a Monday night and Tuesday morning, I was back in the classroom setting up for the year. It was exhausting but in these years of together-apart transitions, I've discovered the importance of being really busy when transitioning back to "apart" so my mind can't dwell too much on the pain of being separated again.

September 2014

Production wrapped up on the documentary, titled "Divided Families: Responding with Faith". It will air on Chicago's PBS affiliate, WTTW channel 11, on Thursday, October 16 at 9pm. Here's a promo clip:

A selection of this documentary will also be shown on Tuesday, September 30 at 6pm at Community Fellowship Church in West Chicago, followed by several other events around the area in the days prior to the airing on WTTW. You can see the schedule, details, and maps here.

For those outside the Chicago area, the documentary will be posted online after it airs on television.

We're really excited to have been a part of this project and excellent care was taken to tell our story accurately and appropriately. Excellent analysis from legal, socio-political, and spiritual perspectives were woven in. Anyone who can should definitely take the time to watch this film!

late September 2014

One final development, which is currently in progress. Unlike a lot of other immigration processes, updates on the progress of an appeal are a bit more cryptic but from what my lawyer can decipher, it appears that this week, our case may have taken a very positive turn. We aren't completely sure yet, and we'll need to wait for official decision letters and a waiver determination, but there could be a chance that 2014 is the last year my family will spend apart! Please continue to pray and keep us in your thoughts, as this separation continues to wear at us. But we are hopeful and eager to see this end, and I'm sure you are as well!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

sheepish 9-months-later post

Saying goodbye to Daddy's airplane at Incheon airport/Seoul
So yeah. It's been awhile. No, the title isn't referring to a new baby, as thankfully our lives are quite full with the two we already had as of my last posting. But in the nine months since I last updated this blog, I guess we've had a lot of eventful moments anyway.

Most notably, we said goodbye to Korea. Korea was a gracious host. Certainly not without its challenges (goodness, were there challenges). But it was the one country that offered us visas, a job, a place to live, our son's first school, our daughter's birthplace, and for two years, a home. We made lifelong friends. We gained new food addictions. We discovered just how much we could accomplish all alone, half a world away from our friends and families, with no one to depend on but each other. And we learned just how much we really needed each other.
Lucas and his friends take a final stroll through Seoul's historic center
Carolina crawls in front of the statue of one of Korea's naval heroes.

But Korea is no longer possible. The Native English Teacher program in the public school system is collapsing. The pay for most of the remaining jobs is being capped at a level that would not be sufficient for my family. Lucas is reaching school age and didn't have the necessary Korean language or academic skills to make it in Korean public school. Plus, we were really struggling so far away from family, especially with two kids in the picture. We had to make the decision to come back to our home continent, even though it meant going back to international separation, once again.

So here we are. I'm back in Chicagoland, Carlos is back in his homeland. He's teaching English again. I'm teaching public elementary school again, although in an interesting twist of fate, I'm teaching Kindergarten for the first time ever. In a dual language (Spanish-English) immersion program. People. I can not emphasize this enough. If you know someone who teaches Kindergarten or preschool or some other form of early childhood education, give them hugs. And chocolate.  And bottles of wine. And spa gift certificates. Because wow. That is a calling of the highest form.

I used to think it was cute how Kindergarten lesson plans are full of games, songs, chants, calendar time, counting, coloring, cutting, gluing, you get the picture. "Kindergarten teachers must have it so easy!" I used to think, as I sat surrounded by papers to grade, project rubrics to design, and research projects to set up. Well, I repent. My friends, do you realize what it's like to keep a class of Kindergarteners interested in counting to 100, MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY? Have you ever tried to teach a group of 5 year-olds how to use a bottle of glue only to turn around for 3 seconds and turn back to find a child covered in it? Can you envision having to assess your students' learning of math skills based on orally testing each individual student, while simultaneously keeping the rest of the class from starting an armed uprising? It's just...I just...words can not adequately express the experience of being a Kindergarten teacher. Spare time, energy, nutrition, general sanity, these are things of the past.

I've been trying to gather what little of those I can find during winter vacation, because, as I'm sure you're all curious, we're still moving on the immigration front. As I mentioned a bit in a previous post, some policy changes have opened an avenue for us (not a guaranteed one, but certainly with a lot more promise than ever before). So we're mustering up what little fight we have left in us for this one final push, and if it goes well, Carlos could end up back home in Chicagoland where he belongs. This weekend I'm in the final stage of document collection, and once this is done, our skillful lawyer will be preparing the final package to get the ball rolling. If you've been praying, please pray with us now more than ever. We will keep you updated. I may even post a new picture or two. And in the meantime, go find a Kindergarten teacher to hug. Till next time, friends!