Here, I try to answer some of the questions that most frequently come up when discussing our situation with others.

When a person marries a US citizen, don't they automatically become a citizen?
Not even close.  In the purest of cases, a person who marries a US citizen is able to acquire legal residency within 6-10 months after they file, and then citizenship about 3 years later.  But if the intending immigrant ever fell afoul of US immigration law, the process becomes immensely more complicated.  Where a waiver is allowed, some cases can be resolved within a year, but much more often, the alien spouse has to remain abroad for a year or more during the process of attaining legal status.  Nothing is automatic, that's for sure.

Why don't you move to Mexico?
I spent the better part of a year trying to make it work in Mexico before Lucas was born.  For the various reasons detailed below, we failed.  Normally when a spouse of a US citizen or permanent resident has committed immigration violations, they are able to waive the visa denial using a packet demonstrating the extreme hardship that would be suffered by the US spouse.  This is the waiver that we are not eligible for due to the false claim of citizenship.  There is a reason that for Mexican applicants, almost 80% of these packets are approved.  Most US citizens truly do experience incredible hardship in Mexico, no matter how educated or flexible they are.

The same week we arrived in Mexico, I got a job teaching 4th grade at an elite private school and made what is considered a competitive professional salary in Mexico.  Unfortunately, the complications with legal working permission made it impossible for me to stay at that job, and I was running into peril with my Mexican immigration status.   

On top of that, despite two wage-earners bringing home "professional"-level salaries, we were draining money from our savings every month.  Put together, we were earning ¼ of what we earned in the US, which wouldn't be a problem except that groceries cost about the same, and the rent on our home in a decent neighborhood near our jobs was comparable to the cost of renting in most smaller US cities.  We left the US with enough savings for a healthy down payment on a house in Chicagoland.  I returned to the US with literally nothing in our savings account.  The top reason is that I assumed a great deal of loan debt while finishing college, and despite deferments and other arrangements, it was impossible to pay it back with our Mexican salaries.

Then there are the day-to-day complications like health: My health (and Carlos') rapidly declined in Mexico.  Mexico's urban areas, where all the jobs are, are also huge centers of air pollution due to merging factors like poor environmental controls as well as the dust and sand in a city like Monterrey.  Our severe allergies and my allergy-triggered asthma interfere with our ability to work and function there.  Besides this, while Carlos' job made him eligible for health care coverage, I wasn't covered and on our diminished salaries, anything more serious than routine care would be out of the question.

Now factor in the danger to US citizens living in Mexico.  While violence and drug-related terrorism are mostly confined to only CERTAIN parts of Mexico, Monterrey is one of the hotbeds.  The drug cartels are in the business of getting as much money as they can by whatever means possible.  Anyone with connections to the US is a top target because of the assumption that US = $.  Unfortunately it's hard for all of us (including Carlos) to hide our ties to the US because, among other things, those are what makes us marketable as teachers of English there.

Also, despite the fact that Mexico was the country of Carlos' birth and childhood, he spent his most formative years and adulthood in the US.  Living in Mexico is like living in a foreign country for him, and he's had to acclimate almost as much as any foreigner would.  Many people brought to the US as minors refuse to return to Mexico for that reason: the US is home, and attempting to live in Mexico seems unthinkable.  Yet Carlos took the initiative and tried.  Even after two and a half years there, he still struggles to make it home, and still feels like an outsider.  

We encountered all of these struggles before Lucas was born.  The idea of bringing him into the situation is inconceivable.  It's easy enough to think you can wing it when you're just two adventuresome adults.  But when there's an innocent toddler involved, suddenly the whole picture gets a lot more serious.

Finally, there are some common values that brought me and Carlos together in the first place that stand in conflict with life in Mexico.

We thrive in places full of cultural diversity from all over the world.  I was raised among the international student community of large university campuses in the Midwest.  Carlos went through one of the most diverse public school systems in the Chicago suburbs, and we both attended colleges where our classmates represented almost every continent.  Our church also reflects the incredible diversity present in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago.  We learned that by learning, living, worshipping, and interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds, we've developed valuable skills -- we think critically, we communicate effectively, we are collaborative team members, we are good problem-solvers -- all of which have helped us endure this adventure and have helped us stay employed the whole time!  To us, this kind of upbringing is as essential for Lucas as proper instruction in reading, writing, math, and science.  It’s an upbringing that is impossible for us to provide in Mexico.

We also value the ability to work and take in the fruits of our labor.  That's what makes the US such an attractive place to the rest of the world.  In this country, it might take immense sacrifice, but hard work in virtually any sector of the labor market ultimately results in a place to live, a vehicle, and some food on the table.  Many of the provisions that we consider basics are luxuries in the rest of the world and even Mexico: primary educational systems where hard work is usually rewarded more than personal connections, police who typically can't be bribed into allowing illegal activity, laws that are mostly respected.  Urban Mexico is tragically full of great injustice, corruption, ignorance, brazen law-breaking, and greed.

My parents, teachers, and other family and friends have worked hard to provide me with the tools I would need for a healthy, successful future.  My father himself immigrated to the US from Guatemala and became a US citizen because this country holds far greater promise for his family's future than his home country ever could.  To succumb to anything less, and to subject Lucas to far worse, invalidates all that others have invested in me.

No family in a situation like ours should be condemned for choosing OR refusing to live in Mexico.  It's a personal decision comprising a huge number of factors.  In our case, it is simply not an option.

We believe that in our case, permanently relocating our family to Mexico would not be worth the sacrifice of health, safety, and values that it represents.  Being together as a family is exceedingly important.  But that alone is not all that we need to survive and grow together.  That is why Mexico is not an option.

Why don’t you move to the US-Mexico border?
While this solution might alleviate the financial strain, as it would allow me to work on the US side of the border and earn a US salary, it would also aggravate most of the other issues listed above.  Most notably, the level of drug-related violence in most of the border cities makes global headlines, and even if the immediate danger to our family is low, the psychological damage of raising kids in a place where other kids and families are shot down regularly is something we’re not willing to consider.  Families desperately seek to escape from environments like that.  Why would we purposely choose to settle in one permanently?  Also, there’s a certain cruelty in forcing Carlos to live just miles from the very country he dreams of living in but is forever prohibited from entering.  No, border life is not an option for us.

Why don’t you move to Canada/Spain?
We've tried both of these options valiantly.  If we could choose an alternative to living in the US together, Canada would be it.  We researched the possibilities for gaining permanent residence in Canada, and while they’re certainly within the reach of many people in situations like ours, unfortunately my education and work experience as an elementary school teacher put us into the most challenging category. This still remains our most promising long-term lead, though.

We also tried to immigrate to Spain.  Immigration requirements are even more restrictive there.  In addition, the state of housing and jobs is enough to make its own citizens panic. Furthermore, although many young, single Americans go there to teach English for various periods of time, generally Spain is not a place where visas are available for English teachers, and even if there were visas, the pay is definitely not sufficient for a person to live on their own (which is why most Americans working there are sharing apartments), let alone support a family. 

Why don’t you move to Argentina/Costa Rica/elsewhere in Latin America?
First, getting an immigrant visa for any country where neither of us currently has status is still a challenge, even in Latin America.  Furthermore, the only thing we’re marketable to do in other countries is teach English.  Teaching English is not a lucrative field in Latin America.  Most of the financial obstacles mentioned in moving to Mexico would apply anywhere else on the continent.  

What about Japan/China/Thailand/Vietnam/elsewhere in Asia?
It’s true that English teachers can make a great deal of money in many parts of Asia.  But attaining permanent residence is nearly impossible in most countries unless you are married to a citizen of the country or are a incredibly wealthy investor.  Moving to one of these countries as an English teacher means forever remaining in temporary status, which is a dangerous way for an entire family to live. We were in Korea for as long as we could manage, but that failed as a long-term option. For now, we're a family without a permanent home.


Anonymous said...

Hey Amy, just wanted to say hi. Had never checked out your blog before. Feeling pretty bummed about some stuff and reading this section really hit the nail on the head. Esp. this part "We encountered all of these struggles before Lucas was born. The idea of bringing him into the situation is inconceivable. It's easy enough to think you can wing it when you're just two adventuresome adults. But when there's an innocent toddler involved, suddenly the whole picture gets a lot more serious." anyhow thanks for posting, i know it's not easy, really truly, since I never do.. Anyhow happy posting and hope you all are having a good day over your way : ) theline

Sharon said...

Try Canada again, you should have enough points to get an immigrant visa.

Amy G said...

Sharon, we have the points (I even have test scores in French to verify that) but unfortunately, a few years back the federal skilled worker program, and this year, even Quebec's Provincial Nomination program, phased out all but the most in-demand/hard-to-fill careers from eligibility to apply, which definitely drops elementary school teachers from the list. If I were a certified nurse or IT professional, we'd have a good chance. But for an elementary school teacher at the moment, there's no entry path for residency, even though we have enough points.

Rebecca Fall said...

I suggest you guys check out New Zealand. This is coming from another citizen/immigrant couple who will probably be on their way there in the coming 2yr. It's easy, you're a teacher so you'd get amazing points alone....if your husband has a specific skill or speaks English at a Native level, more points. Bringing kids, even more. And you get granted residency from day 1 upon entering if approved....give it a look!

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving your comments! Feel free to agree, disagree, or provide your own perspective. However, personal attacks will not be tolerated and such comments will be deleted. Also, including the sources for any information you provide is highly encouraged! :)

Sorry, I had to turn on word verification, too much spam. :(