Tag Archives: marriage

Our Wedding and Immigration Disaster

This post is part of a series by Justin Merrill describing his personal experience with immigration and his embrace of open borders. It is part of our ongoing series of posts that are based on personal anecdotes. The first post in the series is here.

I was a senior in high school when terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001. I was at a critical point in deciding what to do after graduation and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. I went to boot camp one year after 9/11. After I finished my combat and job training, I was sent to my first duty station in Okinawa, Japan. My time in Okinawa was bittersweet because our command was really strict and paternalistic and my office made me work incredibly long hours. But unlike many of my peers, I made an effort to soak up the culture and experience more of the off-base life than just bars. As mentioned in my previous post, I was raised around Japanese exchange students and I also did karate as a kid, so my starting level of Japanese was basic, but higher than most (counting and common phrases).

Eri, my future wife, and I met and started chatting through Yahoo Messenger in 2003. She is from Toyota, Japan (yes, where they make the cars), which is on mainland Japan. Okinawa is a tropical island far to the south, sometimes called the “Hawaii of Japan”. Our relationship was more of a friendly pen pal nature, mostly because there wasn’t any expectation of meeting in the future. I also was opposed to having a serious relationship while in the Marine Corps because I saw how high the strain of military life is on relationships. My tour in Okinawa was only one year and a vacation to visit her wasn’t practical. Eri spoke English well because she was an exchange student in North Carolina for two years and studied English in Australia after graduating from high school. We kept in touch over the years and got to know each other pretty well. After my year in Okinawa, my final duty station was in the Washington, DC area for the remainder of my term. Even though I was raised on the west coast, I liked the DC area so much that I decided to stay there after I got out. I shared an apartment with my newlywed friends and was putting down roots on my terminal leave when Eri told me that she would be visiting her host family that she lived with while in North Carolina. I pointed out that the timing was perfect and that we should meet up. We agreed to spend three weeks together and instantly hit it off. A week after we met we decided to get married. We spent a week in NYC, a first for both of us, during Christmas and New Year’s and bought our wedding rings in the Diamond District. Our families were both very happy for us, but I didn’t want to do a shotgun wedding. I wanted to meet her family first and have the ceremony in Japan, especially since we are both Buddhist and Eri’s mom’s temple offered to perform the ceremony. So we arranged to have receptions in Toyota and Utah for both our families. The wedding was scheduled for February. Eri’s tourist visa would expire soon so she returned to Japan to start planning the wedding and I began looking for a new apartment in DC for us to move in to after the receptions.

Before our wedding, in order for our marriage to be recognized in the States, we had to get a marriage certificate from the US embassy consulate in Osaka, which is pretty far from Toyota. The only day that happened to fit in our busy schedule was Valentine’s Day. We chose against having the wedding on Valentine’s Day because it seemed too cheesy, but our marriage certificate states we were legally wedded on that day. Now we celebrate our anniversary on Feb. 14th and tell people we were “accidentally” married on that day. Only my mom could attend on my side of the family, but our wedding and reception in Japan were great. Her family helped pay for an extravagant celebration and all her friends and family came and supported us. It’s not common to marry a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan. After the wedding we had a honeymoon of sorts and stayed with Eri’s friends, Phil and Yukako, who attended our wedding and who were a couple like us (former Marine husband and Japanese wife). Eri was an exchange student in North Carolina with Yukako and they became best friends; it’s funny they would both marry Marines. Phil was working as a civilian on the Marine Corps Air Base in Iwakuni, which is far to the south. After spending time with them, Eri and I were to fly to Utah to prepare for our reception for my family.

For some reason, I think because I was using a Delta buddy pass, we had to fly on different flights and I arrived a couple days before her. Fortunately I bought ourselves new cell phones and added her to my plan before I left, since we were planning on living in the States. As I was on my way to pick her up in Salt Lake City she texted me that she wouldn’t be arriving and was being taken into custody. She had a layover and her port of entry was Minneapolis, MN. When she went through customs they were suspicious because she had recently visited the States. They searched her luggage and found wedding photos and deduced that she was trying to live in the US. They took her into custody and interrogated her for hours, even playing a good cop/bad cop routine, while I was standing at her terminal, horrified by the nightmare that was beginning. They denied her entry and put a flag on her passport so that she could not reenter the States until we went through the process and got her green card. We later discovered that this was incorrect; she would not be able to enter the country under any condition, something that would have been nice to know before we went through the entire process. Luckily we found a loop hole.

Eri was flown back to Japan through Holland. She spent over three days straight on an airplane without a chance to even shower. With only days until our reception, we were trying frantically on both ends to find a way to get her into the country. She went back to the embassy consulate in Osaka and I was contacting my representative and USCIS. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do. They said there was no discretion on this matter and no way to even allow her to temporarily visit for our reception. This close to the reception it was impossible to cancel. Her parents could attend and it was nice that our families could meet, but it was sad that it was under these circumstances. My mother-in-law served as a substitute bride and cut the cake with me. We made the best of the situation.

The stressful part would be to decide what to do next. Fortunately I wasn’t so rooted that I was able to sell off my belongings, cancel and get a refund on my deposit for our new apartment, and cancel our phone plan. I had to sell my recording studio (I started a record label) and back out of a real estate foreclosure deal that would have earned me $200k, but I couldn’t find a lawyer to be my agent while I was out of the country. I mailed the rest of my belongings to our friends, Phil and Yukako. We devised a plan where I could get a job on base before my tourist visa expires and the base would sponsor my visa and let me stay in Japan. I had to take the first job I could get and move up from there, but it was worth it. Eri and I got our own little house and started our new lives together in Iwakuni, Japan.

We both sacrificed a lot, but we just wanted to be together. We were young and naïve and didn’t even know we were breaking the law. We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa (turns out that’s exactly how I did it in Japan). It’s not like she was intending to overstay her visa. We were so busy planning and traveling that we didn’t properly research and the immigrants I did consult immigrated to the US before 9/11 and their information was out of date. I was shocked how they treated Eri like a criminal or terrorist, she was only twenty years old and didn’t fit the profile. I was also surprised at how the policy overrode common sense. It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me. The immigration policy ended up costing us a lot of money, hardship, and productivity and career opportunities over the years, and I must say it felt unnecessary.

Here’s the next post in the series.

Some related background and links (added by our editorial team)

A United States visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. All it does is allow the holder to travel to the United States and present himself or herself at a port of entry. The officer at the port of entry has discretionary authority to deny admission if the officer suspects immigrant intent or other violations of the terms of the visa.

Nationals of about 50 countries (including Japan, where Eri was from) are eligible to enter the United States for short term business and pleasure trips through the Visa Waiver Program. VWP entries are treated similarly to entries made while on a B1/B2 visa. A person can be denied entry based on the VWP or B1/B2 visa if it transpires that the person intends to transition to a long-term non-immigrant or immigrant status. It is also not generally permissible for somebody in the US on VWP or B1/B2 travel to transition while within the United States to a long-term non-immigrant status (such as F student status or H-1B status) or immigrant status (that Eri would have been eligible for as the wife of a US citizen).

Some related reading on denial at a port of entry:

  • Friend, relative, etc. denied entry to the U.S., U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP), United States Department of Homeland Security.
  • At the U.S. Border or Airport: What to Expect When Entering. Entering the U.S. may not be easy, even with a valid visa in hand. (NOLO.com).
  • A Tale of “Voluntary Departure” from the Comments by Bryan Caplan, EconLog, August 22, 2011, quoting Tim Worstall:

    Having been caught up in the US system once “voluntary departure” is anything but.

    On entering the country on a 10 year, multi-entry, business visa (I owned a small business in the US at the time) immigration officials decided that I should not be allowed to enter.

    I was not allowed legal representation of any kind. I was interviewed and then the notes of the interview were written up afterwards (ie, what the officer remembered he and I had said, not what was actually said).

    I refused to sign such misleading notes. I was told that if I did not I would be deported, my passport declared invalid for travel to the US for the rest of my life.

    So of course I signed and then made my “voluntary departure” which included being held in a cell until the time of my flight, being threatened with being handcuffed while going to the flight and the return of my passport only upon arrival in London.

    My 10 year multi entry visa had of course been cancelled. My attempts to get matters sorted out, so that I could visit my business, were rather hampered by the way that the interview notes which I had signed under duress were taken to be the only valid evidence by the INS (as was) that should be discussed when deciding upon visa status.

    I lost the business and haven’t bothered returning to the country in the more than decade since.

    There is no law, evidence, representation nor even accurate recording of proceedings in such “voluntary departures”. It is entirely at the whim of the agents at the border post. I was actually told by one agent “I’m gonna screw you over”.

    Something of a difference from what’s scrawled over that statue in New York really. And I’m most certainly not the only business person this sort of thing has happened to.

Some other general reading:

UPDATE: Victoria Ferauge, who has previously written a guest post for the site, wrote a post on her personal blog titled A US Immigration Tale commenting on the story:

In the last paragraph of his post I can hear his bitterness at how his wife was treated.

We were young and naïve and didn’t even know we were breaking the law. We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa (turns out that’s exactly how I did it in Japan). It’s not like she was intending to overstay her visa. We were so busy planning and traveling that we didn’t properly research and the immigrants I did consult immigrated to the US before 9/11 and their information was out of date. I was shocked how they treated Eri like a criminal or terrorist, she was only twenty years old and didn’t fit the profile. I was also surprised at how the policy overrode common sense. It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me.

And as I read this I was amazed at how things had changed in just a few short years. Pre-911 my French husband got his Green Card in Seattle. He had landed in the US on one kind of visa and it was just a matter of going down to immigration and filling out the paperwork to get residency status based on his marriage to me, l’américaine. Very simple. No one at immigration so much as blinked twice when we explained what we wanted. The final interview lasted less than 10 minutes. That’s all it took for the very pleasant official to decide that my husband merited a Green Card.

We were just as naive as Merrill and his wife. We took for granted that because we were married, we could choose which country we wanted to live in. And our assumptions proved true at that time.

In this story we can see how a vigorous and punctilious application of immigration law can hurt not only the immigrant but the native citizen as well. Please note that the US not only lost an immigrant, but they forced one of their own into emigrating. Merrill and his wife didn’t get to choose where they wanted to live – they were forced in the direction of the country that would take both of them.

Interestingly enough, that turned out to be Japan – a country that many Americans consider to be unfriendly to immigrants.

Oh, the irony…

UPDATE 2: The post was picked up by MetaFilter and got 34 comments there. Read the MetaFilter thread: my mother-in-law served as a substitute bride.

The photograph featured at the top of this post is of Mario Chavez embracing his wife Lizeth through the US-Mexico border fence at Playas de Tijuana. The original photograph is copyright David Maung, and was published by Human Rights Watch; a higher-resolution version is available at their website.

Just a reminder: here’s the next post in the series.

Possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders

Please don’t confuse this with the blog post open borders advocates and private charity, which is about a criticism of hypocrisy leveled against open borders advocates.

A while back (November 23, 2012), open borders advocate Bryan Caplan did an immigration charity bleg. His question for his blog readers:

Suppose you wanted to spend your charitable dollars to increase the total number of people who migrate from the Third World to the First World. What approach would give you the biggest bang for your buck? Are any specific countries, organizations, or loopholes especially promising?

Unconventional answers are welcome as long as they’re genuinely effective. Please show your work.

I have been considering this question for a while. On October 27, 2012, I had a Skype conversation with Holden Karnofsky of charity evaluator GiveWell where we discussed related ideas. GiveWell decided not to publish the conversation, as it was too preliminary and tentative, so I won’t go into the details of what was discussed; GiveWell does publish better-quality conversations on its conversations page. More recently (December 7, 2012), Shaun Raviv, blogging for effective giving advocate-cum-charity evaluator Giving What We Can, expressed interest in migration as a way of helping the poor, with the first in a planned series of blog posts published about three weeks ago.

In this blog post, I will discuss various ways to increase migration and/or move towards open borders, drawing heavily on the comment responses to Caplan’s bleg.

Possible different goals people could have in mind

I want to begin with the same caution that I expressed in my own comment on Caplan’s bleg:

I think you need to be a bit more specific on what the goal is. Is the goal to simply increase the quantity of migration from people living in Third World countries, or do you wish to focus on poor people in these countries? Would a reasonably well-to-do graduate student in computer science who wants a job in the IT sector qualify for your concern? Are you okay with guest worker programs that have a return date stamped on them, or do you insist on immigration with no such return restrictions?

How you rank and rate the various ideas presented below, and which ones you consider worthy of further investigation, depends a lot on whether your goal is to increase migration numbers, whether you care about world GDP, whether you place more weight on the same numerical GDP gain concentrated on poorer people, and many other deep questions of ethics. This is one reason I’m not going to try the daunting task of ranking the many options presented.

For the rest of this blog post, I’ll use the term “immigration” to refer to both immigration and temporary movement for students and guest workers, even though that is not technically correct.

Also, just to be clear, I do not necessarily endorse all the ideas here. An evaluation of the pros and cons (moral as well as strategic) of each idea here would make this post far too long. I will discuss the more interesting ideas among these in more detail in subsequent posts, and will be happy to share my views on specific ideas in the comments if you have questions.

Options for increasing immigration without changing or breaking immigration laws

The simplest, most immediate, and least risky (in terms of avoiding trouble with the law) proposition is to attempt to increase legal (authorized) immigration within the existing framework of laws. There are many different visa categories, some of which have strict quantity limits with the limits almost always met. Other visa categories have unfilled quotas on a regular basis, and/or have no quotas. Increasing immigration in the categories that have unfilled quotas or no quantity caps is probably the more fruitful option. Some countries do not have quantity restrictions (or are very far from exhausting the quantity restrictions) but have specific points systems that require specific skills (e.g., Canada). Working to help prospective immigrants acquire these skills might be another path. Anyway, here’s the list of suggestions on Caplan’s bleg that fall in this category:

  • Marriage: Most countries offer essentially unrestricted immigration for the spouses of current citizens, wherever in the world these spouses reside. Encouraging more marriages between Americans (or people in the desired target country of migration) and foreigners might therefore be one method. Two proposals in this regard were made on Caplan’s bleg. daubery:

    For the US specifically, look for people willing to marry foreigners. This is the only immigration route that doesn’t have a hard cap. This could even be profit-making if they agreed under the table to kick back some of their increased earnings. You may need to base your matchmaking service off-shore so as not to have the list of clients fall into the hands of the US immigration force, however.

    Here’s Joe Cushing’s response to daubery:

    daubery,

    There is no way on earth, I’d give a woman, whom I don’t know, the power of the state to use against me by marrying me. Although I suppose an immigrant woman would have a bit less power but divorces don’t go well for men, usually. The state sides with the woman. Even if I got to know these women for a few months, you could never trust the state not to screw you over in the end somehow. The state has really inserted itself into our relationships in an unhealthy way and this is true, even for domestic to domestic relationships. It effects divorce rates, divorce outcomes, and the power structure effects otherwise healthy relationships. Whenever women complain about men fearing commitment; I like to tell them that men don’t fear commitment, men fear the state. A marriage to a man is a completely different risk than it is to a woman. This is why woman can’t understand how we feel.

    With all of this to consider, You should focus on American women who would be willing to marry foreign men. The foreign men would be willing to take the risk. Then again, domestic men would be willing to take the risk to find more attractive women than they could find here. That’s why we have these mail order bride services already.

    PrometheeFeu:

    What about funding an agency which promotes speed-dating between third-world and first-world citizens?

    As for the ethics of this, I think there is little that is more ethical than to help people circumvent evil laws.

  • Adoption: Although the adoption of foreign infants does suffer from some bureaucratic constraints, this does seem to be a category that does not suffer from numerical restrictions of the kind that other visas do. Adoption is also a solution that even restrictionists (such as Mark Krikorian of CIS) would tend not to oppose, because their chief concern — that immigrants arrive already steeped in a different culture — does not apply to people who are adopted into the country they’re immigrating to at birth or when very young, and who are raised by people who are already steeped in the culture. Nonetheless, there are various obstacles arising from international realpolitik. Here’s a post by Dan Carroll (adoptive father of a kid from Ethiopia), critical of various restrictions on adoption (HT: Bryan Caplan, as usual).
  • Education and specific skills training (including language training) to help more immigrants meet the qualifications to immigrate: Lots of suggestions of this sort on Caplan’s bleg. Neal:

    Might not maximize bang/$, but here we go:

    Educational charities (incl universities themselves) who fund people from poor countries to study in rich countries – especially PhDs. They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.

    For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?

    oneeyedman (excerpt of comment, not the full comment):

    There are probably different answers for different budgets. I suspect that teaching French to African English speaking college students so they can use the Canadian point based immigration system would do it. You could fund French clubs inexpensively and partner with local schools and or professors.

    Motoko responds to oneeyedman:

    “They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.”

    I’m in an engineering PhD program. The majority of students are foreign. The problem with hiring foreigners for high-caliber work is that they’re culturally and socially illiterate. Maybe 10% of them can overcome this hurdle and get hired in the US.

    But those that can’t… well… they just go back to their home country. They don’t earn half of what they’d earn in the U.S., but they are no longer so poor that they need our help.

    “For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?”

    Good point. We shouldn’t just try to get more people in the States. Generally, we should try to get the needy into better countries that are easy to immigrate to.

    A more cynical approach (that is not suggested by anybody on Caplan’s bleg) is to help foster the creation and expansion of visa mills, which are analogous to diploma mills. While diploma mills offer fake higher education degrees for their credential value to all comers, visa mills offer fake higher education degrees to foreigners to help them get fraudulent student visas. These foreigners can take up small jobs while in the US while allegedly studying, save money, and then either get a permanent job or go home with some saved money. The probable reason is that such visa mills, aside from the ethical issues, are likely to get caught and put in trouble all people who went through the visa mill. Here’s a piece from the CIS critical of visa mills and diploma mills.

  • Better matching of employees with employers: There are some types of employer-sponsored visas for which the quotas are not completely filled, and for these, organizations that better help match employers and employees could be useful. This is particularly the case for relatively “unskilled” jobs, where employers and employees are less likely to already be connected through educational and Internet-based networks. An example is CITA (Independent Agricultural Workers Center) which matches farm owners in the US with people in other countries interested in temporary farm work in the US. The temporary worker can then get a H2 visa authorization to work at the farm. They hope to eventually be self-sustaining, but are currently structured as a non-profit and initially funded by donations. Michael Clemens blogged about CITA here. For related content, see our page on migrant labor in the US agricultural sector. There are probably similar opportunities for other countries and other worker types that help reduce the frictional costs of matching employers with employees across huge geographical distances.
  • Other creative workarounds: A few of these are listed at the migration arbitrage business opportunities page.

Making small changes or tweaks to the laws governing legal immigration

Another possible direction is to increase the quotas for legal immigration in various categories, or reduce the qualifications and requirements for those categories, or make other changes that facilitate increased levels of legal migration. I’m talking of small “tweaks” here that operate within the margins of public indifference, for which there is neither much public enthusiasm nor much public resistance. The startup visa might be an example. Effecting such a change, however, does not seem to be an easy task, at least in the US context, because any change in the immigration regime, however slight, is typically held up by demands for “comprehensive immigration reform” where the definition of “comprehensive” varies from person to person, and where the different sides of the debate often have diametrically opposite conceptions of reform.

Another possible area where policy might be more responsive to special interest lobbying while moving along the margin of public indifference is asylum advocacy. Continue reading “Possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders” »