Given the sensitive nature of this article, the writer has assumed a pen name.
It’s difficult being an immigrant in Trump’s America. But even more difficult is getting divorced as a foreign national in a country where the stakes in paranoia run high. Which is just what happened to this writer in the summer of 2016. Following a six-year romance with my ex-wife (whom I met in the UK, where we spent the first two years of our relationship), the bubble burst in late 2015 and the following June we got divorced. But as an alien who had entered the country on a two-year fiancé visa, I was mid-transition to becoming a 10-year Green Card holder without conditions (namely, removing the requirement to be married to a citizen in order to remain in the country — a process that happens by default after 24 months in the US) when the proverbial hit the fan.
Not that I was in any difficulty; by this point I had not only already fulfilled the two-year requirement on the fiancé visa that would allow conditions to be removed, but I had good a job and was in solid legal standing. Furthermore, under the Obama administration, my lawyer advised that nothing was to concern me or my former in-laws (this was a difficult situation for more than just the divorced couple), and that my paperwork would be processed accordingly. After all, our marriage had been legitimate, born in Europe, and was supported by reams of evidence to indicate just that. Plain sailing … or so it would seem.
But then came the Orange Dawn and everything changed for immigrants in the United States. Just two months after the election of Donald Trump, I received a letter in the mail. To my horror, I learned that the government felt my marriage may have been invalid, and was unwilling to process my application until evidence was submitted to prove that, “You and your spouse entered the marriage in good faith and continue to share a life together.” Not the easiest thing to prove when you are divorced. Fearing the worst, I gathered reams and reams of supplementary evidence to prove my innocence (including testimonies from my ex-wife and her Trump-supporting parents, rental agreements from the property my ex-wife and I shared in England and affidavits of support from the church we attended just outside London), and submitted the documentation to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To put it in context, all this was happening at the same time that the noise coming from the White House concerned the advocacy of widespread deportation without due process, a period when anti-immigrant hate speech came (and still does) in the shape of official correspondence. To say that waiting to hear back from USCIS was tense and protracted would be an understatement.
When eventually a letter did come in the mail, it was a further step down the wrong road; the evidence had been received, but concerns remained and a one-on-one hearing was required to determine my fate. If the proceedings went against me, I would have a matter of weeks to leave my life behind and return to Europe, a criminal. To compound matters, just over a month before my hearing, Trump cronies had been installed throughout USCIS to ensure the xenophobic rhetoric of the president was administered like the bad medicine it is. The immigrant was about to enter the lion’s den, and when I did, I was met by a field office filled with the sad faces of people bearing the news of rejection. The odds seemed very much against me; officer after officer was brash, abrupt and in the style of the new regime, and not one of them seemed willing to be cooperative. That is, all but one saintly older lady whom I had the good fortune to be interviewed by. Calmly and with conviction, she quickly came to realize that my case was the result of gross scapegoating on the behalf of an administration crippled by anti-immigrant paranoia, and that I should never have been in her office in the first place.
But then again, I am a white European male who speaks English as a first language. I was also able to hire the services of a lawyer and mobilize support from across the world. Not everyone can do that, especially if they are in refugee caravans at the Mexico border. People actually want to come here and support the country, and most of us do so with good intentions and the hope to become citizens one day. So, spare a thought for the immigrant coming across the water or knocking on the border; the United States is a nation of foreigners and always has been.
Just ask the Native Americans.