Wednesday, October 18, 2006

TRIP TO THE WINDY CITY!

Hello everyone! Hope you're all doing okay.

For those of you who don't know, on Tuesday 17th October Amy and I had to be in Chicago, the Windy City (more damp on this occasion) to attend an interview with the USCIS regarding my Adjustment of Status from "Legal Alien with Permission to Work" to "Conditional Permanent Resident" And, for those to whom that sounds like Eastern European rap, I thought I'd explain the progression - but later.

The day started with a bang. Amy picked me up from work at noon, and we went straight to the bank in Tremont to draw the necessary funds for our trip. Unfortunately, we ran over a nail in the parking lot and blew our left rear tire. Oops! After we were annoyed, we were immensely grateful that it had happened in Tremont, not halfway to Chicago, and went right to Conoco where they mended it. Phew! So, as I said, the day started with a bang. Like, an actual bang. D'you see? Like, the tire actually went "bang". Oh me...

We decided before we went that rather than try and drive into downtown Chicago we would stay in a Super 8 in Naperville/Aurora Monday night, and catch the Metra commuter express train from Aurora to downtown Chicago in the morning. We had stayed in this particular Super 8 before, and with the exception of a non-functioning pool, we thought we remembered it being a fairly okay place to stay. Indeed, everything looked fine until, after being there for 1/2 hour or so, we went down to the car to get our swimsuits, and were confronted by a group of guys assembled in the lobby, all of well above average height and weight, and one woman with them who looked to be directing them in some sort of operation rather than, say, waiting for more towels. I spotted the woman had a walkie-talkie and told Amy I thought they might be cops, both because of that, and for the following reasons:

1. To see one 350 pound, six-foot-seven-tall guy in a hotel lobby is unusual. To see two is surprising. To see four together is cop-like.

2. There was a woman with them, and she didn't look as if she was about to remove any clothing whatsoever (thus negating the stag-night theory.)

3. CLINCHER: There was a man in body armor coming towards the hotel.

Amy and I about-faced in the same way that Maddie does when you call her and she spots the bottle of dog-shampoo in your hand, and headed back into the hotel. The guys were still there, and the desk-clerk looked on with the kind of expression you see on people who... well, on people whose hotel is being raided by cops. As we made for the lift one guy broke away and followed us to the lift. As I said, he was of a certain build that is described best by saying that it causes, in most men of normal height and weight, an overwhelming compulsion to offer to shine that person's shoes. As we waited for the lift, he turned to us and asked if we'd been staying here long, and told us that it was okay, that they were "just arresting people". We nodded, and said "Ahh..." and then Amy asked if we were safe. He gave a sort of half-shrug, and a "Hmm..." then replied "So long as you don't pull out a gun, otherwise we'll shoot you," to which we both nodded and said "Ahh..." again - this time with just a little added vibrato. When we arrived on our floor we were slightly perturbed to see the door opposite our room open, and as we passed it to go back into ours we heard the words "Did you get it all?" and "You want the rubber gloves?" These snatches of conversation was more than enough encouragement to first call the Super 8 customer service line where we received absolutely no help or assistance whatsoever, then pack up our stuff and move to another hotel.

After stopping at a Hallmark to get directions from a lovely lady who described herself as a "people person" which meant she liked to talk very much indeed, and an equally sweet old Asian lady who drew us a slightly confusing map and told us of a hotel where we could stay two-weeks for $100.00 (wow! - no thanks though!) we arrived at the hotel of our choice, an Extended Stay America, which was not only a much nicer room (see photo below) cheap ($71.50) quiet (shhh... listen...) but also absolutely spotless. So in the event, we felt that - for us, if not for those being arrested - the police raid was a blessing, as we settled down for our evening.

Anyway, I promised I would explain; after eight months of interviews, medical tests, and paperwork in England, when I came over and Amy and I got married I had to apply for my EAD (Employment Authorization Document - not a Green Card!) and concurrently, for Adjustment of Status, which 'adjusts' me from Legal Alien to Lawful Permanent Resident. This required sending a 50-some page packet of 'evidence' to show we were married, how much we earned, that I had never been arrested for anything, that we were living together as a couple, that we earned above the government poverty guideline... etc. Well, after the USCIS decide your application looks solid, they call you and your spouse to an interview, which was why we were in Chicago. If the interview stage is successful, they then grant you Conditional Permanent Resident status for two-years - conditional because during that time any criminal convictions, or change in your eligibility for AOS (in my case, if Amy and I were dis-married) leads to withdrawal of P.R. status, and directions to the nearest airport if you're lucky. Alternatively, after two years of being good, and still eligible, you apply to have the "Conditional"
part lifted, after which your status is adjusted again to that of Permanent Resident, which is when you obtain the "Green Card" of legend, although it is not called that anymore and is not green. This lasts for ten years, can be renewed indefinitely, and is the same as citizenship except that you cannot vote, and cannot apply for certain government jobs only available to citizens - President, for example. However, if like me you consider it slightly odd, if not disrespectful to live permanently in a country and not want to become a citizen you can apply, after three years of Permanent Residency, to become just that. And that, folks, is that.

So... we awoke at 7:00am, both quite nervous, and after finding (quite easily) the station and (with great difficulty) a parking space, we boarded the Metra at 8:15am. After a speedy train ride we arrived in Chicago at just before 9:00am, and as we began the short walk from the station to the USCIS offices the traffic, and moreover its behavior, made us immediately grateful that we had decided to take the train and not drive in. At about 9:30am we arrived at the offices with our huge bag full of evidence - photos, letters, our book about Brian, and proof of our address to name but a few of the items - which we had been told they would want to see. We were very nervous indeed!

Inside we had to first pass through X-Ray machines, where our only problem was two bottles of Coke which we were told ordered by the incredibly scary security staff to "put outside" and a pair of scissors which upon reflection may have been a slight mistake to pack. We weren't the only ones - outside on a grass verge before we went in I saw a pocket knife and mentioned it to Amy. And I thought we were silly with our scissors...

Anyway, I went outside and put them on the sidewalk, then went back in, and we found the second floor and waited.

We had heard various things about how tough the AOS interview could be, but our interviewer spent most of his time shuffling papers, and having me swear under oath to the effect that I have never persecuted anybody, and have never been a drug user, a Communist, member of the Nazi party, or big fat liar, which I was clearly only too happy to do. After only about ten minutes he closed our file, said that everything looked "great" with our paperwork, and that the only reason he wouldn't be able to approve me there and then was because they were still waiting for the results of a name-check request from the FBI to be added to my case. We asked how long it could take, and he said sometimes it can take weeks, and that we "didn't want to know the other end of the scale." (We later found out this means between 18 months, even two years for some cases...) We were slightly irritated that none of the evidence we had stayed up two nights in a row to prepare - and in the case of photos and copies of documents spent money on - was even looked at, but it was a bit like being irritated having gone to the doctor and being told you were healthy, and didn't last long. We left feeling very happy and relieved, a little teeny bit of anti-climax, but mostly hungry and excited to have a couple of hours to pootle around in Chicago, which, as you can see by the pics below, we did!

Because there are quite a few, blogger didn't seem to want to let me upload these directly to the blog, so instead I used www.dropshots.com. If you click on any of the photos below it'll take you to the site where you can view all the photos. There are comments underneath each picture and you can select the either from here, or using the thumbnails on the right side of the dropshots screen.


PHOTOS!!!




Maddie was very pleased to see us when we got home, and when she asked how it had gone, we replied that it had been a really fun, and successful trip.

Take care, everyone!

3 comments:

Kathie & Joshua said...

Awesome pictures!!! You got to see parts of Chicago I've only seen from Michigan Avenue. Very cool. Glad that you both made it there and back, safe and sound!

Colleen said...

So are you in or still waiting. or do you know at this point?

Jim and Amy Rennie said...

Yes - well, both. The FBI name-check is a formality to make sure I am not a terrorist or have ever committed any nasty deeds, but we have to wait for them to pass the results to the USCIS before my case can be officially "approved". However, as far as I remember I have never been a terrorist, or strangled any kittens (for example) so in effect I got a yes, and am "in"!