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A Place Called Home: Permanent Residency

By Claudia G. Martinez

Americans call me Mexican, Mexicans call me gringa, and the paperwork calls me Hispanic, Latina, and hyphenated. Job and graduate school applications ask if I have a Green Card.

I've had a Green Card since I was six. I posed for a picture and washed my hands for the fingerprints. My parents handled the technical part. They spent hours filling and filing forms and juggling my sister, brother and I between "the process" and school. My parents wanted their children to have a good education and better quality of life.

From the Outside

Like the vast majority of U.S. visas issued, mine was issued outside the U.S. at a consulate overseen by the U.S. Department of State. A U.S. citizen or permanent resident must file a sponsorship petition asking the U.S. government to allow the foreign national to file. So, my father and mother, both permanent residents, sponsored their children's application. The petition was approved. We filed at the Mexican consulate, and the rest is history.

From the Inside

Things can also be handled differently. My grad-student friend, a Belgian national, applied from the inside last year. There are many reasons why people like her might want or need to file an application directly with the INS, and not through the outside like my parents. For instance, some foreign nationals arrive on one type of visa and seek out a different type because of a change in personal circumstances.

Now, wanting to apply in the U.S. isn't enough. Only certain categories of applicants ólike students who want to apply for a visa to work and live in the U.Só are allowed to file green card or visa applications at INS offices in the U.S.

There are two major ways of obtaining a visa from the inside. The first is employment. The second is by participating in a lottery. No, not the Lotto: The Green Card Lottery. While the employer handles the first type, the immigrant handles latter. The Green Card Lottery is fairly easy to pursue, but chances are low and depend on country of origin. For instance, Mexicans and various other nationals can't apply because there is already a high rate of admittance from these countries.

Improving the odds and saving money

The process is fairly clear. Moreover, the truth is there is no way to actually improve your chances other than to just apply correctly. Many people are fooled into paying for support from a "Green Card-Service". However, these actually threaten chances of success because the applicant often loses track of his or her own paperwork. Paying a lawyer to handle the application is not necessary either, unless pockets are deep or the case is complicated. Many schools and community organizations offer free workshops.

HELP from the source

Considering the countless myths, unproven claims and tons of misleading guides about the best way to go about the process, the INS itself offers the most reliable support.

Online Help From the INS: Although the INS has a reputation for being just another government bureaucracy, the agency's website is helpful. It provides an INS office locator and downloadable immigration rules and regulations, along with many of the necessary forms. Of course, it's not designed to provide answers to more specific questions about particular cases. The next best thing is checking out their national list of free or low cost legal resources.

INS help face-to-face: For face-to-face contact with the INS, visiting a local INS district office or sub office is necessary. But many INS offices are poorly staffed and the telephones are frequently busy. There are also certain types of applications that only the regional service centers handle.

Here and clear

Yes, at the tender age of six, I was flung into a culture of McDonald's and "Sesame Street". Since it's been so long, it's difficult to believe that I could have any kind of insight into getting a Green Card. Well, as my friend once said, "It's something that you never forget." It's not that a date is forever laminated onto a piece of paper that you must carry with you. You never forget because it's the event, and not the card, that you'll likely carry for the rest of your life.

We were required to stay at my aunt's house on the other side of the border for some time-- loathing the crowded hospitality. I longed for my day in the U.S.A.,. Then, there were the times when, despite having an appointment, we spent hours in line. I fidgeted in those nameless rooms, in those disorganized ranks, with not enough chairs, hungry, tired, hoping it would end, wondering why my mom couldn't have just given birth in America.

That was only half of the psychological battle. The longer I lived here, the bigger the commitment. Acculturate? Assimilate? Throw some season into the melting pot? Should I light firecrackers on the fourth of July and eat tamales on Thanksgiving? Was permanent residency becoming permanent?

It eventually worked itself out. Today, I proudly call myself Latina, Chicana, Meztiza, Mexicana. Every now and then, there's an incident. Like the drunken frat boys from Salt Lake City on Spring Break of '99 yelling, "Go home Mexican." How ignorant. After such a long time, this is home. I am a permanent resident.

Learn more about:
- Immigration
- H1-B
- Green card
- U.S. Citizenship


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