何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)

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My 70+ Years Old Misconception about US Immigration Laws

已有 743 次阅读 2024-6-19 23:44 |系统分类:海外观察

America is often celebrated as a nation of immigrants (for their contributions and patriotiism) .  However, one may also argue that the US is a nation of European immigrants both in terms of the majority population and racial identities. There is a darker side of US history of Anti- Asian immigration and anti-African Slavery practice before the Civil War.  Most Chinese Americans are familiar with

  1. The Chinese Exclusion Act which was only abolished in 1943 due to WWII allying with China.

  2. The miniscue immigrant quota agiainst persons of Chinese ethnicity before 1965 - only 105  immigrants of Chinese ethnicity permited from the entire world per year

But to America's credit there is also a brighter side - The ability to correct past mistakes and lucky breaks for the discriminated immigrants. I have written in the past about my lucky breaks with my immigration status which enabled me to get my Green card in 1953-55 and avoid the draft for military service in 1958 (The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 and the Sputnik launching to USSR and my study in Aerospace guidance and control that enabled my deferment for military swervice in 1958) . 

What I did not realize for over 70+ years until just this past week is another lucky break that greatly benefitted my family in unimagined ways way back in 1959-1961. One common misconception about US immigration is the fact if you marry a US citizen you are automatically entitled to the Green Card and eventual citizenship. In fact elaborate illegal business have developed to help people by promoting sham marriages to gain entry to the country and to gain citizenship. Yes, if you marry a US citizen, you have a right to apply for the Green Card and not subject to any quoto restrictions. This is true. But what is not generally understood is the fact that you must apply for the Green Card from your country of origin. For most western world applicants this is not a problem since the number of such applicants are small. But for Asian and African applicants, the waiting line from one's country of origin can be very long stretching into years or decades. Just marriage alone does not necessarily prevent family separation. The only saving grace is the fact that the law can be applied on a case-by-case basis. If one is already in the US and married to a US citizen, the immigration officer can waive the requirement that you must return to your country of origin and wait in line for the Green Card. This "loophole" served many legitimate and worthy causes but also introduced some ocrrupt business practices. In any cases, it benefited my own family way back in late 1950s and early 60s in ways we did not fully realize. Here is the story.

I met my wife in the summer fo 1958,Our romance progressed and I proposed and she accept my proposal on 2/14/1959. We got married officially on 10/10/1959 after her graduation from college on 6/1959.  At that time, all foreign students are allowed to remain in the US for 18 months after graduation for work practice. This means she must leave the US by end of 1960. At that time, I was only a green card holder and was not eligible to apply for citizenship until end of 1960 (the so-called 5 year waiting poeriod). This created a dilemma for us meaning we will be separated and she must return to Taiwan to wait in line as a non-quota immigrant applicants. So we choose for her to illegally overstay her allowed residence in the US and hoping that the immigration office will not catch up with her until I became a US citizen in 1961. The thinking was that by that time I'd gained my citizenship and she won't be deported. We didn't realize that this is a misconeption not realizing that an illegal resident in the US married to a US citizen must reutrned to his/her country of origin to wait in line. Thus, when she appeared at the immigration office in 1961 to apply for her green card, the officer in charge was most unhappy. But at that time she was already pregnant with child and I have started my job at Harvard. The immigration officer though unhappy decided to let my wife remain in the country but merely stamped in her passport "DEPORTED" to satisfy a technicality. We did not realize the extent of the kindness of this immigration officer until some 65+ year later earlier this week when President Biden announced via executive order that some 500,000 illegal residents of this country married to a US citizen need not be deported and return to their country or origin to wait in line before legally return to their family in the US - a very humanitarian and good will gesture which I (and many others) did not realize. WE WERE LUCKY again!



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