I met my husband, Szymon, on a summer work program in Glacier National Park in Montana. He was an engineering student from Poland, and I was going to seminary in California. We fell in love, but at the end of the summer, he left for Poland and I returned to California.
We dated long distance for one-and-a-half years, but we only saw each other two times. Visas were difficult to get, and money was tight; we were both graduate students, and the exchange rate from Poland didn’t work in our favor. When I finished my on-campus classes in 2017, I moved to Poland to be with Szymon and teach English.
When we got engaged in 2019, I had been in Poland for almost two years, and I had spent most of the past decade away from my family. We decided to move back to the U.S., but we had no idea how difficult it would be. Because Poland is part of the European Union, we assumed that the process would go smoothly. An immigration attorney costs thousands of dollars, so we committed to doing all of the paperwork ourselves.
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There are two pathways to emigrate to the U.S. for a marriage. One is to get married overseas and to then apply for a green card after you are married. Another is to apply for a fiancée visa, which is the path we decided to take.
Most couples, when they get engaged, start thinking about their wedding colors, venues and bridesmaids. Instead, we were thinking about I-129 F forms, background checks and interviews. Because there is a requirement that the U.S. citizen be living in the U.S. and working, I had to move back to the U.S., while Szymon stayed in Poland to await his consulate interview.
With a fiancée visa, you can’t really plan your wedding, because you don’t know when the visa will be granted. Szymon wasn’t granted a visa until December 2019 — three months after I had come back to the U.S., and eight months after we applied. We had 90 days to get married, so we had a simple ceremony at my church, a week-and-a-half after he arrived in North Carolina.
Then we had to apply and wait for Szymon’s green card — more forms, fees to be paid and interviews. During that time, he wasn’t allowed to work, and I supported the two of us with my job teaching at a local preschool.
Unfortunately, our application was sent back to us saying that I didn’t make enough, and we had to ask my brother to be a financial sponsor for us. This means that for the next 10 years, he is financially responsible for my husband. If my husband ever receives government benefits like Medicaid or food stamps, my brother is responsible for paying that back to the government. It’s not just given for free. This is one of the reasons why so many immigrants are afraid to take Medicare or go to the hospital if they’re sick.
In March of this year, I was furloughed from my job because of the pandemic. It is only by the grace of God that a family friend allowed us to live in an apartment above her home so we didn’t have to worry about paying rent. This makes us the “fortunate” ones — not only do we have a roof over our heads, which so many immigrants don’t, but we are fortunate that my husband was able to come here at all. After nine months of waiting, we finally received his green card in September.
Here’s the irony: I have been an immigrant twice in my life — after college, when I taught English in Japan, and then when I lived in Poland. In Japan, I spoke the language, but I didn’t look like I fit in. In Poland, I looked like I fit in, but I didn’t understand anything. So I have had two experiences of being on the outside.
When I hear people say that our immigration policies need to be tighter, that “we need to stop all these people from coming in to protect America,” it feels like a knife in my heart. Because I’ve been in those people’s shoes. I know what it feels like not to fit in.
Our nation sometimes refers to itself as a Christian nation, but I don’t often see that. We claim values that we don’t live up to. We go to church, and we take care of the people who look like us and the people who speak like us, but what about the others?
The Bible tells us many stories of God using God’s people to reach out to those who were different from them. These are stories of inclusion and welcome, where all of God’s children are invited to the table no matter where they came from. This November, as a Christian I voted my values. I chose welcome.
Ashley Glimasinski is an Advocacy Organizer for Choose Welcome and resides in North Carolina with her husband.