Trump and His Anti-Family Policies: Hurting Mormon Families
Guest post by Chocolate Chip Biscuit
The latest news with Trump’s move to eliminate DACA is yet another step in Trump solidifying his anti-family policy position. Unfortunately, I am well familiar with his anti-family policy changes—because it has hurt my family. DACA hasn’t hut me, but it has hurt people you know. Another kind of his anti-family policies has hurt me. The one where the US won’t allow the spouse of an American any rights.
To be clear, I am an American, born and raised. I prefer Ranch dressing, peanut butter sandwiches, and soft chocolate chip cookies. My husband is Australian. He prefers no salad dressing, Vegemite sandwiches and biscuits as hard as rocks. Our children have preferences that reflect both cultures, and we are happy. We chose to live in Australia for a time as my husband had good employment and we wanted for me to be able to stay home with our children. Ya know. The Mormon thing.
As our children became school-aged, we decided that we would visit the US, re-connect with the American side of our family and delight in partaking of Idaho potatoes flooded with American cheese. Still employed but on leave of absence, my husband and I also planned to investigate schools and neighbourhoods with a mind that if all fit well for us, we would go about the process of moving to the US.
Even though he is my spouse and we have been married more than a handful of years, he still has to go about the migration process the same as any non-American. We had been through this before—first for me, when I migrated to Australia, and secondly for him, on the advice of an attorney as we were in the process of adopting, in case it made us look better on adoption papers. At that time, my husband was granted a 2-year residency visa (“green card”) which took the standard 8-12 month processing time and at a real financial cost. However, we did not need or use that visa. We’re Mormon– we looked good on paper anyway. So his American visa expired as an unused by-product.
We planned for a temporary visit to Utah this summer, meaning a tourist (ESTA) visa- the kind of visa that takes very little processing time, costs very little and is often an instantaneous turnaround when you travel on vacation to different countries. We were well aware that this kind of visa meant that my Australian husband would not be able to legally stay longer than three months. Thus, all of us—not just my husband– had tickets to return to Australia. The plan was to discover if Utah was a good fit for our family. If it was, then we would invest the time and money for a more permanent visa.
That was the plan. But the US would not let him enter. He was issued an ESTA visa when we purchased our tickets. But it was revoked without notice a few days before we were to leave. We discovered it had been revoked at the airport as we were checking in our bags. Nothing had changed on our side; he had still never been convicted of any crimes, he has never overstayed or broken the conditions of a tourist visa previously, we had return flights, and ongoing employment in Australia. We’re Mormons, for heaven’s sake!
And yet, he was considered untrustworthy. Why? Me. His wife. His eternal companion, signed and sealed at the St. George Temple in Utah. And our daughters. As Americans, my daughters and I make him look bad. Because he had a legal, permanent visa beforehand, he can no longer enter the US on vacation. I make it look like he is going to break laws to stay with me in the US rather than going through the proper process. My marriage and our family look like security threats to Trump’s immigration policies. My American nationality hurts my husband’s non-American visa application.
We thought it was a mistake. Perhaps something simple that we or the travel agent filled out wrong. A miscommunication. An unticked box. A spelling error. So, I went ahead with my children, thinking that my husband would be on a plane the day after. But I was wrong. Very wrong. We fall into a new category of “presumptive visa violators.” This is a new Trump thing wherein he is presumed guilty and must prove his innocence. You see, he can’t be offered American privileges such as “innocent before being proven guilty” unless he is in the United States. Outside of the US, US policy doesn’t have to represent American values: so it doesn’t, especially under Mr. Trump.
While I was in the air managing my children on a long flight alone, my husband spent the majority of the day trying to track down what went wrong. He went to the US Consulate in Sydney, who told him to apply, then re-apply on the website, because they could not help him. But according to the website, he had done everything correctly. We discovered that while the State Department (SD) processes most visa applications, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) takes the lead on implementing laws. However, the DHS is not a foreign affairs agency of the US Government, so communication between the SD, DHS and the US Consulate is bound by the red tape of each others’ bylaws, which are sometimes in conflict—or in the case of DHS- is not a foreign affairs agency.
After exhaustive days and nights of applications and knocking on every immigration door available, he did not make the next flight, or the one after, or the one after that.
He waded through paperwork, confused as to why he could not obtain a visa, I contacted US-based immigration lawyers who simply said that he should apply for a green card. “But, he’s not going to work,” I would say, incredulously. “We are going to family reunions. We’re on vacation!” I was told that didn’t matter—that because of our marriage, he was considered presumptively guilty of overstaying a temporary visitor’s visa unless he could prove he did not plan on breaking immigration law in the future. It sounded ridiculous to us, but this was Trump policy: guilty until proven innocent. The confusion of the situation and the associated contrasting advice between the consulate and immigration was overwhelming. I hasten to add that we are university-educated, native English-speakers. I cannot fathom how difficult this would be for those who lack education, or worse, have a lesser command of American English.
Almost immediately upon my arrival in Utah, I was clandestinely contacted by other Americans in situations similar to my own. Families of mixed nationality, some part-Australian, some not. All part-American. Law-abiding, legally employed Americans who simply fell in love with someone of a different nationality. I did not meet their non-American spouses, but they all had similar stories: many were returned Mormon missionaries with clean records, all law-abiding individuals without a sniff of criminality in their background or future, yet they were refused entry to the US. I met the children who had not seen their non-American parents for months—the months since Trump had been in office. Wives who refused to post family updates on Facebook because they had been told that DHS agents could claim they were coded messages for illegal immigration. Husbands who refused to email or text wives because they had been told ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents would intercept them and manipulate the meaning into something that would harm visa applications. Americans living in the US, afraid to say anything because “Uncle Sam’s Big Brother” was watching them and would hurt their family.
This is not the America I know. This is not the America I love. To be fair, I lost count of the number of the American friends and strangers who embraced me and my children when our family was attacked by Mr. Trump. One friend loaned us a car. Others brought food, provided childcare, and even an inspired stranger paid for our tickets to the Heritage Village at the This is the Place Heritage Park. It was there at the Heritage Village Museum that my children had so much fun that we all forgot for a moment that our family was targeted by these new and confusing American policies. We supped on Brigham Young’s doughnuts, mined for sparkling stones, and felt at one with the Pioneers who were also forced to leave the US and create a home elsewhere because of political bias.
Gratefully, God’s hand reached out and protected us through friends and strangers. They cried with us, and as they did they said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. This policy is not American. I’m so sorry.”
My daughters and I secured early returns to Australia. We decided that though Utah is a kind of home, living in the US was off the table: we did not want to risk being months or possibly even permanently separated while we waited and hoped for a visa that may or not be granted. But this is what it is like for ex-pat and mixed nationality families. There are narrow formulas and guidelines that define what a family is supposed to look like to the SD, DHS, ICE and immigration. When your family looks different- because of ethnicity, employment (or lack of employment), language, and even adoption, then your family has a target on its back.
And you know what? We still had it easy. Shock, emotional roller-coaster and sense of patriotic betrayal aside, we still had it easy compared to others. Our skin colour, Anglo-ethnicity, cultural background or religious affiliation did not class us in ways to cause outward bias and rejection. My husband had a job, our non-American home is not a war zone and our fellow church members of various political viewpoints welcomed us to return to and recover.
While we were in the US, I watched ICE raids on the news with fresh eyes—I saw the families separated, hearts broken, and injustices heaped upon children, marriages and families. Conservative friends offered letters of recommendation, thinking something so daft as a letter from a Trump voter could suddenly heal or change Trump’s anti-family policies. Some looked at me with questioning eyes, seeming to think we had some illegal skeletons in our closet. But we don’t. My husband doesn’t. His only fault is being married to an American.