We recently encountered a case where a young couple planning to get married had a difficult experience with our immigration system. The young woman was a U.S. citizen who was planning on a U.S. wedding to her Japanese friend. A few days before the wedding, they decided to visit Canada, which is a few minutes ride from Detroit. When returning to the U.S., they innocently told the immigration officials at the border that they were planning to get married shortly. To their shock, the Japanese fiancé was denied entry into the U.S. because officials concluded that he possessed immigrant intent which violated his visitor status.
The legal reasoning behind this ridiculous result is that under our laws, foreigners visiting our country are required to have the intent to leave at the conclusion of their visit. If they are found to be planning to marry a U.S. citizen, then a visitor’s visa might no longer be considered applicable and a marriage-based visa has to be secured prior to that individual’s entry to the U.S. The problem is that a marriage based visa takes months and sometimes years to be procured.
In this case, the plea by the young bride-to-be that our officials allow her fiancé to enter the U.S. went in vain. The enormity of this situation was magnified as the hall for the wedding had been rented, the bands contracted, the guests invited, and the young man’s family had already arrived from Japan to attend the ceremony. At the end, the wedding had to be cancelled and the groom-to-be had to fly to back to Japan from Canada. His fiancée then followed him to Japan where they got married. Many months later, following the grant of an immigrant visa, they returned to the U.S. where a second, make-up ceremony took place.
Our immigration officials cannot be blamed alone for this, because they were merely following the law. The problem appears to be in our immigration law, which is archaic, based on an early-20th century mentality, and possibly reliant on the quicker processing times that existed then when there were no backlogs. Then, a marriage-based immigrant visa took only a few weeks to process as opposed to months and even years as it does today. The current immigration policy in the U.S. is also unsuitable to our current global economy where people need to move quickly back and forth between countries.
There is another conflicting aspect of our immigration law illustrated by the couple’s situation here. In this case, if Japan had restrictive policies similar to those in the U.S., then the Japanese authorities would have excluded the young American bride from entering Japan. Ironically, when our government advised the couple to get married in Japan, there was an implied presumption that the Japanese government would allow the U.S. fiancée to enter Japan. If, however, Japan had laws that were similar to ours, then they would have excluded the young American woman from entering Japan, just as we excluded her fiancé from entering the U.S. In such case, those two young individuals would have had to find a third country in which to get married. This does not make any sense. Luckily Japanese immigration law, as well as the laws of many other countries, is not as bizarre in this regard as our immigration law.
Our current immigration law is an impractical one that does not fit with today’s increasingly fluid and global reality. It views foreigners with suspicion and does not grant our border officials the discretion to waive the restrictive requirements that are plentiful within the current immigration policy. It conflicts with the values of a hospitable, generous and welcoming nation. One the contrary, it is based on the preconception that everyone entering into the U.S. has questionable intentions unless proven otherwise. Our existing immigration laws do not reflect the image that we should be displaying to the rest of the world, and is in need of a complete overhaul.