Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Update - Janurary 22, 2008

Tuesday January 22, 2008

You wont believe it. I am still trying to understand it myself ...

What started out as an awesome day (I even said I was elated) spiraled down to a really intricately complicated day. I dont want to call it awful yet, I still have six hours before it ends and I am having dinner with some friends later today.

I got up late because I went to bed later than usual. I decided to go for a quick five mile run just to get things started on the right note. That ended well in spite of not having run for about two weeks. As soon as I got to school, I knew I had to make some calls to the US consulate and senator John Sarbanes office. I was advised that it was a good idea to involve my senator in this case as they have expertise and experience regarding such cases. I have to say it was a great idea as Meg Stephenson who is involved in my case is on top of things in addition to being really nice and personable. Senator Sarbane's staff's got my back.

The call to the consulate was interesting. First of all, they have a US number and a Mexican number. The first several rounds, I called the US number and the response I got was "The person you are trying to reach is not available ...." I am not kidding, I tripple checked the number and I got the same response. Then I tried the Mexican number. It wouldn't give me the secondary dial tone after I entered the numbers. Well, I figured that since yesterday was Martin Luther King day, they must have messed up when they tried to switch their "The Consulate is Closed" message that they had running. I waited some 30-45 minutes and tried again. It went through! The first thing it asks you is to select #1 for English and something for Spanish. So I selected #1 and waited while the call was transfered. Then came this "Bueno!" I said "Hello?, I thought I pressed #1 for English?" So she switched to English and everything went well after that. I asked to speak to the Chief of the NIV (Non-Immigrant Visa) section because he is the one that wrote me the letter which got me into the US on parole. It turns out he was at a meeting. So I had to explain my case to the person at the other end. I had been put on hold several times and had to explain my case anew every time someone else picked up the phone. Eventually, they looked at my file and the reponse was "Your case is still pending."

I ended up leaving a message for the NIV section chief and asked him to call me. Within some 45 minutes, my phone rang and there was some weird number -52-656-XXXXXXX. I picked it up.
He said "Hi John ..." and continued to tell me how my case was still pending and how they had not heard from Washington DC (whoever this person is?). He said they might not hear from them till next week or something.

I then explained to him why I called. I told him how my permit expires in two days and have to go back to El Paso, Texas, else I risk breaking the law. I also told him how they had retained my passport with the canceled visa and my Form I-94 departure record and how I couldnt really go anywhere without those documents. After hearing me out, he told me he would make a few calls and call me later today to let me know about the situation.

That sounded promising to me. I went ahead and called Meg Stephenson at the Senator's office to update her on the situation. I had promised that I was going to do this just so we can be on the same page. I also went to update the chairman of The Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences here at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I had told him about my situation, so it was a matter of just filling him in on what I had been told.

The one very important thing I picked up was, Johns Hopkins would expel me if I broke any federal law or something to that effect! Hmmm ... that ruled out staying here illegally, not that I was planning to. This threw everyone into a frenzy. My options were to extend my parole/defered inspection and worry about other things later or go to Mexico and not worry about the parole expiring and thus breaking a law.

Everything seemed to have stalled after that. There wasnt anything I could really do until I got a call from the NIV Section Chief in Juarez! This would give me a chance to make a good decision based on his advise.

"Hi John ..." he said "... I just wanted to give you an update." He proceeded to tell me he had talked to Meg Stephenson from Senator Sarbanes office. He had also called Washington DC and the Customs and Border Patrol at the Zaragosa Bridge (the people holding my passport). I learnt that the processing at Washington DC was not done but they told him that my clearance was expected to happen this Thursday.

Then came the part that made the day worse. He said that the Border Patrol was sending my passport to the Airport. I was furious! Why were they sending my passport to the airport? What airport? To whom? When did they send it? Its one thing to have your passport retained at the Port of entry but it is another totally different thing to have it send to some airport. If this happened, it would mean that I would have to stay in Baltimore regardless of whether my Form I-546 was expiring, renewable or not. Staying in the US illegally for me means I would get expelled from school and would probably have trouble when applying for permanent residency in the future. Going to the border or the consulate without a passport is like going hunting without spears or a bow and arrows or hunting clubs (my tribe never uses guns for hunting). You cant go there empty handed, where would they stamp your visa then?

I decided that I was officially screwed. I didnt think this was one of the worst that could happen. But there it was. On my way home, I thought about calling the Border Patrol in Zaragoza Bridge to ask why, where, when and how this was happening. It was 6:00pm Eastern time, they Patrol Office closes at 5:00pm Pacific time. That meant I still had an hour to spare. I pulled up to the side of the road and called. I got in touch with the supervisor on duty who happened to be handling my case down there. I was relieved when he told me that he had not send the passport out but had scheduled it to be picked up by FEdex later. After finding out why they were sending it to Baltimore/Washington International Airport, I explained to him why they needed to retain my passport there until I went to pick it up. He agreed to retain it, but told me they didnt have jurisdiction over me as my address was in Baltimore.

I safely drove home and made it to dinner at Mt Washington Tavern at 7:30pm where some 20 or so of my friends showed up. Where were you?

My permit expires Friday. Am I going to Mexico then? I will post an update later today/tomorrow.

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