Immigration is Broken, All Right

There has been much attention given lately to the plight of illegal immigrants who face deportation if they are caught by authorities. However, not much thought is given to immigrants who arrive in America by following the rules, only to be told they too face deportation.

One such tale is that of 39-year-old Anatolie Vartosu. Born in the Republic of Moldova, a region of Romania, Anatolie can appreciate the freedoms America has to offer, having given two years' compulsory service to the former Soviet army. He later went on to graduate from Romania's Sport University with a Master in Sport, teaching (among other things) physical education, ballet, and track.

A top-ranked runner in Europe, Anatolie was invited by organizers of a marathon in Clearwater, Florida, to participate as part of an elite group of runners in February of 2003. He received a six-month tourist visa and headed for Florida. Unfortunately, Anatolie never got the chance to run in that particular race, as he injured himself a short time before. Later in May, he got the chance to run in the Little Rock Marathon in its inaugural year. The marathon itself was established to encourage health and fitness and to raise funds for Little Rock's Park and Recreation. Anatolie's reputation as a top runner was well-deserved, as he won the marathon with a time of 2:36:53.

By then, Anatolie was staying in Stamford, Connecticut. He says, "If you ask runners in Fairfield County, they know who Anatolie is." He was also on his way to establishing himself in another arena - gymnastics. Nicolae Piperea, a Romanian immigrant and co-owner of Jack Rabbits Gym in nearby Greenwich, knew of Anatolie from a mutual friend. As Jack Rabbits was looking to build up its gymnastics program to an elite level, they were looking for top-notch coaches. With his experience and credentials, Anatolie fit the bill. Jack Rabbits requested, and received, a change in visa status for Anatolie to an H-1B work visa in June of 2003, which was good until March of 2006. He was thrilled at this unexpected chance to make his fortune in America.

An H-1B visa requires petitioners for specialty occupations to meet at least one of the following criteria:
  • A baccalaurate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position
  • The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position
  • The nature of the specific duties are so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree.
Fast forward to March of 2006. When he and his employers went to file a renewal of the H-1B visa, Anatolie was told he had to wait until October of that year. In addition, he was told he needed more documentation to justify a renewal. Once the additional information was filed in October, the 60 days he was told to wait turned into six months. After placing a call to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in April of 2007, he was told to file the I-129 (an internal status inquiry), and was given yet another 60 days to wait.

Upon hearing nothing after the 60 days, John Schwartz (the other owner of Jack Rabbits) was told to file yet another I-129 and also set up an appointment with an immigration officer in Hartford, which he did. He and Anatolie arrived, dressed in their best and full of plans to plead their case with a folder bursting with newspaper articles about Anatolie, photos of him with the children he coached, and testimonials from parents and other gymnastics professionals. The shocker was when they discovered that the point of the interview was simply to find out what they already knew: Anatolie's case was still pending. When Schwartz asked the immigration officer why they were sent to see her, he was told: "They don't know what they are talking about up there." (She was referring to the customer service department of USCIS.)

Then, after over a year of waiting, Anatolie found out that his renewal had finally been processed - but was denied in a letter dated July 9th. Despite letters from other gyms and USA Gymnastics (USAG) (formerly known as the United States Gymnastics Federation) supporting Anatolie's petition, the denial was based partly on "the petitioner's assertion that the duties and/or knowledge required for a gymnastics coach who trains children as young as one year old up to five years old is equally specialized and complex" as coaches who train world-class athletes - an assertion with which the USCIS did not agree.

Schwartz explains:
"They're saying that since we're not a high-level gym, we don't need someone with his expertise. But my point is, we are building our program up to an elite level, and so we do need his expertise. Frankly, it's difficult to find qualified instructors. And since we are a USAG-member gym, qualified instructors are essential."
He is particularly frustrated with the year plus of waiting they had to endure at the hands of USCIS.
"They delay and delay and delay and have people on a string. And then they say 60 days and it takes six months. They take as long as they want, and when they make a decision, he has only 30 days to appeal or leave the country."
This frustration is well-founded, especially when one considers that the Bush Administration and certain members of Congress were ready to provide illegal aliens with a fast-track to legal status and citizenship with the recently-failed "comprehensive immigration reform" bill. Bill Whittle of the website Eject!Eject!Eject! nails it:
"The biggest losers in our inability to control illegal immigration are the legal immigrants.  What benefit do these honest people gain from playing by the rules? This is as clear a real-world example as you are likely to see of the lack of retaliation flipping a system from cooperation to betrayal."
Another example of how our immigration system works against law-abiding immigrants is the case of Andrew Cook, a citizen of the UK with whose E-2 visa was denied renewal after he and partner Nick Finnis spent a great deal of money and time buying and renovating an old inn in Temple, New Hampshire.
The reason for the denial, according to the State Department, was that Cook's investment in the business wasn't "more than a marginal one solely for earning a living."

As a result, Cook can't return to America to tend to the business he invested his life savings in, Finnis said.
Well you may wonder why a visa was first approved, only to be rejected upon renewal. But technically, it doesn't matter. Back in 1973, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held in Matter of Khan that "This Service is not required to approve application or petitions where eligibility has not been demonstrated, merely because of prior approvals which may have been erroneous."

In other words, if we screw up, you can't blame us.

When government officials say our immigration system needs to be fixed, they must look beyond the headlines generated by a group of people who represent a potential voting bloc. They must consider revamping the system so that people who want to be here and take the necessary steps aren't thwarted unnecessarily. Giving a pass to hordes of people who demand rights even though they came here illegally, while ignoring the concerns of  law abiding aliens is shameful.

More is at stake than simply Anatolie's future. His wife, Maria Magdalena (another Romanian immigrant whom he married in September of 2003), faces deportation as well, since her immigration status is tied to his. And as of this writing, he is considered to be "without lawful status." In addition, Anatolie has been afraid to leave the US to visit his mother and daughters (from a previous marriage) in Romania, for fear of not being allowed to come back. He has not seen them in over four years.

Plans to appeal are already in the works, but Anatolie's legal status remains in jeopardy unless the USCIS grants him an extension while the appeal is reviewed. Also as a result of the visa renewal rejection is that his application for a green card, submitted some time ago, is now considered null and void. It's been difficult for everyone involved in this case, following the rules (including the paying of yearly taxes) and then being turned down. "He didn't come over to marry an American citizen," says Schwartz. "He wasn't trying to skate the system."

Yet Anatolie remains hopeful. "I tried to do everything right in this country. I was hoping, still I'm hoping, for good news." And amazingly, his positive view of America and what it has to offer has not been tainted by his recent disappointments. "I can say it's like the American dream here. If you are a good citizen and a hard worker, you can make it and you can do it. That's why I'm here."

Pamela Meister is proprietor of the website Blogmeister USA.