In an earlier post (Modern Family) I wrote about Mike’s foster son Isaac. Yesterday I witnessed a milestone for Isaac that a year ago seemed like a nearly impossible dream. In a small office inside the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services building in Salt Lake City, with just a few official stamps, seals and signatures, Isaac became a permanent legal resident of the United States. After asking Isaac a list of questions and verifying a few things in his record, the immigration officer announced that he now had legal residency. I cried when he said those words, surprising myself with my emotional reaction.
|Isaac just after receiving his permanent residency status|
February 1, 2012
When Mike first told me that the original plan for Isaac’s guardianship and care was falling through and that he intended to step in and become Isaac’s foster parent with the long-term goal of helping him obtain citizenship, he might as well have told me he was making plans to fly to the moon. Even though I agreed it was the right thing to do, I seriously questioned how he’d do it. Besides the hurdles involved in becoming a licensed foster parent on very short notice, his financial and work situations didn’t exactly lend themselves to providing for the needs of a teenager. Plus, the political climate in Utah and the country wasn’t one that made it easy for someone here illegally to gain legal resident status. Isaac’s dad had already served 6 ½ months in jail for an unpaid traffic ticket and was being voluntarily deported to Mexico because of the unfriendly immigration policies in place. Mike met every one of my objections and questions about how exactly he was going to do it with the same answer. “It’s the right thing to do. Sometimes there are more important things in life than money, material things and stability. I’ll make it happen.”
By last February, Isaac Sr. already had a deadline for when he had to leave the U.S. His greatest wish was for Isaac Jr. to stay in Utah, pursue his promising boxing career, graduate from high school and hopefully someday gain citizenship. Because of Mike’s work with the Juvenile Justice Services (JJS) division he knows people from the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the Utah Foster Care Foundation. He quickly pulled together a core group of knowledgeable associates, asking for advice about options that would allow Isaac Jr. to stay. They suggested an action plan that was a long shot, but just might work. With Isaac Sr.’s deadline quickly approaching, Mike talked to him about the options. None of them were certain and they were all less than desirable to a father who deeply loves his only son.
Isaac Sr. agreed that before leaving the country he would sign custody of Isaac Jr. over to the state of Utah, terminating his parental rights. Isaac Jr. would then be in the care of DCFS who would place him in foster care, hopefully with Mike. First, though, Mike had to become a licensed foster care provider. Although Isaac Jr. was then living with Mike, once he was in DCFS custody he couldn’t stay there, and would have to move into a state shelter.
I wasn’t there the day Isaac Sr., Mike, Isaac Jr. and other state officials met at DCFS offices for Isaac Sr. to sign the papers placing Isaac Jr. in the state’s custody, but Mike says it was heart wrenching. I’ve thought a lot about Isaac Sr. and how much courage, blind faith and trust he showed that day, turning over the care of his son to someone he barely knew based on a handshake and a promise. As a parent, I don’t know if I could do the same thing, especially with the knowledge that I may never see my child again.
Isaac Jr. lived for a month in a JJS shelter until Mike was granted a provisional foster care license and he was able to move back into Mike’s house. Shortly after that, Isaac Jr. had a juvenile court hearing, with his caseworker, guardian ad litem and social worker by his side. After hearing the facts of his case, the judge determined that sending him back to Mexico wasn’t in his best interest, granting him what is called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Remembering that day in the courtroom puts a smile on my face. It was hard not to jump up clapping and cheering in the courtroom! As soon as I heard the judge say those words I knew the first major hurdle had been cleared. The plan that until then had seemed like a long shot might really work.
Life settled into more of a routine after that, with DCFS officials and Isaac Jr.’s caseworker advancing his legal case behind the scenes. When I say life settled into a routine, it was far from a bed of roses. The challenges were many. Mike worked constantly in order to keep up. It wasn’t unusual for him to work back-to-back shifts some weekends, between his two jobs sometimes going 20-30 hours straight without sleep. Our work schedules are almost always opposite, so we’re often like two ships passing in the night. I tried to pick up the slack when Mike was working. Like a typical mother, I worried about Isaac not eating enough and if he was getting his homework done. The grind of work and childcare took its toll on our relationship. We started morphing into the all too common married dynamic of being exhausted and on edge from the constant work, childcare, household pressures and money worries, and we weren’t even married or living together! I was still reeling from the effects of my sister’s suicide, often depressed, anxious and frequently discouraged. It was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as I tried to be supportive, sometimes it was all too much and I lashed out in anger, expressing my frustration at everything being so damn hard and complicated. Things that I believed needed to happen in order for us to have a shot at a secure, long-term future were put on the back burner.
Mike constantly encouraged me not to get hung up on the everyday stresses and to keep my eye on the prize. Luckily, once in a while his words sunk in. That combined with the times the four of us were together, cooking, eating, laughing, talking, or when I was doing dishes while Gillian and Isaac talked and did homework together, enjoying and teasing each other like siblings, or the moments I would secretly watch Isaac with my dogs, telling them how good they were, playing with them like a carefree kid, reminded me that I needed to keep trying. Our day would come. What mattered now was taking care of Isaac, providing him with some semblance of family, security and stability.
I guess that’s why I got so emotional yesterday when the immigration officer said Isaac was now a legal resident and would be eligible to apply for citizenship in five years. Somehow, against seemingly impossible odds, it had worked. Through sheer determination, stubbornness, hard work and much personal sacrifice, Mike had honored his promise to Isaac Sr. Isaac Sr. had the faith in Mike that I had sometimes lacked. The magnitude of it all hit me. He’d done it!