Op-Ed

‘Fiancé visa’ disruption would impact Americans

Dan is an American citizen who brought Ana to the United States from Georgia earlier this year on a K-1 visa. She became a lawful permanent resident in early December.
Dan is an American citizen who brought Ana to the United States from Georgia earlier this year on a K-1 visa. She became a lawful permanent resident in early December. Greg McLawsen

On Dec. 2, our nation was again rocked by senseless and cruel violence. Once again we have been given the choice to recoil in fear or to reaffirm our deepest values.

As reported in this paper and many other outlets, one of the perpetrators of the horrific violence in San Bernardino, California, entered the United States on a fiancé visa. The administration is now reviewing that program.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has suggested that all Muslims be barred from our country — a proposal so repugnant and patently unconstitutional that it merits no further response here. In this caustic, anti-immigrant environment, it is critical to understand how your neighbors could be impacted if fiancé visas become even more difficult to acquire.

Designated a “K-1” visa by the immigration code, every fiancé case begins with a petition filed by a United States citizen. Neither immigrants nor green card holders have the authority to petition for a fiancé. This means that behind every K-1 visa is a U.S. citizen who wants to be united with an intended spouse.

Who are these visa petitioners? At my Tacoma immigration firm we work on fiancé visas nearly every week, and our clients come from all walks of life. As I write, our client Ted (fictitious name) is across the Pacific to be present when his fiancée’s visa is approved.

Ted is a never-married Marine combat veteran who started a small business in Tacoma after his honorable discharge. When he and I went out to lunch recently, Ted told me how much he looks forward to starting a family once they are allowed to make a home together in the U.S.

Let’s look at one case. Dan is an engineer who works on high-tension power lines. While wrapping up a tour of duty in Korea, he started video chatting with Ana, a citizen of Georgia trying to learn English.

Back in the states, Dan’s father looked over his shoulder during a chat session and told Dan that he would be an “idiot” if he didn’t fly to Georgia to meet Ana. She arrived at SeaTac earlier this year on a K-1 visa and became a lawful permanent resident earlier this month. They are a wonderful couple.

Now meet Danielle and Katherine (fictitious names). Danielle has worked most of her professional life serving Pierce County residents in a government job. She got to know Katherine, an Australian woman, over the Internet and their relationship slowly evolved into a romance. We are now preparing for Katherine’s interview at the U.S. consulate in Sydney.

And there’s Jordan. While traveling around Peru as a student, he met Valesska, a young musician. Valesska flew into SeaTac last year on a K-1 visa, and they’re now building a life together in our community.

The list could go on. These are our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues. If K-1 visas become more difficult to obtain, these are the American citizens who will be impacted.

Dan and Ana’s process took well over a year from start to finish. In part this is because of the elaborate security checks that are performed by the U.S. Department of State. More than half a million fiancé visas have been issued since 1989, and last week’s attack was the first act of terrorism perpetrated by a K-1 holder.

Our community’s safety is the highest concern of the sophisticated federal agencies that administer the fiancé visa program. Any immigration attorney can share stories of harmless clients whose cases have been long delayed in a system that often seems overly cautious.

But this is a system that has long striven to uphold the fundamental value of family unity, and that value is now imperiled. I urge you to scrutinize reactionary rhetoric about the K-1 and other immigration programs. It is not a faceless “they” who will suffer the consequences. They are our neighbors.

Greg McLawsen is a Tacoma-based immigration attorney.

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