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DeniedDateline: US Embassy, Mexico City

Some years ago, well after F and I were a definitive couple, we thought it’d be great if he could come and visit me in Boston. Though I had no intentions of subjecting him to winter (after all, I loved him), with his teacher’s schedule including summers off, coming for the summer seemed ideal. And it would save me some wear and tear, since I had been the one who always traveled to Mexico City. Not that I really minded. Mexico City is so different from Boston that it’s hard to even express. But let it suffice to say that the chaos, warmth (both climatic and personal), and nuttiness of Mexico City was the perfect antidote to a very high-pressure career in Boston, and I always cherished my time there.

Unlike most Mexicans, F had traveled extensively. He’d been to most of the countries in Western Europe, and at one point had a German boyfriend. I guess I wasn’t his first “exotic foreigner.” He’d also traveled in South America, Colombia principally, but I think he may also have visited Brazil. His passport was full of exotic stamps, and he always returned home to Mexico City. But he’d never been to the USA, and given his Mexican Leftist outlook, hadn’t been particularly desirous of going.

But once we were an “item,” the calculus changed. So we talked extensively about his coming to visit some day, and he finally acceded. I told him I would do everything possible to help him, though there wasn’t much I really could do. However (unbeknownst to my company), I wrote a letter on company letterhead explaining that F would come to the USA to visit me, and that I’d be responsible for him while he was here and that I’d ensure that he returned when he was supposed to. To my uneducated mind, this seemed like almost a sponsorship, something that suggested he wasn’t just going to cross the border willy-nilly and immediately begin illegally cutting lawns or (gasp!) selling tacos. He had a reason to visit the USA, and the fact that he’d been to many places in Europe and elsewhere also seemed to suggest he’d be unlikely to overstay his visa. I mean, if you’re not going to overstay a visa in Italy or Germany, why would you overstay in Boston?

Procedurally, if you’re a Mexican in Mexico City, getting a visa to the USA is a difficult and somewhat humiliating process. First you have to pay a non-refundable fee of about eighty dollars ($160 USD currently; thanks, JR!), then fill out a lengthy application with nearly your entire life story. Then, if you aren’t summarily rejected, you get an opportunity for an interview at our ugly, heavily-guarded embassy on Reforma in Mexico City.

US Embassy Mexico City - Google Streetview

Our Heavily Guarded Bunker of an Embassy in Mexico City

Do you get an appointment at a particular hour? No. Instead you get a day, and you are asked to show up at the embassy at the ungodly hour of 7:00 AM, where you take your place in a long line that often snakes around the block. After waiting for something approaching an hour, you are finally ushered into a waiting room, where you are given a number and then you wait further for your interview.

US Embassy Fence Mexico City - Google Streetview

Ugly Fence on Reforma, Courtesy of US Embassy, visible behind the trees

F, who is not a morning person, showed up at the appointed time and had his interview, surprisingly in Spanish. (I guess Immigration is going soft these days.) And after all that trouble? He was summarily denied a visa on the spot. No review period, no “wait for the letter,” nothing suggesting any deliberation at all. When he asked why, he was handed a preprinted card stating that he had “not demonstrated sufficient ties to Mexico.” In short, one can only conclude that they thought he’d be likely to overstay his visa and become yet another illegal immigrant.

Now, I don’t know about the legal standard of “sufficient ties,” but F owns a condo outright where he has lived at least a decade, probably longer. He has a longstanding job teaching Spanish language and literature at a private high school. Though not married, he’s intimately tied to his family, spending every Sunday with his mother, brother and sister, along with various nieces. He’d also lived in DF virtually his entire life, so it’s not like he was some kind of drifter in Mexico either. And our relationship notwithstanding, he had zero desire to live in the USA. We were both stumped and mystified by his visa denial. So I suggested that he try again, which he did about a year later. Same result, same preprinted card with the same so-called reason to deny him.

At this point, I contacted an immigration attorney to see if there was anything else to be done. The attorney told me consular officials have almost complete discretion to deny entrance to anyone for any reason and that there was little we could do, especially in the case of a mere tourist visa. The only thing was that the attorney could write a formal letter to the US ambassador requesting a review of F’s case, but he thought it was a long shot. And at the end of the day, F, who had found the process humiliating and frustrating wasn’t keen to repeat the experience.

And I remained mystified. All of F’s friends who were similarly situated had been granted visas. Heck, even one of F’s co-workers at the same high school with a virtually identical set of circumstances had easily gotten a US visitor’s visa, yet F had been denied.

About a year later, I was attending a dinner party here in Boston, when the topic of visitor visas came up. My hostess knew a Brazilian/Gringa couple who had faced similar circumstances. The Gringa wanted her Brazilian lover to get a tourist visa, and he had been denied in a similar fashion to F. However, apparently this Gringa wasn’t as willing to take ‘no’ for an answer and did a lot of digging to better understand the situation. What she found out was that I, like Oedipus centuries before, had fulfilled the prophesy by tying to avoid it. Apparently the US Department of Immigration has a policy of denying visas to people they suspect have a love interest with an American citizen. Ostensibly such people are at higher risk of overstaying a visa than a mere tourist. Certainly they have reason. And so by trying to help with my “sponsorship letter,” I virtually ensured that F would be denied a visa. And that’s probably forever, though now that we’ve broken up, it’s probably more or less a moot point.

Moral of the story? If you want to help a Mexican or other foreigner to get a tourist visa, advise him or her to disavow any friendship with any gringo and instead state in the interview that he wants to go to Disneyland, go shopping, or some other touristic reason for going NOB. Because apparently part of the Immigration Department’s unstated mission is to impede any cross-border relationship that comes to their attention.