BY: CHARLIE MORRISON
Of the many contentious issues capturing headlines in this inarguably tumultuous time in American politics, none has so tugged at the country’s collective heartstrings than the discussion over immigration. Who gets to come? How difficult is the process? Is our nation vulnerable to threat by those seeking legal citizenship from the outside world? These are the questions on the minds of many Americans worried about the state of U.S. immigration policy in 2017.
For those who feel confident in the policy and the process by which foreign born nationals become full-fledged, legally-recognized American citizens, the debate swirling around the country and the world engenders an entirely different set of questions. Why should we change a long-standing policy? Where is this worry coming from? What will happen to those who have gone through, are going through, or will go through the immigration process?
From whichever viewpoint one approaches the issue, the fact of the matter remains – doubt is swirling around our nation’s stance on immigration and citizenship in this country, and the debate is not soon to dissipate. Behind it all, says Daniel Island resident and locally practicing immigration attorney Kristen Ness Ayers, is misinformation.
“I think there’s a misunderstanding across the board about immigration, in the media in politics,” said Ayers. “A lot of people talking about immigration don’t realize you can’t just become a citizen, you can’t come to the U.S. and go right to citizenship.”
In an effort to explain the intricacies of the debate, and at least put a face, or rather faces, on the immigration issue, The Daniel Island News recently sat down with a trio of foreign-born nationals currently residing on Daniel Island to discuss the topic – Brazilian-born U.S. citizen Adriene Araujo, Danish-born U.S. citizen Rikke Fryman, and British-born prospective U.S. citizen Carina Buckman.
This is the first in a three-part series highlighting their journeys and the issue of immigration in America. We begin with Adriene Araujo.
Case 1: Adriene Araujo – Brazil
Brazilian-born American citizen Adriene Araujo left her hometown of Vitoria for good at the tender age of 16. Bound for a public university in the state of Minas Gerais, she went on to study engineering before later attaining a Master’s Degree in logistics and international trade at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany. After completing her studies, she settled into a career in the natural stone business, first in her native Brazil and then on a monthly basis, here in the U.S., where she travelled as a company representative.
Entering the country every other month to work the largest natural stone wholesale and import market in the world, Araujo did her business utilizing a B1-B2 visa, allowing her to stay for business purposes for a maximum of six months.
Her life in international business was going well, and then, as it tends to do, disaster struck. On a visit with her then-boyfriend and future husband to famed Peruvian wonder of the world Machu Picchu, the two were robbed of their passports.
Brazilian passports are in high demand in South America, as theirs is one of only a few national passports on the continent to allow entry into any European country without a visa. The theft required she re-apply, a process made much more difficult, as this was back in 2002. Her previous application process had been made prior to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, after which stricter policies were enacted with regards to U.S. immigration. But in Araujo’s case she had a job, wanted to keep her job, and was without the mechanism to do so, at least in America.
“I said ‘oh my goodness I need that for work.’ I messed up my visa on vacation and it started to go bad with my company,” she says. Unbeknownst to her however, her father had already put in an application in her name for Brazil’s 2002 green card lottery. In what came as a shock to her father first, and then to her, Araujo won the lottery. “That’s how I ended up getting my visa back, without knowing or even having applied.”
The visa lottery system isn’t available worldwide, but rather a select number of countries. It is a list that changes with the shifting demographic makeup of the country. “If you are selected you’re allowed to apply for the next step,” says Ayers. “If you’re abroad, you go through the consulate, get an immigrant visa and come in as a green card holder. If you’re already in the U.S. you apply for ‘just status,’ from whatever status you’re in to lawful permanent resident. It’s a great opportunity for people who may not have a family member who can apply for them, or an employer willing to sponsor it.”
Learning her situation, Araujo’s company at that point said, “you might as well move there, you’re there every other month anyway,” and so she did.
“I moved here by chance, because I never applied,” adds Araujo. “I was coming and I was familiar with the U.S. but the green card kind of fell into my lap so I took a chance and said, ‘what the heck, let’s go!’”
In August of 2003, when she finally did make the move, her process to becoming a citizen hadn’t ended, it had merely begun.
“Once I moved here, because I’m not married to an American citizen, I actually had to be a permanent resident of the U.S. for five years, not three, but for five consecutive years before I could actually apply for the citizenship,” says Araujo. “In those five years you have to pay taxes, and in my case because my husband’s also Brazilian, we actually had to do a lot of learning, you need to know the country and the rules.”
Five years later, she did take the oath with her right hand raised, and in December of 2008, she became an American citizen.
“I just missed the first Obama election,” she continues, with a laugh. “I had my interview in October but I did not get my naturalization in time.”
Since settling down in the U.S. and moving to Daniel Island in 2005, Araujo has gone her own way with respect to work. She left her Brazilian firm and opened Vitoria International, LLC a wholesale purveyor of natural stone based in North Charleston.
“We do our best to adjust in terms of culture to learn the rules, and you are so afraid of breaking the law that I think we are the most politically correct people!” she laughs. “And I own a business. I freak out about everything because I know that I’ll be an easy target. We try to go out of our way to make sure we’re doing things right.”
Next week in the Daniel Island News, we continue our “Path to U.S. Citizenship” series with a profile on Daniel Island resident Rikke Fryman, a native of Denmark.