This week’s post is brought to you by a client (CG) and his wife who recently went to Ciudad Juarez for an immigrant visa interview. The experience detailed below is only meant to be used as an example of one story – processes and experiences will change from case to case and from time to time. It’s best to extensively prepare with your attorney before leaving the United States for an interview. I cannot thank the couple enough for such a detailed write-up!
The area around the consulate:
The three-block area around the consulate feels like a huge compound, created to protect and make a living off of people who are there for visas. Nearly everyone in our hotel was there for the same reason we were (although applying for many kinds of visas.) There were at least ten hotels within eyesight, all of which I imagine were full of people visiting the consulate. Many of the couples on the street had folders of papers like we did, and we're going from appointment to appointment like we were.
Everything was within walking distance within those 3 blocks: medical appointments, fingerprint appointments, consulate interview, DHL courier address to pick up the visa, etc. (Even a mall with a movie theater.) There were guards along the street by the consulate. We felt comfortable walking and never had to take taxis anywhere, aside from arrival and departure.
But we loved our hotel and would highly recommend it to others.
We stayed at the Quality Inn, a block from the US Consulate. We could see the US flag from our window. Our room came with breakfast every morning. The pool was clean and quite lovely, with palm trees and cabana rooms that had a nice breeze considering we were in the middle of the desert. There was a snack bar that served beer, tacos, and hamburgers by the pool. While few people spoke English, the staff was kind and accommodating. There was an ATM in the lobby, and they had computers available for guests to use at no charge; you could even print for just a few pesos. There was a pharmacy next door that sold medicine, supplies and cold water.
If you needed a taxi, the hotel would call you a “safe taxi” (apparently certain companies were deemed safer than others.) When you left in a taxi, the driver would radio to the guard which room number his passengers had been staying in, so the hotel knew where guests were and with whom they had left at all times.
We were told never to leave after dark, and sure enough, once the sun went down police cars started racing by with their lights and sirens on, over and over.
MEDICAL: The medical exam was not horrible. They were really interested in tattoos. If a tattoo was discovered, they wanted to know what it was in the image of when it had been done, why, who had done it, etc. They only seem to focus on 3 vaccines (a shorter list than on the CDC website.) No one had to get more than 3 shots.
CG did have a reaction to his Tdap shot…nothing serious, just itching and hives in the night. But it’s not a bad idea for folks to bring some Benadryl or Antihistamines with them since we’re not supposed to leave the hotel at night.
FINGERPRINTS: The fingerprint appointment was extremely fast. There is no point in arriving early because they won’t let you in before your appointment time. At 1:00 they call for the 1:00 appointments to line up, and let them in all at once. At 1:10 they call for the 1:10 appointments, etc.
This also happened to be the same place where the DHL Courier delivered the Passports/Visas, so it was nice to locate that ahead of time.
INTERVIEW: CG was at the interview for just over 3 hours.
Even though you warned him about it, CG was still surprised to be able to hear all of the other interviews while he waited for his own. Not only snippets here and there—he could hear whole interviews start and end, hear people get approved or denied.
CG heard multiple people have their petitions denied. People were automatically denied if they had lied at any point in the process, either to the interviewer that day or to a border official in the past. (For example, if they had ever been deported but had given a fake name at the border…their fingerprints told on them.)
One girl was asked if she had ever attempted to cross the border aside from the attempts listed on her form. She said yes, her parents had tried to cross with her when she was sixteen, but they had all been caught and sent back. The official said, “Thank you for your honesty. Your visa is approved.”
When it was CG’s turn, the interview lasted less than ten minutes. The officer only asked for the basic paperwork. He asked about our marriage, and about his son in Mexico. And he asked about tattoos. Before they even got warmed up, he said: “Congratulations, your visa is approved.”
They tell you after the interview that it SHOULD take 3-5 days for the passport to be returned, with the day following the interview counting as Day 1. Some forms say 3-10 days. I have no idea how ours came on Day 2. My guess is that they send several days of interviews back in the same batch/truckload because CG was picking up his passport at the same time as people who had interviewed the previous Thursday and Friday.
Crossing the border:
It’s far cheaper to fly into El Paso than Juarez. I had been planning to Uber to the border, cross on foot, and then Uber to the hotel. But in El Paso, I picked up that Uber can be unreliable on the other side, and cell service can be spotty. I heard that if you do end up calling a taxi, they will need to be paid in pesos, and you have no guarantee that it will be one of the “safe taxis.”
It turns out there are actually taxis at the airport that will take you across the border and deliver you at your hotel in Juarez. That’s what I did. It was expensive ($85), but that was understandable because the driver said it was going to take him 2 hours to cross back into the US. But I was glad to be in a taxi once I saw the other side. It was more crumbling and empty than I had pictured, not a bustling town.
We also took a taxi back across to the US. (That was a surprise because I wasn’t expecting to find Mexican taxi drivers who could cross.) But our “safe taxi” driver had a permit and said he takes people across from the consulate hotels every day. Taxi drivers all use a website that shows in real time how long the wait is at each bridge, so we were able to choose the shortest wait. At the border, he showed us where to wait in line, and waited with us until it was time to move the taxi and meet us on the other side. That ride was only $60.
The Homeland Security building on the border is not large. There is the main waiting room, very similar to the DMV. This is where CG had to check in and present his sealed envelope while I waited. When they opened the envelope, he said it looked like our whole waiver was inside. It was over an inch thick, front and back. The officer asked a few questions, including when our second anniversary would be. They explained the temporary (2 years) green card again and asked if he had paid the Green Card fee. Luckily we had paid it at the hotel and printed out the receipt before we left. (It wasn’t required… others hadn’t paid and still got through… but the officer liked seeing that it was already done.) She put a few more stamps on the visa and that was that.
Then we handed passports to the officer at the checkpoint, put suitcases through the scanner, and got back into our taxi on the other side. We were inside for maybe 30 minutes. (I’m sure the time can increase when there are more people waiting in the waiting room, and when the line of cars is much longer.)
Both times we crossed at the Free Bridge/Bridge of Cordoba. Going to Mexico, I was glad not to walk across, because there was a whole lot of nothing on the other side. But returning to the US, it would have been fine to take a taxi to the border and walk across. As soon as you pass the checkpoint, there is a parking lot on the other side with US taxis waiting. But those taxis are charging $35 from the border to the airport, so it seemed worth an extra $25 for door to door service.