Somerset family campaigns to reunite with grandmother“We’ve been married for 38 years this April and this is the first time I’ve been without my wife for so long.” Saleem Francis sat in the living room of his family’s house in Somerset. Beside him on the couch was a framed picture of his wife, Naseem.
By: By Julia Ybarra-Young, Hudson Star-Observer
“We’ve been married for 38 years this April and this is the first time I’ve been without my wife for so long.”
Saleem Francis sat in the living room of his family’s house in Somerset.
Beside him on the couch was a framed picture of his wife, Naseem. He is a quiet man, slight in frame and dark in looks. A native of Pakistan, he immigrated to the United States a year ago but Naseem was not able to accompany him.
That’s not for lack of trying. They both applied for visas at the same time. They had traveled to the United States several times in the past to visit two of their grown children: Michael and Bernard Francis. Both men are married to American women and live in Somerset.
In keeping with the traditional Pakistani culture, the families live together in the same house built exclusively for that purpose; Bernard lives with his wife, Jessica, and their two children with one on the way, in the upstairs portion of the house. Michael, his wife and child live in the separate apartment downstairs.
The main floor is reserved for Saleem and Naseem, when she finally arrives from Rawalpindi.
Saleem was approved for his visa within a few weeks of the initial interview on Sept. 6, 2007. He was given six months to get his affairs in order before the visa expired. Naseem interviewed for permanent residence (green card) the same day as her husband. Her application was approved — pending administrative processing.
Nineteen months later, her case is still in administrative processing.
It’s not the Pakistani side — it’s the U.S. and going through the background check that is the problem, said Jessica Francis, wife of Bernard and daughter-in-law to Naseem.
The family did not imagine that it would be over a year and Naseem would still not be in the United States. Saleem said leaving his wife behind in March 2008 was one of the most difficult decisions he’s had to make.
I was waiting for my wife’s visa and finally I had to be leaving, Saleem said. If I gave up my visa, I would have to start the process all over again.
Plus she didn’t want him to stay, Bernard added. Then there would be two members cut off from the family.
Bernard explained that family is a very important unit in the Pakistani culture. Multi-generation houses are common, and in the traditional society, women need a male in the family to take care of them.
In that culture, it is very difficult for single women to get out and get jobs unless they are highly educated, Saleem explained. It’s almost impossible.
Her children and husband are out of the country, Bernard said. Women aren’t allowed to live by themselves, it’s considered improper. So she had to move in with her widowed mother, divorced sister and her sister’s 19-year-old daughter.
Like many other homemakers her age, Naseem did not learn how to read or write very well. Because of her lack of education, she is unable to get a job. Thus, her husband uses the money he makes from working at the Somerset BP station to send to her. Bernard, Michael and their three siblings living in Australia and the Netherlands send her money as well.
Whatever they need, all of us try to come up with it, Bernard said. These women are basically alone.
Even more so that they are Christian in a predominately Islamic culture. Bernard said that there is still some discrimination against Christians in that part of Pakistan.
There are quite a few instances of open discrimination where Christian villages are burned down and raided, Bernard said. She is living in an area that is lower class, people are not that educated and more zealous and fundamental.
Saleem said he keeps in touch with his wife at least once a week, but the waiting is taking its toll. Her family described her as a strong and loving person, very devoted to her family. However, she is anxious to join them and become a U.S. citizen so she can practice her faith in peace and ultimately bring her mother and sister over.
According to Jessica, Naseem must be in the country for five years before she can apply for U.S. citizenship. Only then could she apply for her mother and sister to emigrate.
When she was 19 years old she left her family’s house and got married, Naseem said. She went into her own kingdom for 37 years with her husband and children - all the support she needed was there. Now she’s had to go back to her mom’s house and that is not easy. She is always depressed and suffering from anxiety.
While waiting for her visa to be approved by the U.S., Naseem cannot apply for any other time of visa, such as a six-month visitor visa like she had done in the past. There are no legal means for her to travel to the United States.
Once a person’s visa is already in process, she can’t apply for another one, Saleem said. It not safe enough for me to go back either.
The family has met with representatives from Sen. Herb Kohl’s office several times to try to move things along.
As soon as I arrived here I approached the senator’s office, Saleem said. But we got the answer that it’s going through the state of process and don’t know how long it will take.
Jessica has assumed the role of spokesperson for the family’s campaign and has placed numerous calls to the State Department and United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, as well as keeping in touch with Sen. Kohl’s office. She has also consulted with immigration lawyers to see what else the family can do.
Other than ask the legislators to intervene on our behalf, which we’ve done, there is little else we can do, Jessica said.
So they have started a petition called End the Insanity and Save Naseem. The petitions are located at various Somerset businesses and are circulating online. They ask people to contact their senator’s office, be it on the Minnesota or Wisconsin side, with Naseem’s case number of ISL 2006-848-017.
What we request is for a legislator to make some noise about this issue, the petition said. All senators and congressmen have staff that works with constituents to help them with federal offices. We need for them to be contacting the State Department, the FBI (where the name check backlog resides), and the Islamabad consulate. There must be accountability on the part of the USCIS, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Naseem is a Christian grandmother of three and is not a threat to the United States she has followed all the immigration laws and processes, the petition states.
Contact information for Sen. Kohl is www.kohl.senate.gov or you can write or fax a letter to the attention of Laura Ortiz (the one in charge of immigration cases) at Sen. Kohl’s Milwaukee office, 310 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 950, Milwaukee WI 53203. Phone number is (414) 297-4451 and fax number is (414) 297-4455.
For Minnesota, visit Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Web site for contact information at www.klobuchar.senate.gov.
We just need someone to listen, Saleem said.
Bernard said that when his mother does get to the United States, he believes she will want to take some classes, practice her faith at St. Anne’s Church and enjoy being back with her family.
She loves it here, Bernard said. Just being able to take walks freely and be openly Christian. She loves America and thinks it’s a great and noble country.
Naseem had traveled to the United States several times before, the last time was on a six-month visa a few years ago to help out with her first granddaughter, Sophia Neha Francis.
She got here a few weeks after Sophia was born, Jessica recalled. She was very close to her; whenever Sophia would cry, she would pick her up.
Jessica said they are all hoping Naseem will be here for the birth of her fourth grandchild in October.
That would be a miracle.