How I almost got denied a US Green Card after admitting polygamy

Growing up in a Polygamy Household 

Growing up in West Africa, my dad has two wives whom I both love and cherish equally. Our family is big and I have 13 siblings, we all love each other as brothers and sisters. 

Like many other families in my country, we would all eat together as a family and everyone is expected to be home at a specific time for lunch and dinner. The general rule is that – if any of the kids miss the launch due to playful activists then the individual would have to wait until super to eat. Luckily for me, whenever I missed lunch hour, my second mum would secretly take me to her room and serve me food. She would then ask me not to tell my mum or other siblings because they wouldn’t be happy that I am getting special treatment.

My Trip to the United States

I graduated from high school with good grades and my half-brother who was at that time a very successful businessman sent me to the US for further studies. In the US, I met Jessica during my first semester in college and we dated for a while before entering into a relationship. At that time, I was on a F-1 Visa(international student visa) thus I was restricted from working off-campus. However, I had a campus part-time job as a math tutor – earning small pocket money to pay other personal expenses. 

Jessica at that time was studying to be a nurse and I was majoring in civil engineering. Unfortunately, after my first year in college, my brother couldn’t afford to pay for my tuition anymore. His business was grossly affected during the 1990’s Sierra Leone civil unrest. Therefore, I had to quit school and started hustling in the streets of New York City, selling DVDs and fashion accessories. In a space of six months, I was able to have my own store in downtown Manhattan through the connection of a fellow countryman.

Photo credit: Hiroko Masuike

At this time, Jessica graduated and passed her New York State nursing exam and became an RN(Registered Nurse). All this while, we never moved in together and I chose not to due to cultural and religious reasons. After her graduation, Jessica was ready to be my wife and move in with me – this I know because she eventually voiced it out.

On a beautiful summer weekend, I decided to take her to Atlantic City and it was there that I proposed to her. We got married a month later in the courthouse and in the evening we celebrated with friends and family members at an African lounge in Harlem.

My Green Card Interview

Few months later, we were scheduled for an interview at the Federal Plaza in downtown New York. The immigration lawyer that I hired was also from West Africa, he was referred to me by a friend. 

Jessica was a bit nervous on the day of the interview because this was all new to her. This was my first time as well but as an immigrant, I had more ideas about it than her, so I was very calm and relaxed.

Exactly at 13:00, the immigration officer called out our name and he ushered us inside a small office – me and my wife were seated adjacently and our lawyer was sitting behind us. The lawyer is only allowed to observe and nothing more. The Interviewing Officer was a white lady with stern looks. 

Most of the questions were directed to my wife and she answered all of them smoothly because she knows everything about me. After bombarding Jessica with so many questions, she then turned to me and started asking me about my previous life back home. 

What would come next took me off guard and I never expected the question. While jutting down something on the file before her, she said to me, “Do you believe in polygamy?”

So many things were running in my mind at that very moment, I was a little bit agitated by the question and out of frustration I answered, “Yes madam I believe in polygamy’. At this point, I wasn’t scared of failing the interview because, in the worst-case scenario, I will just go back home and start a business. The Interviewer then said to me and with a strong tone, “Do you know polygamy is illegal in this country and you can’t live here if you decided to practice it. Polygamy is totally against our values, so we do not accept it over here.”

I was frustrated with her with but I spoke softly, “Madam, I never said I was going to practice polygamy in the US. Believing in polygamy or being a polygamy is not the same as practicing. I will never practice polygamy in the US and I will never marry a second while married to Jessica – she is my everything.” She looked at me and nodded but didn’t say anymore in related to polygamy. She advised my wife to be careful – that some immigrants would get married in the US despite having a wife back home.

The interview ended after that intense moment and she promised us that we will receive a reply in the email within weeks or a month. However, we waited for 18 months before my green card was mailed to me. 

We celebrated that night and weeks later I took her to the Islands and eventually we traveled to my country for a month. As customary, my family organized a traditional wedding for us – Jessica was so happy during the ceremony which lasted for three days. 

In the US, we bought a house but decided to wait until Jesica finished her master’s program to start having kids. Our marriage was beautiful in the early years but things started changing in later years. 

Right after her master’s program, she was moved to the Intensive Care Unit and her experience there started turning her more towards religion. She and a few of her coworkers started going to Jehovah Witness Church on a regular basis – there was one few blocks from her workplace.  

Photo Credit: ZeeZee Ihe-Okuneye

Religion had never been an issue for us and I never conditioned her to convert to a Muslim. However, as Jessica became more devoted to the Jehovah Kingdom, our religious difference became more visible. We would often debate on how to raise our future kids and the conversation never goes well… Eventually, Jessica and I decided to end our marriage amicably.

I later moved back to Africa, started a business and remarried. My new wife, Amina is a senior banker and I met her two years after I moved back to Africa. We had our first kid one year after we got married.

After few years of our marriage and due to customary family responsibility – i married my second wife. Amina was in full support of it and like my father’s family – we all live together in one big happy family unit.

Editor’s note: For the privacy of the author and all other characters in the story, the editor adopted pseudo names to represent people and places before publishing.

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