By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
All Rodney Swanson wants to do is to see his wife before he has major surgery.
The American-born citizen and Army veteran has been working with the Immigration Office of the Diocese of Davenport to help get his wife, Thuy Nguyen of Vietnam, to the U.S. before his surgery. He also would like his wife by his side while he recovers rather than having to stay in a nursing home.
For about a year, Swanson and Immigration Counselor Gricelda Garnica have gathered medical documents and other paperwork required for Nguyen to be by her husband’s side in the U.S.
But the government denied a medical emergency visa and a humanitarian visa specifically for surgery and recovery.
“I just want to at least see my wife one more time before surgery. I want her to take care of me. My other relatives need to work. I can’t ask them to take time off to care for me,” he said holding back tears.
He met his future wife, a Vietnamese woman, online in 2007. “We spoke every morning and night (via cameras on their computers).” Nguyen knew English because of her job buying and selling in Vietnam. In February 2008, Swanson flew to Vietnam where he met Nguyen and her family. “They are very family- oriented in Vietnam,” he said. Three weeks later, the couple announced their engagement and then set a wedding date, at the family’s request.
Swanson returned to work in the United States and sent money to Vietnam for Nguyen and her family to plan for the wedding, scheduled July 23, 2009. Prior to the wedding date, the couple completed the necessary paperwork and payment to ensure that their marriage would be considered legal in Vietnam and the United States. He arrived in Vietnam several weeks before the wedding.
As Swanson’s one-month visa neared expiration, Nguyen’s brother helped Swanson obtain a five-year business visa. He had to check in with police every three months and do paperwork, but this enabled him to stay in Vietnam with his new bride.
He received a monthly disability payment, which helped support the couple. She left her job and tried contract work temporarily. “But we were comfortable with what I had.” From July 2009 to June 2014, the couple resided in Vietnam. Then, a lien was placed against his account because he owed back child support. “That left us with nothing.”
Swanson flew back to the U.S., got a job in Florida and hired an attorney. He hoped to get things resolved and return to Vietnam to be with his wife. But he began to experience health problems and had to resign. He was out of a job and stayed in a veterans’ shelter. “It’s something I had to do. But it was a roof over my head and I had food.” His passport was revoked because of the child support issue, so he cannot fly to Vietnam to see his wife.
Swanson said he did not know for two years that he had a child, but has been making child support payments since he became aware of the fact. His daughter turns 18 this year, but since he owes back child support, he will not be eligible to obtain a passport.
He moved into his brother’s house in Illinois and got set up with the VA clinic in Iowa City where Swanson learned he had four vertebrae that were herniated or crushed. His physical health continues to decline and more of his body goes numb. He moved to the Quad Cities to be closer to the VA clinic. He lost his lease at an apartment last month and is living in a homeless shelter.
“I need surgery or I could lose the use of my legs. My right leg is numb already,” Swanson said closing his eyes. He said he needs to have a multi-level cervical discectomy and fusion in his neck. When he found out he needed surgery, Swanson sought help from the Immigration Office to help get his wife to the U.S. “I just want to see her one more time,” he said with tears going down his cheek.
“He is not seeking to have his wife come and live here,” Garnica said. “I will continue to try to get her here,” she told Swanson during his recent visit to her office. He held his head down, visibly upset. He has contacted U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and appreciates that they have put some effort into helping him. “I want to see my wife. I want my surgery. I want to get a job.”
Garnica is now working on paperwork for an immigrant visa for Nguyen to permanently live in the United States. But Swanson needs proof that his income meets the poverty guidelines. He hasn’t been able to do that because he can’t work, Garnica said. “The solution to this is to find a co-sponsor.”
A co-sponsor would be responsible financially to take care of Nguyen in an emergency. The co-sponsor does not give money to or support Nguyen or her husband. “It’s just a backup plan in case of need.” That backup support would continue until Nguyen becomes a U.S. citizen or is credited with 40 qualifying quarters of work in the U.S. With this visa, Nguyen could live in the United States indefinitely and could travel to her homeland and elsewhere.
Garnica said a co-sponsor would need to provide proof of legal status in the United States: a certificate of naturalization, U.S. birth certificate or U.S. passport, provide income taxes for three years (with W2s) and a statement of employment in addition to a form from the diocesan Immigration Office. Contact her office at (563) 324-1911 for more information.
“You need to trust in God. God will help you,” Garnica told Swanson. “The hope is gone,” he replied.