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Love Conquers All, Even Bureaucracy

Jewish-Muslim marriage frustrated by immigration policy.

Adina Friedman of Vienna participated last spring in what is a rare experience anywhere in today's world: a Jewish-Muslim wedding. What's more, she was the bride. She became Adina Friedman Hadji when she married Moroccan Mustapha Hadji in his home country in March. Now, nine and a half months later, Hadji is finally on his way to the U.S.

A grad student teaching conflict resolution at George Washington and George Mason universities, Friedman Hadji had visited Morocco in the summer of 2005 with a former student, and there she met the former student's brother. "We had an instant connection," she said. She returned to Morocco several times, and nine months later, the couple was married.

She spent much of last summer in Morocco and in Israel, where she has family and a dual citizenship, and Hadji came to Israel for an interfaith wedding ceremony. Although this second ceremony was not recognized by Israel, it succeeded in bringing together Jews, Muslims and Christians for a night of revelry. This was "a unique sight anytime in Israel," Friedman Hadji said in an e-mail, "but even more so in the height of a war that was going on between Israel and Lebanon."

However, the relationship was not to overcome all international boundaries so easily. Shortly after the couple's official wedding, Friedman Hadji filed for both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for her new husband, she said in a later interview. The nonimmigrant visa is intended to allow a foreign spouse of an American citizen to stay in the U.S. while the immigrant visa is processed.

Friedman Hadji said she had been given the impression that such a visa was expected to take three or four months to process. However, her husband was not able to get an interview scheduled with the U.S. consulate in Casablanca until the end of October, nearly seven months after Friedman Hadji had contacted the State Department to begin the process, and the visa was just granted last week.

Friedman Hadji was visiting her husband in Morocco when he got a call from the U.S. consulate, inviting him to get his passport stamped. This came after months of frustration for the couple, during which Friedman Hadji spent much of her time writing letters and making phone calls.

WHEN HER HUSBAND had first arrived at the consulate for his initial interview in October, Friedman Hadji said, two papers had already been printed out and sat on the desk where he was interviewed. One was stamped "Approved." The other said his visa would require "further administrative processing." After his interview, he was handed the latter.

Hadji's application had been deferred under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which is invoked if an application is incomplete or otherwise out of compliance with regulations, or if further review is needed. Friedman Hadji said she was unable to find out why the application had not been accepted, where it was in the review process or when the matter would be resolved.

"They just keep saying, 'When it's done, we'll contact him to stamp his passport,'" she said while she was still waiting for the visa to be granted. "Basically, 'Don't call us, we'll call you.'"

When Friedman Hadji said she thought the problem with her husband's application was "that he has a Middle Eastern last name," she just might have come closer to the truth than she realized.

"Much of the visa system is name-based," said Steve Royster, spokesman for Consular Affairs at the State Department. "If someone has a name that is related to a problematic case, it could take some time to distinguish one from the other."

Although he could not comment on the particular case, Royster said several factors could prompt a review of an application. If the interviewer had any concerns about the applicant, a background check might be requested. There could be questions about the legitimacy of the relationship. Particularly in a case involving a visa for a spouse, he said, as a general rule, "a definite relationship needs to be established, because it's a path to permanent residence."

Citizens of countries deemed to be "state sponsors of terrorism" may require additional processing, he said, but that list is only about half a dozen countries long and does not include Morocco. Section 221(g) "is kind of a catch-all," he said.

"HE'S TOO YOUNG to have any kind of a background," Friedman Hadji said of her husband. "That's the only other thing that could raise some eyebrows, is that he's younger." Friedman Hadji is 40, and her husband is 25. "But it's not anybody's business, and if it was the other way around, no one would care," she pointed out.

Over the last several months, said Friedman Hadji, she met with U.S. Rep. Tom Davis' (R-11) staff, but she said she was frustrated to find that Davis' office was getting the same response she had gotten herself — that a review was underway and her husband would be notified when it was completed.

David Marin, Davis' chief of staff, said the congressman's office had hundreds of such ongoing cases, and he noted that, from his experience, the span of two months or so that had elapsed since Hadji's interview would be "in no way out of the ordinary."

Royster agreed. "Since October is not an extremely long delay," he said, adding that it was "inconvenient, certainly." Royster said the nine total months since Friedman Hadji filed for the visa seemed long, but he noted, "We don't do any processing until someone shows up and has an interview."

"Our aim is always to provide visas and information as quickly as possible," he said. "It's in everyone's best interest. But if more time is required, we're going to take that time."

Meanwhile, as she waited to see if her husband's visa would be granted, Friedman Hadji lamented, "Our lives are in limbo. We cannot plan. We cannot find full-time employment. We cannot start a family."

She was on her eighth trip to Morocco when the visa was granted. "The trouble we go through for this, you'd have to be really nuts to do it for something that's not authentic," she said.

Her husband will be joining her in Vienna "hopefully next week," she said upon her return. In the coming weeks, the couple will be working to get Hadji a work permit and a driver's license and "get him accustomed to the area," said Friedman Hadji, noting that he has never visited the U.S. before.

"We'll see how the culture shock treats him," she said.