By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “You need to trust in God. God will help you,” Immigration Counselor Gricelda Garnica told Rodney Swanson last fall. He had all but given up hope of being reunited with his wife, who lives in Vietnam.
But a glimmer of hope emerged after The Catholic Messenger published a story about Swanson’s efforts to be reunited with his wife before he would undergo essential neck surgery. Garnica received a few inquiries about co-sponsorship of Swanson’s wife, Thuy Nguyen, so that she could travel to the United States to be with her husband. The couple married in 2009 and resided in Vietnam until he had to return to the U.S. in 2014. He intended to return to Vietnam, but his passport was revoked because of overdue child support in the U.S.
The American-born citizen and Army veteran began to experience more physical pain and numbness in his body that would require a multi-level discectomy and fusion in his neck. He wanted his wife to be able to care for him after surgery so that he wouldn’t have to go to a nursing home for recovery. A medical emergency visa and a humanitarian visa specifically for the surgery and recovery were denied. A co-sponsor was the last hope Swanson had.
Amy Jackson of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport decided this was something she wanted to do, after careful consideration. “Why not,” she said after meeting the couple she helped reunite April 20 in the Diocese of Davenport’s Immigration Department office. “It’s something I can and want to do.”
Jackson understood the challenges of the immigration system, having gone through it with a family member many years ago.
All parties agreed that with the help of God, the reunion was possible. Nguyen, who is Buddist, said “God is for everyone. I keep him in my heart and pray every night.” Nguyen and Swanson hugged and shed tears during the meeting with Jackson. Nguyen worried about her English-speaking skills, but Jackson reassured her, “You speak English very well.” Nguyen learned English in Vietnam at a previous workplace.
After Jackson talked with Garnica about co-sponsor responsibilities, she completed the necessary paperwork and Garnica sent it to the appropriate agencies. Once approved, an interview for Nguyen was set up at the American Embassy in Vietnam. All paperwork pertaining to her trip to the U.S. was sent to the embassy for review.
On March 13, Nguyen had her final interview. After she answered some questions, the embassy official in Vietnam welcomed her to the United States. “I ran like a kid and called my husband,” Nguyen said. “I bought her airplane ticket right away to come here,” Swanson said. He and his wife were reunited April 12 and now reside in Galesburg, Ill.
In the few days before meeting Jackson, Nguyen was overwhelmed, but excited to be here. She was still adjusting to the time change, cooler weather and getting her appetite back. She tried and likes some American foods. While in the Quad Cities, the couple picked up Vietnamese spices and foods for traditional meals she wants to prepare. She misses her family, but hopes to have them visit.
Garnica said Nguyen has a lawful permanent resident card that entitles her to almost all of the same privileges as a U.S. citizen, but she cannot vote. Her permanent resident card is good for 10 years. After three years she can apply to become a U.S. citizen if she chooses. Now that the couple is reunited, Swanson has appointments with the Veterans Administration clinic in Galesburg. They will work with doctors in Iowa City where Swanson has been treated the past few years. Surgery in Iowa City has not been set.
Nguyen worries about her husband’s pain and is hopeful the surgery will be sooner than later. “I am here to take care of him.”