Getting Back and Getting Going

I’m back in range again.  Now all I have to do is get into gear here.   Easier said than done, perhaps.   I think for the moment I will do but a brief post on something that struck me as I as coming home. 

I had been in Europe.   As we got on the plane to return to the US crew members handed us US Customs forms.   According to the instructions, you need to fill out one form per family unit.  That’s if you are travelling with “immediate” family.  

Now I grant you it was a long and tiring day of travel.   But this instruction seemed potentially perplexing to me.  Who is part of your immediate family and what is your family unit?   And why is the form using this language?   What is it they really mean to be getting at?   I take it that a married couple living together would need but one form.  How about a couple that was not married but lived together?   Or two people–not a couple–who lived together?   The last would constitute a household, I think, but not fall within the meaning of “immediate family.”  

I’ve wandered off my narrow topic here–if I let the blog stray into broader topics, like the ambiguity of the term “family” I’m afraid I’ll lose focus.   And lots of people have written lots of interesting things about the many ways in which “family” is deployed, whether in government regulations or more commonplace settings.  (The family membership at the local gym–who is that available to?)  

But you can see that it does have something to do with parentage as well.   If an unmarried cohabiting couple (male/female or same sex) is travelling with a child legally related to one member of the couple but not to the other, how many forms need to be filled out?   If a lesbian couple produces adoption papers showing that both women are parents to the child, can they then use a single form?   What if one woman is (assertedly?) a de facto parent?  

You can attribute my confusion to jet-lag if you like (and it’s probably not unrelated), but it does bring me back to the question of what the customs folks mean to be getting at.   I don’t suppose they really care about the intricacies of legal parentage–I cannot think of why they would.   I think this is one of those places where it would be helpful to articulate what the point of having some people use separate forms while other people can combine for one form.  If I understood that, I think I’d know what to do. 

I promise a little more substance here tomorrow.  Just getting back in the swing of things here.  I’ll also try to look through comments posted (or pending) in my absence.  Thanks for your patience.  It is nice–very nice–to be back!


8 responses to “Getting Back and Getting Going

  1. Welcome back. Funny, just recently someone complained to me about the same form, and their attempt as an unmarried couple to share a form…:

  2. Thanks.

    One thing I wonder about is whether different custom’s agents give the term different meanings. Or maybe the meaning varies from one port of entry to another. For instance, would a (married) same-sex couple be allowed to file on one form if the came back to the US via Boston but not if they came via Dulles (which is in Virginia, which will not recognize any legal relationships between a same-sex couple.) Or maybe there really is a standard meaning, but somehow I’m doubtful.

  3. You know marriage is something people do when they want to get all tangled up with each other’s business. Being married makes it damn difficult to break up – that’s why lots of people just live together, so they can walk away without being legally tied to their former partner, so they can try and keep an entire record collection together. So no roommates lovers and friends do not meet the commonly understood definition of family. People can ACT like a family, even be closer and happier than if they were real family but in the end they are not family, its not real. I have a brother like this – a very dear friend who has been there for me at least as much as my own brother. We introduce ourselves as brother and sister, this has gotten sticky when people at my work ultimately found out that he was not my brother. I looked like a liar, because I guess I was, it may be how I PERCEIVE the relationship to be, but it is not TRUE. My daughter calls him uncle and I think she is starting to understand that I have a real brother as well as a brother from another mother (translate good friend)

    Come on you know what they mean by immediate family.

    • I’m not sure that’s a universal perception of marriage. I think people sometimes get married having relatively little understanding of what they are undertaking. (Think Britanny Spears at 4:00 am in Las Vegas.) But I’ll accept your general point for the moment. Nevertheless I don’t know what they mean by immediate family, partly because I don’t know why they need to know. If I were travelling with an adult brother (hypothetically–I’m an only child) who did not live with me then I assume two forms would be needed for sure. What about it my adult brother lived in my house? And if my adult brother and his wife lived in my house, is she my immediate family? And if he wasn’t married to her but they had a child who was legally related to both of them?

      One thing perhaps this raises–I think when one is a child one’s siblings are surely part of immediate family but I’m not sure that stays true when one grows up. After all, the model is one marries/partners and starts one’s own family at which point your immediate family and not the one you grew up with.

      All of these are fine questions, but I have no idea how they relate to whatever the customs folks are after. Do they want a person who is legally resposible for all the others included on the same form? (I’m not sure what exactly that would mean in terms of outcome.) Or do they really just want one person who can speak for all those on the forms, in which case long-term couples ought to use one form.

  4. When in doubt, fill out separate forms. Saves the time and trouble of possibly having to do it while holding up the line 🙂 Welcome back!

  5. There is a more serious aspect to crossing borders nowadays, than just having to fill out forms. For an increasing number of countries (including Canada and Mexico), you can’t enter the country with your children, unless you can prove that the children are yours, and if you travel alone, that the other parent granted his or hers permission for the travel. This is happening because of the increasing frequency of international child abductions. You are “guilty” until you prove yourself innocent.

    My children (back when they were still children!) were frequently interrogated at the Canadian-US border, because their grandparents were ‘suspected’ of being kidnappers. Brave new world!

    • True indeed, and especially true at the US crossings into Canada and Mexico (in my experience.) I think this speaks to the power of parentage. If I’m a legal parent I can take my child where I want and allow them to see (or not see) whoever I choose. Except with regard to another legal parent–I cannot interfere with the child’s relationship with another legal parent absent court action. So they worry when one parent is travelling across the border with a child–it might be a way to disrupt the child’s relationship with another parent. If the second parent has died, you’d best travel with both the child’s birth certificate and the other parent’s death certificate (certified copies, of course).

      This, by the way, is one of the reasons getting a new birth certificate on adoption is important. It’s true, of course, that the border officers could read an adoption decree and figure out who the current legal parents of a child are. But (again, speaking from what is obviously limited experience and anecdote) border officers are not willing to study legal documents. They want a single page certified certificate. It’s not that one cannot imagine a simple certificate of legal parentage that might serve this purpose–that would be a way to do it. But it doesn’t exist right now (as far as I am aware) and so what gets used is a birth certificate.

      I say all this because there has been lenghty debate in the past about the honest of birth certificates and I just want to tie this comment in to that debate. I’m not adding anything new, I don’t think.

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