Maybe Camryn Bynum's life really is a movie.
You'd be hard pressed to find more of a storybook ending than the one that recently reunited the Vikings safety with his wife, Lalaine. Last Sunday she finally got to see her husband play for the first time in person, capping a yearlong effort to bring her over from her native Philippines.
"We made it out here. It's a movie," an ecstatic Bynum said after kissing Lalaine on the sidelines at U.S. Bank Stadium in a video he posted to social media. "Thanks to y'all, wife is here."
All of Minnesota was rooting for the couple to have this moment, but not everyone understood it. Why would it take so long for Lalaine to receive a visa to be with her husband, a U.S. citizen born in California?
For those of us who are still close to our families' immigration story, we thank the charismatic Bynum — heart-on-his-sleeve and 100% human — for putting a face on an age-old story of love, separation and bureaucracy.
I'm one of those grateful for Bynum. It took my grandfather, an American citizen who ran a "Chinese hand laundry" in suburban Chicago, several years to bring his wife and two children from Hong Kong to the United States.
At the time, only 105 Chinese immigrants were allowed to enter the country per year, which was an improvement from the decades in which Chinese laborers were excluded entirely. One of the laundry's loyal customers was a federal judge, Joseph Sam Perry, whose shirts were cleaned and ironed by my grandfather.
According to family lore, one day over small talk, Judge Perry asked my grandpa if he had a family. "Yes, but they're still in Hong Kong," responded my grandfather, who'd been trying to bring them over through the proper channels for a decade.
"Let me see what I can do," Perry said.
Within 30 days, my grandmother, uncle and dad were on a plane bound for Chicago. When they landed, it was the first time my 10-year-old father had laid eyes on his own dad.
Years later, in 1958, Perry served as a character witness in my father and uncle's applications to become citizens. The Chicago Tribune covered the ceremony in a story headlined "Judge Swears by His Chinese Laundryman." We grandkids always wonder if our family would ever have been reunited without the involvement of Judge Perry, who was "satisfied, apparently, with the way his shirts are laundered," the Tribune reported.
These stories are all around us, and most don't find an audience in the newspaper or on "Monday Night Football."
Veena Iyer also heard echoes of her parents' immigration tale in the Bynums'.
In 1974, Iyer's father, then a U.S. permanent resident, petitioned for his wife to join him in Minnesota. It took a few months for her to arrive from India. If she had tried to make the journey today, current backlogs would have kept the couple apart for years rather than months.
Iyer said she appreciated Bynum for lending his celebrity to a well-worn narrative for immigrant families. Everything about the couple's case sounded straightforward and typical, she added.
"Yes, this is how the system works, but should the system work this way?" said Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. "The issues he is raising is one that so many Americans and green card holders experience every day."
Just a few weeks ago, Bynum leveraged his national platform to draw attention to the couple's together-but-apart situation. After a dazzling performance against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 23, he asked the public's help in a nationally televised postgame interview and on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Bynum disclosed publicly that Lalaine had been denied tourist visas twice over roughly 18 months and also applied for a spousal visa. Legal experts say it's customary to be denied tourist visas if the applicant is intending to immigrate to the U.S.
Bynum, whose roots run deep in this country, found the process "shocking," said immigration attorney Mai Neng Moua. "He was born here and grew up here, and his mom, I think, is third-generation Filipina [American]," she told me.
"In my line of work, I deal with immigrants, and they're very well-accustomed to it," Moua said of the delays. "It's different when dealing with the general public. They're more surprised. The processing time is not short by any means."
The Bynums married in March. The average wait time for a spousal visa is about 16.5 months, according to Boundless Immigration, which helps immigrants receive visas and citizenships. (The period is much longer for foreign nationals who are married to U.S. green card holders; in those cases, some couples may need to wait seven years or more.)
Bynum has shared that the offices of U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar had been assisting in his wife's case. Smith's office confirmed to me that it was in touch with the family initially in February and wrote the U.S. Embassy in support of the visa application. A Klobuchar spokesperson noted that the senator's office assists thousands of constituents every year in similar cases.
Good for the Bynums for taking this route. Congressional staff on both sides of the aisle are often knowledgeable and can help immigrants and their families navigate the bureaucracy.
"Having elected officials and their staffs address these issues is critical, whether it's Cam Bynum or anyone else," Iyer said. "We go to our elected officials to say, 'This system isn't working. I need your help to make the system work.' "
In the end, it worked for Camryn and Lalaine Bynum, but the system should be fixed so other families can experience their own storybook reunions without having to wait an eternity. Bring these spouses home.
On Nov. 5, Bynum and family members gave Lalaine a hero's welcome when she got off the plane. He was ready with balloons, roses and a sign that said, "I'm here to pick up the love of my life."
Now that they're together, Bynum observed that his phone usage is down 58%.
"I'm just super grateful to have her here. We don't have to FaceTime anymore," he told reporters. "Now that she's here, and here to stay, it's going to continue to get better."