Today I am airing a snippet of our private and painful conversations. You know, the ones punctuated with helpless hmmms, pregnant pauses and resigned silence. The conversations are about Papers. no, not the ones creating a mess on the table but the one creating a mess in your life. Their government names are work permit, H-1, F-1, J-1, work permit, student visa, green card, landed etc. I bear the psychological welts that come with chasing visas and being out of status, but I also know so many people whose lives hang on the hinges of their immigration status.
To the lucky few who carry the passport of the G7 and are oblivious to this dilemma, a visa is not the corporate company that levies 19.99% interest on unpaid debt. It is a much sought after stamp in your passport which permits you to travel to a country or work/study in a country. The importance of this stamp was so etched in my pschye that in college if there was a fire alarm, I would never leave the building until my well hidden passport was in my hand. “Oh Amma you are so funny” they chuckled. Little did they know that it was no laughing matter. I knew that my visa-decorated passport was a prized possession because across embassies in Accra, Nairobi and New Delhi, people line up every day to find out if their visa applications have been approved. Not everybody is escaping abject poverty to leach on the luxuries of the developed world. Some are coming as international students, others are coming for holidays, others have been recruited by foreign companies to work for them. Without fail, a good number of these applicants will be rejected on some frivolous grounds. Recently, a relative of my was about to embark on an all expense paid trip across the world. The Canadian Embassy denied his visa because ‘he had little reason to return.’ “What?” He retorted, ” I have travelled world and I now live and work in Ghana.” “Well you have very little net worth?” Yes, because they are 24 years old! Would you expect a 20 something year old Canadian to have a house and 2 cars?
Out of the ones who finally make it across the pond, some live comfortably, others have returned to their home countries, as for the rest, a turn of unfortunate events has transformed them into ‘illegal aliens’. Get to know them and you will acknowedge that the life of an ‘illegal alien’ is burdensome and their problems are plentiful and painful. Some created the problem by not leaving before their status expired, many are true victims of their circumstances. They are out of status because their employer assured them that they would help them complete their work permit but later decided that they could not. Others have seen their work permit expire, but because of the current job market, they are unable to renew it. Some are seeking political asylum, others came on a student visa but because of the job market, have not been able to find a job to get a work permit and be in status. There are those who are without legal immigration status because their parents brought them here when they were mere toddlers and with the expiration of the parent’s visa, all are out of status.
To rectify the issue, people pay thousands of dollars to marry someone with a permanent residence status. It is supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement which turns sour when the ‘legal’ party decides to take advantage of the ‘illegal’ one. They milk them for additional miscellaneous expenses such as medical bills, exorbitant phone bills, cable and other utility bills. The ‘illegal’ one suffers silently, only to find out that the person is no longer eligible to file for them because the ‘legal’ one stopped working months ago. Serves them right you might say. These are people who have broken the law and deserve deportation or any other consequence that befalls them. Very few can relate to an immigrant’s private pain cause they end up losing more than they bargained for. As relationships crumble and self esteem drops, some pack up and return home, others keep waiting for immigration reform or a miracle.
When you are out of status, your daily prayer is that something tragic does not happen back home to confront you with these morbid options: Do I go home to pay my last respect to my loved one and risk not gaining re-entry to my source of bread and butter or do I stay back and always carry the guilt of not being a pall bearer to one so deserving… These are only a few of the daily decisions that hammer through the minds of an ‘illegal alien’. Before you judge them, walk a mile in their shoes and you just might respect them.