So You Want to Be an American: 5 Circles of Immigration Hell

Hard core anti-immigration types in places like, say, Arizona, say it's not about racism. It's the fact that the people crossing the border are breaking the law. Sure, America is awesome, but the country lets in a lot of immigrants through nice legal channels, right? Why don't these Mexicans just try it that way?

Well, having gone through immigration myself in 2009 (the legal way), I can tell you right now there's a reason. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying breaking the law is the way to go. But I am saying that when you make the legal pathway to something long, baffling and infuriating enough, many people are going to skip it in favor of the easy option. Even if choosing that option makes them a criminal.

So are you part of the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free as an American? Prepare yourself for...

Step 1: The Application

Time: 3-6 months

Cost: $1,000

As a bright-eyed Australian starting my immigration journey, I looked forward to my dealings with the American government. After all, these guys are powerful enough to run the whole world, right? Surely that whole operation must run pretty smoothly.

Look at how short those lines are!

I studied the instructions using my best American Bureaucracy to English dictionary. I carefully ticked the "no" box on the question asking "Are You A Terrorist?". I accordingly prepared all the pieces of information that the Department of Homeland Security requested: my original birth certificate, proof of citizenship, lists of every address I've ever lived at, details of every employer I've ever worked for, a police check, a dozen passport-sized photos, affidavits, a stack of financial documents. No problem.

I sent it all in with the several hundred dollars of "processing fees" and knew it would take 3-6 months for them to process it.

I was rejected.

It turned out my initial application was returned because, while I had attached a police certificate that proved I didn't have a criminal record, I hadn't attached fingerprints. Apparently, according to the DHS, the Australian police force is not yet advanced enough to have thought of prosecuting crimes using fingerprints. The Americans, therefore, needed a set of prints to make sure I hadn't got away with any crimes that had slipped past my homeland's investigation system, which consists mostly of shoving suspects against walls and yelling "YOU CALL THAT A KNIFE?" until someone confesses.

The Aussie equivalent of Huckleberry Finn.

Fine. Do it again, fingerprints attached this time. Now we advance to...

Step 2: The Fuck-Up

Time: 3 months

Cost: $100-$1,000

When it comes to the American immigration process, there will always be a fuck up. With this much paperwork, this many incomprehensible instructions, and a DHS workforce that apparently spends all its time arranging competitions about which immigrant hopeful sent in the funniest passport-sized photo, this is inevitable.

Oh, France.

But here's the important part: No matter who makes the mistake, it's up to you to solve it.

In my case, the fuck up was performed by a border guard, who forgot to take a piece of paper from my passport which proved I'd left America after an earlier visit and hadn't overstayed my visa. This kind of thing is quite common. Once I figured out what had happened, I frantically collected the mountain of paperwork that would prove that I had indeed returned to my country (credit card records, work transcript, plane ticket stubs, etc) only to find that the office in Kentucky that I sent the proof to would not confirm that it had received this proof for another three months.

Note that this is not the waiting time for them to process the documents and decide whether they're adequate, but the waiting time for somebody to wander into the mail room, pick up the envelope, and confirm that it is in fact there.

"We'll get to reading mail when we're done sitting awkwardly and grinning."

Me, I never heard back from them. To this day, I'm not sure if they ever received the proof. The problem was either sorted out, or the mistake itself was lost in the bureaucratic incompetence, and I'll be suddenly deported eight years from now.

I hope the man who arrests me has a better mustache.

Step 3: The Medical Check

Time: 2-3 weeks

Cost: $1,000

Once your application is in and all fuck ups are sorted out, it's time to start on the medical check, a process that makes sure you're worthy to enter the sterile and disease-free clean zone that is modern America. This check usually consists of a general exam, a chest X-Ray for tuberculosis, a blood test for STDs, and proof of past vaccinations.

"Sorry, but we don't do STD tests on old people. It's icky."

Well, can't complain about that. The last thing America needs is the French wandering in with plague rats nesting in their suitcases. And, okay, there also is the fact that they assume the doctors you have in your filthy koala-infested country have no idea what they're doing so you can only see one of their approved doctors to do the exam. In fact, in my home state of 400,000 square miles and 1.5 million people, there was exactly one doctor deemed trustworthy by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to check me for disease. This means that the sole America-approved doctor, knowing he has a monopoly and you don't have a choice, will charge several hundred dollars to listen to your chest and ask you a couple of health background questions. The only website courageous enough to openly say that Janet Napolitano has Man Hair.

But you can never be too careful when it comes to disease, right? Well, the thing is, at the time I embarked on my medical check, I had already spent three months in America on a "tourist" visit, meaning that I didn't need to apply for a visa or do anything other than show up in LAX with a passport.

During those three months, I'd had ample opportunity to breathe the air, cough on people with my foreign, disease-infested lungs, and share used needles with schoolchildren while bleeding openly into the water supply. Had I wanted to, I could have disappeared inside the borders and stayed on as an illegal, inflicting my unvaccinated self on the country for all time.

Average Foreigner.

Despite this, America was only interested in protecting her citizens from my foreign germs when I actually applied for a visa to immigrate legally. In other words, the socioeconomic class that can actually afford the time and money to pay for the legal immigration process, the ones who are most likely to be healthy, vaccinated and non-consumptive, are the ones whose health and germs America worries most about. Doesn't that make you feel safer?

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