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...
Time: 3-6 months
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.
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.
Fine. Do it again, fingerprints attached this time. Now we advance to...
Time: 3 months
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.
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.
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.
Time: 2-3 weeks
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.
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.
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.
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?
Time: 4-6 weeks
Once you've submitted your medical documents and waited around for another couple of weeks, you will advance to being interviewed face-to-face at the local American consulate in your home country. Depending on the location of the consulate, this could mean a ten-minute drive or (more likely) a plane ride to another city.
Or, if you're like me and were already in America as a tourist, you can simply go to a nearby office-
-Oh, wait. No. You'll need to fly out of America, to the other side of the planet, to meet with the Americans in Australia.
But at least you'll have plenty of excitement when you get there, though! Because being interviewed for an American immigration visa is a bit like a job interview, if job interviews scanned you at the door for weapons, made you go up a secret elevator flanked by two guards, confiscated your bag and cell phone, sat you in a holding room clutching your bundle of documents until they called your name, and then barked inappropriate intimate questions at you through bullet-proof glass. In other words, not unless you want to work for Apple.
Once inside, you will have to persuade the unsympathetic American consulate worker glaring at you from behind the thick glass that you are worthy to enter their country. Since I'd been staying in the US for three months and only came back to Australia for this conversation, it mostly consisted of me trying to convince her that I had not, in fact, been radicalized by Al Qaeda on the plane ride out of Los Angeles. She seemed skeptical.
The good news about this interview, though, is that it's usually the last step before you're actually physically allowed into the US on an immigrant visa. But alas, it's not all over that easily.
If you're on immigrating to the US because of marriage, like I was, you and your American partner get to have another interview once you get back to the States, in order to prove that you're really in love. Before this interview, I thought that "proving love" would be something either really inappropriate or really cool, like maybe being interrogated by that lie-detecting English guy on TV, who would lean over the table and scream that this wasn't love, and that I didn't know what love was.
But no, proving love the American immigration way is like everything else in the process: submitting paperwork, mostly about things like joint leases and combined checking accounts. Romeo and Juliet would probably have failed this test, because chances are they didn't possess a photocopy of their joint life-insurance policy.
And then there's the questioning. In front of your new spouse, under oath, you are asked if you have ever been involved in a series of common crimes like communism, war crimes or sex trafficking. And in this type of environment, it's really not cool to answer, "Yeah, there was that one massacre when I was working for Fidel Castro back in the 1970's. I forgot to mention it on the application until now."
Furthermore, in order to install into all new immigrants a healthy brand of self-loathing that will render them docile, the interviewer then asks a set of questions which are impossible for anyone who is not Jesus to answer honestly. Among these are "Have you ever broken any laws?" and "Have you ever discriminated against or persecuted anyone because of their race, sex or religious beliefs?"
Answering "yes" to any of these questions will get you back to Step 1, and so of course you perjure yourself. So the next time you meet a legal immigrant to America, keep in mind that if he has ever driven over the speed limit, or pulled a girl's hair in second grade because he liked her, then that man is a filthy, filthy liar.
Time: Approximately one year
Cost: Youthful optimism
As a legal immigrant, it's now almost a year since you submitted your application to join your wife, husband, family or employer in America. The DHS now has a folder on you thicker than Mel Gibson's file of Zionist agents active in Hollywood, containing everything from your birth certificate to the address of the cinema you worked at for a month when you were eighteen. You are a conditional permanent resident, and by now have paid another $1,000 to apply for a green card, and submitted another stuck of documents for that.
By now your American partner no longer trusts his or her government, and is now living in a heavily-armed shack in the woods plastered with pictures of Janet Napolitano with X's scratched across her face in black crayon. Your employer gave up dealing with the paperwork months ago and hired a nice man from Kansas.
You still can't open a bank account, not even a joint one, because the 2001 Patriot Act requires a social security number for the process. You don't have one of those, because the application process is a dark labyrinth in which God has suspended reason and logic, where you will, for instance, be asked to supply a photocopy of a document, and then later told that copying said document is illegal.
At some point, from within a cloud of despair, you'll realize that you could have simply caught a plane from your homeland to Central America, bribed a friendly drug lord to get you across the border, and then paid someone to give you a dead guy's social security number.
That process would have saved you a year of your life, several tons of money, and your sense of trust in the basic competence of the American government and authority in general. Sure, you might be breaking the law. Sure, you might end up dying of thirst in the desert, your bleached bones standing as an ironic symbol of the drawing power of the American dream. But at least none of the drug lords are going to casually pull you aside at the airport and ask you if you've ever been convicted of genocide.
Read more from C. Coville at http://bloodslides.livejournal.com