Friday, October 31, 2008

Distraction 4: Memories

Three years ago today – Halloween 2005 – my wife and I, along with our newly-adopted son, found ourselves sitting in the lobby of the US Embassy in Guatemala City. The issue at hand was the approval of our son’s visa, which would finally allow him to travel home with us.

Earlier in the day we had completed the last bits of paperwork and tendered final payment for the processing of our son’s immigration packet – a receipt hastily scribbled on note paper said as much. We were all a bit aggravated and apprehensive because the embassy employees seemed to being devoting much more time to decorating for a Halloween party than they were to anything else. In fact during our adoption process we had encountered enough seemingly random embassy re-scheduling that I firmly believed they were going to chase us all out and close for the party before issuing our visa – which would have really been a problem because it was a Friday and our flight home was scheduled the following day.

It’s difficult to join in the merriment or laugh at people in silly costumes when your main thought is that they’re screwing off instead of helping you get your child back home to America.

Can I have a moment to be grumpy? Thanks.

Over the last couple of years I know that immigration has been a hot topic for political discussion. Here’s the deal: If you have never been through the process of dealing with US Immigraton – please shut right the hell up, because you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

Just in case you think a US Embassy is a shining beacon of freedom and democracy to both citizens and those wishing to legally become citizens, I’ve got a little reality check for you. A US Embassy is a fortress of bureaucracy, surrounded by razor wire, full of bureaucrats, working on their own schedule to do whatever suits them whenever they choose to do it. Period.

The only embassies that get US Marine guards are the ‘prestige’ embassies and those in the movies. The rest of them get locally-hired, unfriendly, unhelpful, shotgun-toting Whackenhut security guards who think nothing of keeping a mother and her 7-month old infant standing in the rain for an hour at 8 in the morning.

On the whole, our process was easy compared to what the average immigration applicant from Guatemala endured. It only took us about 5 months of dealing with the Guatemalan and US governments to bring our son home. You want to know why so many people resort to illegal immigration? How about this: An embassy waiting room full of families dressed up in their finest clothes, ready for the 5-minute immigration interview that they have been waiting TEN YEARS to get.

Is that a no-shit, life-changing moment? You’re a skilled worker and this is your one shot to immigrate with your family to a country where you can find a decent job and make a living for them. Good luck, screwhead. Hope you don’t blow the interview or catch your immigration agent on one of those ‘headache’ days.

Whatever happened to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”? See, the crap you get taught in school isn’t always the way the real world works. I probably wouldn’t be such a lefty on the topic, except that I understand that Guatemala is one of those central American countries that we’ve screwed with (just for fun) for over 50 years, sucking away their resources and wrecking their economy.

Anyway, it seemed a minor miracle at the time – but the embassy issued our son’s visa that afternoon. I’d like to think it was just an efficient moment, but I also know that a coordinated phone-call campaign from family back home had generated ‘concerned faxes’ from the offices of our US Representative AND one of Florida’s US Senators. Never hurts to twang the strings of power every once in a while.

Democracy in action, right?

So. Forgive me if I have a slightly different attitude toward Halloween than a lot of other people. It’s a day of special memories for our family – and a day that serves to remind me how much better America can become.

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