There is an interview-exam that one takes when applying for US citizenship and one of the questions that came up was to name the benefits of becoming a US citizen. (One can vote, work for government, etc). The most obvious answer to this question was: “As a US citizen I cannot be harassed or deported for some arbitrary reason by government officials and I won’t have to deal with your bloody retarded immigration administration ever again.” I kept that extended answer to myself.
Even as the citizenship application process was an unpleasant experience and took almost a year to complete (the immigration officials “could not locate” my file – but only for 3 months), getting my green card ten years ago was far more nerve-wrecking business. I had a legal help since my employer sponsored me but I felt like naked and pushing through a scrub whenever I had to see the immigration officials: It was clear from their demeanor that I had no legal rights to get my visa/residency approved, that I could be removed from the country should they decide to do so – with or without a reason – and there are always some government regulations to provide such a reason in ways that even Franz Kafka could not have imagined. I figured out that the actual role of the immigration officials is to keep out as many applicants as possible, and that it does not trouble them if few applicants are left hanging in limbo or pushed into the “out” group as a matter of a routine error of the immigration administration…
Getting up before the sunrise to stand in a line in front of the imigration office at 5:30 am (they opened at 9 am) to make it to the window already at 10:30am and turn the paperwork in – and then being told (incorrectly) that I needed to come back again with additional forms and documents – was just the initial experience. Being called for a hearing that was canceled on the day of the appointment was another good one (my wife was doing internship in New York and she had to fly to this appointment to Arizona – twice because the nice people in Tucson office found it more convenient to re-schedule our hearing without sharing the news). Having friends who were removed from US did not attenuate my immigration-related paranoia either. (Husband and wife, both physicians, with 3 kids. He was a tenure-track assistant prof at university, she was a staff physician at a hospital. Their employers were sponsoring their H visa but the necessary J-to-H-visa waiver was denied by the immigration). Then another friend lost her job at Reuters in Boston and was doing an unpaid intern for 5 months because she had to re-new her J-visa-related work permit at the end of her first year in US. (But the immigration office did not care to process her renewal papers – which she turned in 3 months in advance). Also, practically every immigration official that I met came across as surly and tense, underpaid and overworked, and behaving like a postal worker about to turn serial.
My theory is that the original immigration rules were based perhaps on some common-sense reasoning but over the years the system got subverted by the changing agendas and got loaded with generous heaps bureacracy. It is now chaotic, inefficient and extremely slow and probably there is some political calculation in keeping it so. It works now like an obstacle course: the luckiest, the most persistant and informed applicants make it trough but others will not – and any idiotic reason is good for the purpose of keeping some immigrants out.
If you are US-born and if you had no personal experience with US immigration officials and if you think that I am exaggerating, please consider the experience that some people get at a DMV office or a courthouse. They could write about it in newspaper and complain to their senator, go to another DMV office, and the worst misfortune that could befall them is a licence driving exam delayed for weeks. The US immigration is rarely held responsible for its mistakes, it gets away with screwing up lives, ruining careers and splitting families. It is certainly the most awful institution that I got to know since the end of communism.
I just learned that I have been approved and will have the oath-taking ceremony this Wednesday. It has been a huge relief for all the described reasons and also for being able to travel outside the US again. And now that I won’t be deported I think I may try out some herbal remedies to celebrate.