When I was 16, I was deported from the United States of America.
If you’re waiting for the “ha-ha” or silly-faced emoticon, I’m serious.
When I was 16 years old, I enrolled in a boarding school in the U.S. to specialize in a certain field my high school was not offering at the time. I enrolled in September 2007, and at the end of October/early November was notified by mail that I needed to leave the country within 30 days or be forcibly removed. The reason was that I “lied” to the United States Government in my application for a visa.
I’m assuming my lawyer (a friend of my father’s friend, based in the U.S.) sent in the old forms with an incorrect date on them. I’m assuming because I was never told, nor given the option to find out what it was that warranted my deportation.
I left as soon as my family could finance the flight back, and reapplied for a visa because I worked hard to be accepted into the school and deserved to be there. Three weeks later, I was back in school in time for the last two weeks of the semester before winter break.
Literally: I was kicked out only to be let back in three weeks later.
Two years later, in 2009 when I was applying for a visa to attend Knox, I was told by a man working at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait that there were “two marks” after my name. The first I assumed was the deportation, but the second I had no idea of, and of course no one was allowed to tell me what either specifically referred to.
And for the last six years going back and forth between Kuwait and the U.S., I’ve been “randomly selected” almost every time, and made to wait in another room for “extra screening” every time.
This is what “extra screening” looks like: you are at the customs counter, maybe this TSA agent yelled at you, maybe this one was nice. S/he then hands your passport and papers to another TSA agent who leads you to another room where you are asked to sit and wait. S/he leaves. You worry because your luggage is unlocked (because each time you travel, the TSA has needlessly broken your baggage locks even though you left a note on the lock itself saying “please don’t break this, it’s unlocked), and is unattended which, you know from the frequent announcements over the PA system, is bad. You then sit, while some stranger has all your identification and you have no idea what s/he is doing with it and why. Sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes two, once it was four and you missed your connecting flight even though s/he said you would be out in time. Then after your wait, s/he comes back, hands you your papers, and lets you leave: no explanation of what just happened, even when you ask.
I’m starting out with these stories because I want everyone to picture the stupidity of these scenarios. Instead of allowing some option to contest this ‘verdict,’ I was deprived almost three weeks of school which was a nightmare to catch up on, made to wait extra hours every time I travel, had to buy new luggage almost every year I’ve been abroad and not given any explanation. In September, I will have been in the U.S. for seven years: hey TSA, I haven’t blown anything up. I’m pretty sure I’ve proven myself.
While President Obama brought up immigration reform in his State of the Union address, most of it focused on undocumented migrants. One phrase often repeated is going to “the back of the line” to legal immigration/citizenship. When looking at immigration reform, I can’t help but look at my own experiences.
Here are the options for a single immigrant not looking for political asylum: 1) visa through occupation; 2) visa through marriage. Visa applications through occupation have been backed up since 2001, and marriage, while faster, is subject to its own loops. Both courses have strict restrictions that in many cases create disincentives for all parties involved. So really, going to the “back of the line” would leave most people in limbo.
Really, there are too many things wrong with immigration, and the only way I can think to illustrate them is through my own experience.
The key issue, for legal immigration — aside from expediency — is agency and representation. The fact is: if something is wrong with your application, you probably won’t get any answers what or why. There are no legal routes to contest anything. Also, in cases that should seem very simple, tax money is wasted on frivolous things (as was my deportation and reentry).
As the U.S. looks at its immigration reform, it needs to look at the people most affected by it. Most of them, whether legal or not, are people who just want to live and work in peace. Putting faces to the issue of “immigration” is the only way to know what’s really wrong with the system: because really, how are congress people or the president going to know what it’s like to try and immigrate into the U.S. if they haven’t done it themselves.