Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
The stage was set. The Immigration Judge gave us this date at my last hearing. It was supposed to a warm and fuzzy weekend, with my U.S. citizen partner and I flying out to San Francisco from the East Coast to attend the short ceremony. My family, from all over California, had promised to take time off from work, to come to the hearing and see me getting sworn in as a lawful permanent resident. I had submitted my tax records, underwent several biometrics and fingerprinting sessions, and proven that I posed no health risk to the country by undergoing a thorough medical exam. I was ready to get my green card.
Alas, true to its grinch nature, the Office of Immigration Litigation and the Department of Justice broke our hearts for Valentine’s Day.
Now, I don’t need a green card to operate normally. I don’t need it to graduate from law school. I don’t need it to get sworn in as an attorney. And I certainly don’t need it to get a job. I don’t need to be legal for any facet of life in America. I need a green card so that I can leave this country without forever facing separation from my immediate family.
I have absolutely no use for American citizenship unless I want to commit crimes and vote for the lesser of two evils.
I’m sure I’m not different from many people without immigration status who aren’t aspiring to be American as much as they simply want the opportunity to go back home without facing a ten-year bar from ever seeing their relatives again. Immigration advocates with their nationalistic fervor have made it almost shameful for people like me to admit that we don’t crave citizenship.
I crave freedom of movement. I desire the chance to get to know my roots. I want to serve my country and my people. I need to heal from the trauma of being brought here. But mostly, I just need to see my home before it is ravaged by climate change.
Yet, the stigma is sometimes more overwhelming than the deep sense of loss. The voices taunt and berate:
“How dare you live here and not love America?”
“How dare you betray the sacrifices of your parents?”
“How dare you even consider life somewhere else?”
Grunt. I am 28-years old, hold three different degrees, pay my taxes, take care of my own housing, and don’t owe anyone, besides myself, any answers.
Even if I don’t deserve a green card, I do deserve to be free to go home.
I’ve tried to leave. So many times. As a teenager, I ran away from our house in Hayward, California but I didn’t know where to go. So I had to come back. When I got a little older, my poor mother, who is a legal resident by way of her mother (a U.S. citizen), bribed me into staying and finishing graduate school by saying she would pay for it if I stayed but would not support me if I left. So I stayed. When I decided to go off to law school in Canada, the U.S. Embassy in Fiji got in the way by providing false information to Canadian authorities.
I decided enough was enough. That’s when I applied for a green card, compelling the USCIS to either grant me legal residency or place me in removal proceedings. With luck and charm, they chose the latter. Alas, my misfortune is such that the government doesn’t have the damn cojones to go through with it. It’s quite pathetic.
So, I’m still stuck here, reeling from 14 years of post-traumatic stress, without a real ability to heal unless I leave. And the people around me are stuck with it too. Bless them.
I’m afraid that by the time I do get the chance to go home (and it is really a matter of when at this point), it won’t be home anymore. It will take a long time for my broken heart to heal from the reality that there is no place on this planet that feels like home.
Maybe I am forever doomed to be an alien. Maybe I’m stuck searching for home in people, rather than places. And maybe, that isn’t such a bad thing.
Next Master Calendar – October 10, 2013 – Fiji’s Independence Day.
Miles from a place fondly called home,
a small plastic bottle of FIJI Water peers at me
through the doors of a convenience store,
teasing and tormenting, begging me to take it back.
I reach out fondly,
only to jerk my hand away.
They say it’s untouched by civilization,
They say it provides jobs,
They swear to carbon-free emissions,
Then why does my body break down in sobs?
Water that leaves my people dehydrated and dead,
Water that kills,
Water that props up an illegal military regime,
Who knew it could have so much power?
Your colonial thirst for a taste of my paradise,
Highly dense and hyper-sexualized,
Life reduced to an exotic merchandise,
The blood of my people actualized.
This plastic bottle is all I have left of a place I’ll never see
With some half-forgotten memories of a country that doesn’t remember me
A Winter Vacation in Chicago
Far away from any colonized setting, glittering and shimmering, sitting on a river of lights next to Lake Michigan, with brand name outlets, world-renowned tourist spots, historical architectural designs, the buzzing energy of a lively place that never rests, this is Chicago, as urbane and metropolitan as it gets in the United States. At first glance, the city does not resonate with any pain, tragedy, or buried untold stories; it seems like a great vacation spot and escape from my own traumatic life. The city, half-imagined, returns to me each night.
Caught in a snow blizzard, I hurry past someone carrying a sign that read “I am just homeless and hungry. God gives to those that give to others.” Almost instantly, blurred images of a distant past flash through my mind. Homelessness is a part and parcel of every city and suddenly, I am not away from home, on any sort of vacation. I freeze, unable to escape my reality. This is not history yet, it is memory—intimate, painful, joyful, personal and nostalgic. Jolted out of my consumerist shopping spree, I realize with strange awe that tragedy, violence, a sense of belonging are not stuck in geographical space; they come with us in our memories, our intimate personalization and self-definitions.
Shaking off the feeling almost instantly, I walk into a convenience store to get some water for my sore throat. Staring at me through the sliding glass doors is a bottle of water from the Fiji Islands. Face to face with my reality, I stand there gazing at the tiny bottle as my mind once again loads and runs a cinematic reel. Half-remembered and half-forgotten memories from another place and time, now encompassed by this beautiful luminescent blue bottle, conjures up an entire history.
It’s problematic to hold a bottle of FIJI water with such nostalgic tenderness and pride, especially since it is owned by an US company, and yet we do it. When I discussed this with a friend from Canada, she admitted that she went into a gas station on her way to Los Angeles and bought a bottle of FIJI Water, because it is a Kai-India (Fiji Indian) thing to do. I pay for the FIJI water bottle and hold it as if I am holding Fiji and the history of my people in my hands, and coincidentally, realize that even the rights to FIJI water is owned by an ‘Other’; I am holding colonialism in my hand.
Indentured laborers from India crossed the Kala Pani (Pacific Ocean) in the late 1800s to come to Fiji. They called themselves girmitiyas, derived from the English word ‘agreement,’ which referred to the labor contract, while the British called them ‘coolies.’ The girmitiyas were supposed to simply serve as a working population, but by 1970, not only was Fiji independent of British rule, but the now free descendants of the girmitiyas were a majority population. However, as the 1900s came to a close, many more Indians (more properly referred to as Indo-Fijians) once again crossed the Kala Pani to seek refuge due to ethnic tensions at home.
I drink every drop of the water in the tiny bottle. My thirst quenched, my throat feels better. But my eyes water up.
Real tears aren’t the ones that flow easily. They are the unshed ones hiding behind hooded eyelids, stinging with permanence. And my heart cries.
Thanks to the (volunteer-run) Educators for Fair Consideration, we have support for an immigrant youth advocacy program that would give students the necessary tools to organize at the schools and in their communities. Over the duration of the week, we selected 19 students (yet to be announced) from a diverse pool.
The best part about the program is that it is student-run and justly compensated. It rewards students who have been organizing already or shown interest in organizing while also training them to go a step further. I also hope that the program will be a way to empower more students to take responsibility and action in their communities about issues of importance to them.
I have the usual roles and duties. Students for Fair Consideration will have the best website and outreach program of any immigrant advocacy group in the country.
I finally have some $ for the gym, food, bike maintenance, and to file my Canada visa application.
Dear Ms. Bullock,
I have been a fan since Speed back in 1994 when I was barely 9. So it pains me to see one of my favorite actors make a movie that doesn’t paint a fair picture of U.S. immigration policies.
I took my mother out to see The Proposal yesterday–she had fun but even she recognized that it is not so easy to gain legal residency through marriage.
Forget the fact that this option is not even available to bi-national same sex couples for a second.
First, you wouldn’t be allowed to ‘jump in line’ ahead of the so-called gardeners and construction workers. “They are looking for terrorists, not book publishers” is just a line in the movie.
Second, the immigration official would have asked tougher questions, called your bluff within a minute and charged you with marriage fraud. Even if you wanted to return to Canada, you would be placed in an ICE detention center on taxpayer money to serve time for the felony. For meals, you would get peanut butter and jelly and that too, quite infrequently. You would also see people in the center that have been kept there indefinitely. You might even see children who should be in school, rather than locked away in detention.
In the meantime, ICE could lose your paperwork so even if you wanted to go back to Canada, you might not be able to do so voluntarily. Then you would wait for months more at the detention center to get a new passport or prove that you really have Canadian residency.
Finally, after many months, you would be allowed to go back on your own money. But once outside the United States, you would not be able to come back for another 10 years, due to the 10-year ban for accruing illegal presence. The only way to circumvent this would be an I-601 waiver that no one could have filed for you.
So there is really no happily ever after here, except for the fact that Canada is just like the United States, only with free health care, a better banking system and same-sex marriage.