Fantasy Immigration Q&A
good news version:
the heat under the pot is being turned up too fast, and we, being clever frogs with sensitive feet, notice what is going on, snap out of our what-could-possibly-go-wrong daze, and help one another to leap to safety.
we resume authority over the kitchen, get the cook fired, heave a great sigh, salve any singed toes, and carry on.
bad news version:
stunned, we do nothing. we are all cooked, and not in a good way.
this is not a "keep calm and carry on" kind of moment, if by "carry on" we mean "hope it all goes away." it is a "keep calm and stand firm in truth with your whole huge heart" kind of moment. it is time to feel what we are afraid of, and dedicate our resources to the cause of justice.
let's pause for some fantasy immigration Q&A with Me, shall we?
have you ever been deportable from the US?
in 1999, after living abroad for religious reasons (I was a Buddhist nun), for long enough that my green card status lapsed, I foolishly reentered this country on a tourist visa, not realizing the legal impact of what I was doing. after three months, I became deportable, and started receiving nastygrams from the INS. the worst that could have happened to me then was to be sent back to Switzerland or France (where I had citizenship). for countless other people, the alternatives are far, far scarier. my brief sojourn in the land of Immigration Hell showed me what it is like to be an unwanted, illegal person, and to have little control over where you live, work, and love. I saw pre-dawn milk-bottles full of pee, left by children and the elderly along the hours-long interview line to the INS building in Atlanta. then, with an astounding amount of help, I got my resident alien status sorted out, and returned to the path of citizenship.
have you ever been naturalized?
in 2006, I participated in a US citizenship ceremony in an Atlanta courtroom full of fellow-immigrants, including a monk from Laos, a quiet young man from Rwanda, a lady soccer-fan from Ghana, and a Chinese woman who explained how hard it is to get non-Chinese-reading officials to change your name from Wang to Wang when you get married. afterwards, the Sons of the American Revolution, in full 18th C gear, shook the living daylights out of everyone's hands in congratulations, and presented us with small American flags.
have you ever been welcomed as an immigrant?
in addition to the US, Hong Kong, Ireland, Scotland, England, Indonesia, and India have all welcomed me for long-ish stays, some of which involved working visas. in each place, I experienced generosity and trust.
have you ever felt afraid, on the basis of being a foreigner?
besides my 1999-2000 INS adventures in this country, which were at times existentially quite scary, because I believed I might lose the right to live in the country I considered home, I've experienced a few other moments where I felt threatened as a foreign national.
when I traveled in China in the 1990's, there were rules forbidding foreigners from staying in certain accommodations, or traveling to certain areas. in one hot, dusty town in Qinghai province, I went from hostel to hostel, followed closely by a disturbed young man, and a curious crowd of onlookers. no one would take me in. I felt alone and vulnerable. finally, one truly disgusting place agreed to rent me a room. I asked the waiter to walk me home after dinner, to keep a buffer between me and the (I now knew) mad outsider who was still following my every move. that night, some police officers came into my room in the middle of the night, to check my passport. luckily it was under my pillow, so I just rolled over and handed it to them. luckily, that's all they wanted.
in 1996, on the wrong train from Moscow to Prague, I was stopped at the border with Belarus. Belarus? weeks of desert sweat had blurred my Russian visa beyond recognition, and I had no other papers to justify my existence in the eyes of the border guards. they pulled me off the train, and ordered me to an office across town. I threw a total indignant hissy fit at the man behind the desk, who wearily and somewhat gallantly stamped an antidote on what was left of my visa. then, a taxi-driver bodhisattva brought me back to the station. I pressed a messy wad of small bills and coins from China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia into his hands - all that I had left in my motley pockets. rage stayed with me until I was finally back on another train to Prague. then I cried for a long time, having touched only the very outer layers of the terrible pain we humans inflict on one another in the name of Safe Borders.
we are all immigrants and refugees.
there is no such thing as an illegal person.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now