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We would both insist that it was a moot point; there was no chance – given when and how he entered the United States – that our marriage would result in a green card without, at the very least, a long wait and an expensive waiver process… if we were lucky.
Many folks – and many lawyers – encouraged us to keep our heads down and wait for immigration reform. As I’ve written before, I thought the idea laughable; did no one else pay attention to politics?!
Well, the logic went, if it did come to deportation, we could appeal on some sort of humanitarian grounds. This, of course, is just as laughable. Anyone who thinks the United States immigration system is “humanitarian” or makes sufficient exceptions for this to be a viable strategy probably has never had any interaction with the institution! And I was happy to tell them so.
Speaking with Brazilians, the invariable response would be “but I know someone who knows someone who…”
To which I would respond, “you must not know their whole situation.” Certainly our situation would not allow for whatever they had just finished describing. Our options were as straightforward as our situation was mundane (on the scale of immigration sob stories).
Another common suggestion was that I take a trip to Brazil, during which Leo and I would “meet,” and I would then file for him from as my fiancé. We would just have to pretend that Leo had never been to the US. This proposal was usually supported by another “but I know someone…” yarn.
“Do you know what happens,” I would ask, “if they find out you lied on your application?”
The answer was almost always “no,” although sometimes they’d respond “oh, Immigration would never find out!”
In Leo’s case, his fingerprints would have linked him to driving without a license in the US well before we might have “met” in Brazil. We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but we also knew better than to test the system.
But these tales still wound their way through the grapevine, no doubt sucked along by the informational vacuum that characterizes the US immigration system. Such legends thrived on the superstitions and happenstance that sometimes swayed the spirit realm of immigration courts. And somehow these apparitions were more real to our friends and family than the stable ground I sought to place beneath our feet!
Our very good friend whose detention I wrote about (here and here) had a deportation hearing a few weeks ago. Prior to his hearing, an acquaintance had pulled him aside in church and confided in him that she had gotten “documents:” “a social security number and a driver’s license” with the help of such-and-such lawyer.
I was devastated that he’d been told this because, up until the judge finalized the deportation order, he was still convinced that he – like his acquaintance – could be some sort of winner in the magical SSN-and-driver’s-license lottery.
After knowing more about this woman’s background, I think that it’s safe to assume that all she got were interim documents during more drawn-out proceedings.
Frustrated, I told Leo this, and he shrugged: “Do you think she cares? It’s still documents.”
“No,” I ranted, “it’s not! It’s false hope! It’s irresponsible for her to be flaunting her documents without telling the whole story.”
Our friend believed her with every fiber in his being.
“I find out tomorrow if they’ll let me be a citizen!” our friend had crowed to me over the phone.
Leo believed, too, even though he knew better; he thought that the hope was worth the disappointment.
I thought it was like being punched in the face, offered a reconciliatory hug, and then kicked in the gut. My personality is such that I’ll just take the punch in the face, thanks. The last thing I need on top of a broken nose is some internal bleeding.
While living in Boston, time and again, I saw this grapevine overgrow its trellis and creep into the pockets of rather desperate folks, snatching away one of the few tools that really could help them in the event of detention and deportation: money.
This sounds terribly materialistic, I know, but to those who would levy such accusations at me, I propose an experiment: that they give away all of their cash, get deported to a developing country with nothing more than a carry-on suitcase, and wait to see how long they can live off of righteousness alone.
In Boston, there were a few places that I saw this happen. The first was with lawyers. Some of the finest and some of the lowest people on this earth are immigration lawyers. Unfortunately, the excellent ones end up giving a lot of bad news upfront and then fighting the few good fights that they can. The terrible ones, however, are worse than liars; not only do they feed off of their clients’ unflagging hope, they often go on to destroy any immigration possibilities that had previously existed through poor lawyering. And they do it all to the tune of thousands of dollars per life wrecked.
One of my finer moments (of the sort I would hope Saint Peter has written down on my behalf) was helping to keep a Haitian man (with an LPR wife and a 6-year-old son) from being deported. One of the bigger victories was to get him (excellent and pro bono) legal assistance and help him fire his old lawyer (who had been recommended by a friend of a friend whose friend had gotten a green card with his help… that damn grapevine!).
The lawyer’s fate was sealed in my eyes when I called to offer some assistance (“Hi, I’m Corin from [so-and-so’s] office; your client is a constituent of hers…”) and the lawyer actually said “uh, um… I’m uh, going into a tunnel right now… um, so I might lose the call… yeah, it’s breaking up.” Click. He then called our constituent and tried to get him to stop working with our office by assuring him that “help from elected officials is pretty worthless.” Worthless, eh?
Another unfortunate and just as predatory example comes from some of the Brazilian evangelical churches in Boston. Of course, not all (and hopefully not even most) prey on their congregations’ status, but some do in audaciously transparent ways.
When I first arrived in Boston, I took up a family friend’s Brazilian housekeeper’s invite to a popular Brazilian evangelical church. I went on a few occasions because I enjoy watching worship of all kinds. Belief fascinates me, and I do understand that believing in miracles and a deus ex machina is sometimes the only thing that gets us through tough situations. But the bulk what was worshiped in this church startled me.
The pastor had obviously achieved his status in the community through his own fortune and being one hell of a salesman. And with the skills of a practiced hawker, he preached the gospel of money and documents. To the Brazilians who had come to the US looking for financial opportunities closed to them in Brazil, he promised wealth. To the Brazilians hungering after citizenship, he offered documents. He was happy to use his own story – his cars and properties in the US and Brazil, as well as the documents that let him come and go as he pleased – as an example of what the United States could hold. All worshipers needed to do, he insinuated, was to prove their faith with cold, hard cash; the larger the amount (inversely related to one’s salary, disturbingly enough), the more devotion to God one was exhibiting.
One night, the largest donation won a gift basket. Come on down!
While many churches give that money back to the community and struggling members of the congregation, many others are happy to profit from desperation, and I believe that this church fell into the latter category.
I started to make up excuses whenever I received an invitation.*
And now I worry that Leo and I will become the stuff of the grapevine. His friends have been calling here to ask about moving to Canada. I’ve gotten a few questions, as well, which I have tried to answer honestly. The last thing I want is for a lack of understanding about our situation to put others in harmful or exploitative situations.
So next week’s post will be on what it took – the planning and the strange luck and the uncanny coincidences – to get Leo and me to Canada.
And if you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember that I wish I’d known certain things about getting to Canada -- getting here and not even immigrating, mind you! We’re not immigrants yet! We are merely in the first stages of building up the credentials that would allow us to stay, but this is nothing more than a relatively stable plateau in a continuing hike toward finding somewhere to call home.
*In the interest of full disclosure: I am vaguely Catholic, having been baptized before marrying Leo with the intention to do communion and eventually also have a Catholic ceremony. My parents were agnostics for all intents and purposes who made religious claims ranging from a spiritual appreciation for the natural world to rather denigrating statements about organized religion. I now stand on the left-most edge of Brazilian-infused Catholicism with an outsider’s intrigue, a social justice connection, and a budding admiration for the power of belief… but not a lot of patience for patent exploitation of said beliefs by anyone.
I feel like I’ve been lying to Leo.
Speaking with him during the months before he arrived, all I could do was gush about how sweet and friendly folks are in Vancouver.
At first, everything appeared as I promised. His first week here – a glorious sunny stretch of spring-like weather – we went walking down by the beach. A paunchy, grey-haired jogger loped by, calling out, “how’s the young couple?” A small dog running on the beach barked playfully at us, and his pretty, young owner – totally mortified – overflowed with exclamations of “I’m so sooorry!” Everywhere we looked people were either interacting with perfect pleasantness or else apologizing for inappropriate missteps.
It's a far cry, certainly, from the US, where an irate man once yelled at us to “speak English!” in the street, middle fingers sprouted like enthusiastic weeds in snarled traffic, and even parking in Whole Foods became a car-jousting death match – Prius and Subaru parts flying in all directions.
Not in Canada!
During the fall, I witnessed an unusual interaction between a heavily intoxicated homeless man and some rough-looking youths: when the homeless man intentionally spat his vodka all over the group, I was prepared to spring in the opposite direction of what I was sure would be a raucous brawl. But no! “Not cool, man,” one dripping teen instructed patiently, “We’re buddies! You don’t do that to your friends.”
I was dumbfounded, but I’ve since come to expect such interactions. A few months ago, one of my good friends defended the Canadian way against an irate American by saying simply, “can we please not talk about other peoples’ countries?” When it became clear that her wishes would be promptly bulldozed, she mumbled her goodbyes and departed. Outside, she turned to me and apologized for “getting so upset like that.”
“Isn’t it great?!” I gushed to Leo, “folks are so sweet!”
Well, let me be the first to admit that I was wrong.
As the last two months have worn on, we have seen rowdy arguments in the streets, old ladies clucking impatiently at pregnant ladies, pregnant ladies growling menacingly at whimpering toddlers, anonymous neighbors leaving one another rude notes, impertinent students ramming through (the hallowed) bus stop line-ups, harassed customer service agents patently not giving a shit, and car horns loudly announcing the most minor of offenses!
It turns out that Canadians are downright nasty.
I know. You’re thinking, “I’ve never met a mean Canadian! They’re all so unobtrusive and enjoy documentary film making!”
Yes, we Americans remain blissfully unaware of the harassed, prickly, and passive aggressive tendencies lurking within our neighbors to the North.
Americans think Canadians are all maple sugar-sweet for one of two reasons: 1) having never been to Canada in the winter, or 2) having never been to Canada at all, instead meeting Canadians abroad or through finding out that a good friend in the States has been hiding his or her secret Canadian identity for years. (There are a lot of secret Canadians! Ask around; you will discover a gaggle of Canucks in your midst.)
The truth is that Canadians are like werewolves. When the sun is out, they’re happy-go-lucky, blue-helmeted, lumberjack beavers (I might be exaggerating)… but on the eve of a bitter winter storm, they become ferocious, toque-clad, blade-footed beasties (I am totally not exaggerating)! They will snap at you, glower disapprovingly, and perhaps speak honestly about what a total douche they think you are (some choice words, no doubt, that they’ve been saving up since July).
Ok, so let’s be honest: Vancouver winter behavior is comparable to a good mood in Boston – I mean a really good mood… like “the Pats just won the Super Bowl” good! But it’s the transformation that is decidedly disturbing. Luckily, they stay holed up this time of year and only bare their venomous fangs in line at Shoppers Drug Mart (everyone has to venture out for toothpaste eventually, but it might be the last errand you ever run...).
This morning I saw the first crocuses poking out through the wet ground, and all I could think was “thank God this dark, wet madness is coming to an end!”
So there you go. I don’t know if it’s the cold, the precipitation, or the lack of daylight, but living this far north does things to you!
…which means that maybe Alaska’s latitude explains Sarah Palin! I mean, something has to, right? She falls well outside the bell curve, even of American nastiness and nuttery...