Why is it that in order to live legally in the United States one is forced to repeatedly visit some of the seedier, and frankly more dangerous, neighborhoods in pursuit of visa legality? I submit, for your consideration, Elizabeth, New Jersey. I don’t mean this to be an attack against the thousands of good people that are forced to call Elizabeth their home; it’s just that I am not sure that they have a tremendous amount of choice in the matter. I think that they live here because of the proximity to public transportation, the affordable rent (compared to further out in the suburbs) or the presence of others that speak the same language as they do. I am here because this is where the United Sates Federal Government has chosen to locate is processing center for immigrants… and I am an immigrant.
The non-descript building does not say “United Sates Citizenship and Immigration Services“ anywhere on it, I checked carefully, it merely says “Application Support Center,” which could mean anything really. The areas in which this particular building is located is populated with immigration lawyer offices (making a tidy profit of the administration fees they charge to saps like me), laundromats, internet cafes and phone shops (poor immigrants have to contact home just like rich people), Spanish speaking businesses of all kinds, cheap eating houses, and passport photo stores. Litter lines almost every street and the homeless wander aimlessly about, looking in trash cans, trying to stay warm, and generally wondering where to go next.
Inside the walls are painted pale blue and the floor is a cold slate grey industrial tile, reminiscent of every federal building I have ever entered. The other immigrants and I weave our way through the queue lanes, presenting ourselves to each successive officer who stamps our papers and makes a few notations while talking to his buddy about the party he went to the night before, girls he slept with and the guy who bought all the drinks. We then obediently take our places in the rows of plastic molded chairs until our number is called. Everyone (including me) looks nervous, not scared, but apprehensive that some small action might be noticed, noted, judged and found to be undesirable for a potential new American. I know that this might ring as a trifle paranoid but what this office deals with is our future, our lives, and when the employees of said office give off the impression that they failed middle school that makes us nervous. This is the fate of all pre-immigrants, waiting, queuing and answering inane questions for people that look with eyes that say “you are not an American citizen quite yet fella. I am. You are not, and if you give me any shit I will take this red stamp right here and your application will be forever tainted. You will be known as an agitator.” And that is something you do not want to be in the immigration queue, agitation is reserved only for those who are actually citizens and who have rights and such, and even then the Patriot Act ensures that the government can keep an eye on them also.
The USCIS has a legal monopoly too! It’s not like you can take your application to a competing immigration office for processing, is it? In this one instance I agree with all those Conservative nitwits calling for ever smaller federal government, I say let’s farm out the immigration process, create competing agencies that maintain a performance score by fast processing times. I have a friend who has been waiting for a decision to her legal status application in America for over three years. Currently the government is working on all applications in her particular category from October 2005. If I was working on projects from 2005 at my job, well, I would be out of a job. Immigration employees must rate somewhere below weather meteorologists for performance grading. And weather people only have to be correct 50% of the time.