-“Benny & Joon,” Genuine and Counterfeit, William Beckett (out August 20th)
This week has been madness. Pure, and utter mayhem. Warped Tour on Sunday, added with all the editing I have to do, plus the interviews and reviews, plus school, and normal life? Sleep Deprived is my new name, and Insomnia is my other half.
I guess it’s about time I came clean to everyone though. The reason I have been so absent lately is because of some personal things I’ve had going on. Normally, I wouldn’t divulge this, but it’s about time I said something.
My mom and I moved here in August of 2000, when I was five, following my parents’ bitter divorce. We moved from Manchester, England, to Florida, to start over and hopefully find more opportunity in The Land of Opportunity.
However, there have been numerous disappointments. My mom and I are immigrants, as many “Americans” over the years have been. We came here on E2 visas, and my grandparents, who already had green cards, would later act as our sponsors when we applied for green cards ourselves. We were later informed that they had to be naturalized to do so (By the way, that’s a lie we were told, but don’t worry, it was the first of many).
My mother and I put down on our roots in the meantime, settling into our neighborhood, making our house into our home, and the like. Then, while working with an immigration consultant, my mom decided to file for a five-year E2 visa. The “consultant” was completely fraudulent and, for lack of a better word, a bafoon. Once again, only one of many we would encounter over the years. After he took a ridiculous amount of money, my mom decided she could file these things herself, which she did.
Following that, my grandad looked at the paperwork to apply for a green card and it was decided it was time to file for them; a process we were told would take two years maximum. Considering we had about four years left on our visas, it was thought that we had plenty of time, and that we would be legal all throughout; that this would be a quick, painless process.
As you can imagine with one look at the eternally broken immigration system (oh, yes, what a long way we’ve come since Ellis Island), this was not the case. The process dragged on and on, and after being told numerous incorrect things from incompetent officers (“Oh, don’t worry, as long as your green card application’s in the system, you’re legal!”), to even getting screamed at by one in broken English (“You. Are. Illegal! Leave! Get out! You. Illegal!”), everything just seemed to get harder.
Those waiting rooms will forever be a dark shadow shrouded over my memories. They are often cold, with an intimidating air about them. No food, no drinks, no electronics (not even a phone), and if they call your number and you’re in the bathroom, well, you’ll just have to reschedule. I dare say that there is no crueler seat in the world than in an American Immigration Office.
Goodness knows how many forms my family has had to fill out, and how many dollars have had to be shelled out (I’ll give you a hint: it’s about the same as the annual in-state tuition for a state university). The real kicker is that most of the forms we were given were INCORRECT. That’s right, incorrect; given by agents who thought they were playing Monopoly or The Game of Life.
To make a very long story somewhat short, my mom’s process began to move along, while mine stayed behind. My mom did her biometrics and her interview before I even got word of mine. Then, last summer, finally, that little plastic thing we’d been hoping for appeared in the mail. A green card. My mom’s freedom placed on a little card for all to see.
Mine, on the other hand, was nonexistent.
Then, after finally completing my biometrics (and a second $500 medical, as the USCIS had taken too long to sort everything out, and my other “expired”), a letter arrived saying that I had my interview on January 7th.
I picked my outfit the night before with the utmost care. I barely slept, I was so excited.
When we got to the office in Tampa for our ridiculously early appointment, I felt ready.
We were finally called and led into the agent’s office, which I can still see clearly in my head, and have drawn multiple times.
Her desk was normal. There were pictures, and quirky little tidbits on her desk. She almost seemed human.
She asked me questions about school, and if I’d ever committed a crime, et cetera, and then she swore me in and handed me a piece of paper, saying, “Welcome to the United States of America.”
I almost cried, I felt so much relief.
I would finally be able to drive, as I’d wanted to since the day I turned fifteen. I would finally be able to get grants for college, because I’d have a social security number. More than that, I would finally cease to be a nobody; I would be able to carry around an official ID.
To many, those little things mean nothing, or the novelty has long since worn off, but to me, those are the things that make you a functional adult.
I’ll never forget my sixteenth birthday. Everybody kept asking if I was excited to start driving, and how this would be my favorite birthday.
To be honest, I didn’t like my sixteenth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed having my friends over and things like that, but I wasn’t remotely excited for it. Why would I be? I couldn’t get a license, or really do anything a normal, American teenager got to do. Hell, I couldn’t even get a job.
This same thing got to me when I applied for college. I got into the university I wanted to, but without a social security number, FAFSA couldn’t help me. At first, the university even wanted to charge me out of state rates! It didn’t matter that I’d lived here since I was five, gone to school with mostly American kids, and learned all of the same things they did. It didn’t matter that America was the only culture I’d ever really known. All that mattered was that I was an immigrant, an “alien”; a fact I was never not reminded of.
After the interview, my mom asked why we’d been separated during the paperwork. This, in my opinion, was a valid and fair question; the process was over, and it made no sense as to why it had occurred.
Of course, the officer, says, “Hmm…let me check…” and she begins tapping away at her computer.
Then, she leaves the room for a few minutes. These minutes felt like hours, and the weight on my chest had suddenly returned full-force.
My grandad put the letter in his briefcase and joked, “So they can’t take it back.”
Moments later, the agent came back in, and the first words out of her mouth were, “I need that paper back.”
My heart sank, and I imagine my face dropped too.
Then, the agent began her condescending little act: “Oh, sweetie, don’t worry, it’s just a formality. Just a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
“I want to make sure this is sorted out in case you and your mom ever want to nationalize.”
We all went home disappointed, and I felt nothing but anger.
On January 29th, as we were about to submit the FAFSA, a letter from USCIS found it’s way into our mailbox. My grandad knew, as he checks the online database and had accidentally clicked on my mom’s name instead of mine. He traveled to our house multiple times that day to intercept the mail.
When he picked me up from school, I knew something was off, but thought he was just stressed.
When my mom finally got home that night (at about 7:30, I might add, as she works for a CPA, and that is tax season), my grandad gave her the letter, which was a denial for my green card and an intent to rescind hers.
I’ve never seen my mom cry so much.
I managed to stay strong in front of everyone else and bite my way through it, but the news hit like a ton of bricks. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to graduate before we had to leave.
My mom and grandad submitted an appeal, filled with letters from people explaining why we should be able to stay.
Soon after, the appeal was returned, with a letter saying that the USCIS had no idea what we were talking about, as no intent to rescind had appeared.
My grandparents booked an appointment with immigration to get to the bottom of it all.
At the appointment, the field agents they spoke with were sincere and apologetic, even outright admitting that USCIS was at fault for this pain.
They were told that in thirty days, we would know what was happening.
113 days later, on July 18th (a Thursday), my mom and I came home from a long day of school and work. I checked the mail and noticed a letter from the USCIS. “Mom, this is either going to be the best day of our lives, or the worst,” I said.
She nodded and took the letter. Once we got inside she opened it.
Like a bomb, it hit us.
Mom’s green card was to be rescinded, and her right to work immediately taken away. My green card was, and remained, denied.
We didn’t cry–at first. We were just angry. But as the night wore on, I thought of what I’d miss most, and I broke down. In turn, my mom broke down too.
I think the real kicker of the whole thing is that my grandparents, who own a non-profit, sponsored us in. More than that, we did everything LEGALLY, despite being told numerous ways to do it ILLEGALLY. My mom has been told so many times to get married, and my grandad was told to marry me off, as I’d just turned eighteen and it would “just look like two stupid, young kids who were in love.” Yeah, and maybe I’ll join the cast of Teen Mom while I’m at it!
After years of thinking, I have come up with my own theory. Every family we see that comes from the UK that is a mom, dad, and kid(s), get a green card at the snap of a finger. My mom and I are a single-parent household…and we struggle.
Discrimination against single-parents? Hmmm…I think so, especially considering the push for marriage in order to get a green card.
I’ll say this time and time again until the day I die: I didn’t come from behind a white-picket fence, and I refuse to box myself into one. The American Dream does not exist and the White Picket Fence Life is a fantasy that never existed (unless you’re Beaver or Lucy or another character from a 50’s sitcom).
The anger is still there, though I don’t know what else I can possibly do.
We’re fighting it the best we can, but this time with words. Letters to everyone out there, and our neighbor even wrote a blog documenting most of our story.
But the harsh reality is, we’re looking at having to return to the UK. For my mom, it means starting all over again for the second time in her life. For me, it means finding myself somewhere I am somewhat unfamiliar with, angry, hurt, and above all, rejected.
When I’m angry or hurt, that’s when I get productive. Last time, I started Planet Stereo, a company I couldn’t be more proud of.
Now, I’m filming a documentary to expose the true evils of this broken, corrupt system.
For any immigrant that reads this, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I know the hurt of being a nobody, of being told to leave the only home you’ve ever really known, and being unfairly judged.
For any Americans, I ask you to look at your country, to look at your system, and ASK QUESTIONS. Question everything, all the time. Don’t believe every little shred of information given to you on the television.
And for that poisonous agent sitting behind her desk: Sweetie, don’t worry, this is just a formality. It’s just a case of, you know, dotting the i’s and crossing those t’s.