Welcome Home or F*** Off?

My husband is currently waiting for him immigrant visa so we can move to the US.  This has been a long and frustrating process particularly for me as the US citizen and the one completing all the paperwork and communicating with the most frustratingly bureaucratic system and civil servants you can imagine.  When you call United States Citizenship and Immigration Services “helplines” and get the message that your wait time will be approximately 93 minutes (no joke), you have a lot of time to think (stew) about the philosophy and practicalities of the US immigration system.

My husband is convinced the whole system is designed to delay, frustrate and cost money to deter applicants and therefore immigrants. I will write more about those experiences with them at another time (including hiring and firing an Irish immigration lawyer based in Florida in a moment of panic that cost me $420 for about 20 minutes of advice but the firing saved me $3500 so chalk that one down to the hell that is immigration) but it got me thinking about my contrasting experience as an immigrant in Ireland.

The numbers of immigrants in the US is clearly a major factor – maybe the scale is the sole determining factor of why the experiences are so different because the scale of immigration has certainly changed philosophy around US immigration but its a complex issue beyond my opinion so I’ll just comment on my experience and then its up to others to decide whether individual and collective experiences are important.

Personally, I think they are since despite the language used in immigration (Alien numbers, etc), immigration is ultimately a human issue and for those that have never experienced it – it is both a fantastic opportunity and a horribly frightening, insecure, self-doubting experience.

I originally moved to Ireland on a student visa when I started my Masters in Galway. Well technically I lived in Kerry the summer before on a tourist visa and worked under the table for a couple of months (shock, horror). I got a student visa with minimal fuss and minimal paperwork. I think it amounted to one visit to a nice clean empty Garda station just outside the city that handled visas.

I got a PPS number (equivalent of social security number) when I was a post-grad student in Galway because students can legally work part-time on a student visa.  Once you have a PPS number, you can pay tax and that’s all employers really worry about so you can get work and stay as long as allowed per your passport. I worked more than part-time as I was hired on a project basis and then after I graduated I was hired by the local government in Kerry and worked full-time with no questions about my legal status. I can not see this slipping though the cracks in the States.

After I married my Irish husband, I reported myself to the Garda office in Tralee. It took a few visits and phone calls to track down Frank, the semi-retired Guard with responsibility for immigration. He worked at a window in the lobby of the station and his hours were sporadic. The visits to Frank were pretty relaxed and entertaining in comparison to the horrendous attitude by most US officials to foreigners in airports and immigration offices. The other immigrants were mostly African and Chinese because there is free movement allowed between EU members states so no need for visas, etc.

One time I heard Frank half-heartedly trying to ‘interrogate’ a Nigerian man about why his address kept changing and the details about his asylum seekers status. The man was giving confused answers and clearly making up stories in order to hide something else.

Frank gave up and stamped his passport with a sigh, “I know you’re lying but I’ll give you two months to sort it out and come back.”

I know this disorganization and laid back approach to rules and regulations has a downside (just read the news once over the past few years here) and it still infuriates me daily but I will miss it too. And while yes, I’d rather not have a Nigerian man with an unknown criminal record, a possibly false address and identity and zero local knowledge driving me home at 2 am in a taxi, it is nice to be treated as a person by a person with a little common sense and kindness.

In Logan Airport I am treated with strange suspicion and disdain because I don’t live in the US but am American. Why is this such a strange crime? The world is small now…global marketplace and all that.

I have to answer what feel like aggressive questions about my visit and explain myself for coming home. No one looks at you in the face. My husband usually gets pulled off somewhere else to be interrogated because he has a foreign passport.

When I return to Shannon Airport where I have the foreign passport, the police always let me stay with my husband and children even though we have different passports because it makes no sense to split us up. I started explaining my residents status one early morning to an older Garda at the passport line and he cut me off with a smile. “Sure, I can see from your stamp that you are living here in Kerry.  Welcome Home.”

I’ve never been welcomed home returning to the States and this makes me nervous about moving back to Maine with my family. I’m nervous about living with this strange hypocritical attitude to immigration and emigration where everyone is happy to celebrate their family’s’ origins but suspicious of the current immigrants.