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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Friday, February 24, 2017
‘I Am An IMMIGRANT’
The legal road to citizenship is hard, but the reward is priceless Illustration on immigration by Linas Garsys Tsotne Bakuria
I have a Masters in International Relations, speak four languages and served as a politician in my country, the Republic of Georgia.
I am also an immigrant.
I came to the United States in 2004, met my future wife and married in 2005. My path to citizenship was arduous, frustrating and expensive.
We had three lawyers over the span of 10 years. We hauled suitcases full of documents (including pictures, and letters addressed to both of us to prove we lived together). We stood in long lines for fingerprints, interviews and a medical exam. Make a typo on your application? Kicked back and lose six months. Do not pass Go.
They lost my fingerprints, which set us back six months. They lost my file when I moved to Los Angeles. In the meantime, I had received my work permit and so-called “Green Card” which is not green. The FBI background check took two years.
We had a “marital” interview to prove to the officer we were actually husband and wife. “What kind of toothpaste do you use? What is your wife’s favorite moisturizer?” We looked up sample questions they might ask, and were flustered. We were told that immigration officers often come to your home, looking to see if your clothes are in the closet. If the powder room has His and Her towels.
My experience was not singular. Every long afternoon we sat in the office of the United States Citizen Immigration Service (USCIS) in Fairfax under the glare of fluorescent lights, we saw parents with strollers, lugging files and files. “What time was your appointment? Oh, 11 a.m.?” It’s now three p.m. and they’re closing all the windows.
We saw the presidential portraits of George Bush removed, and replaced by Barack Obama’s.
We saw would-be nannies with their stylish, blonde-haired pretty sponsors. We saw Muslims and Mexican gardeners. We saw frustration, hope and determination.
This why I am supporting President Trump’s immigration reform. He’s correct. It’s not about turning away refugees. It’s about following the law. It’s about respecting the United States, not taking advantage of it. No one is entitled. No one is privileged. I am proud to be a citizen. I hope that others coming after me feel the same. There is no “golden ticket.” There are no shortcuts. The hysteria around deporting illegals is out of proportion. If you come to this country, know that the legal process is there for a reason.
Yes, the system is broken. Immigration lawyers are just as frustrated as their clients. Each year, the USCIS receives and processes about 6 million immigration applications from individuals and employers. Most applicants request one of the following: permission to permanently live in the U.S., permission to temporarily work in the U.S. or naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
It’s no wonder the United States has so many undocumented workers. Who can afford the thousands of dollars and years of checking their case online while nothing happens but the same cryptic message they put up a year ago: Case still pending. Our smart, long-suffering lawyer shook his head and said you could refresh that page every day for a year, and it still wouldn’t change.
One solution would be to privatize the system. Mr. Trump, as a successful businessman, certainly knows why Fedex outperforms the U.S. Postal Service. Hand it over to three companies. Make it competitive. Hire smart people. He could fix it.
Finally, when we received notice that my case was approved, tears fell. We drove to a middle school in Fairfax for the ceremony. It was, my wife said, worth the wait. They called us by our countries: Salvador, Japan, South Korea, Georgia (I was the sole applicant), South Africa, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, China, India. It was a rainbow of faces. They waved American flags and had huge, colorful bouquets of flowers. Many wept, and jittery children danced and wrapped their small arms around their parents legs.
There’s no question that immigration reform is needed and Mr.Trump has many supporters, like me, who love America and respect its laws.
I now look back and think: We followed the rules.
• Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of Parliament from Georgia. An author and writer on international affairs, he lives in Washington, D.C.