Resident alien

I am an unlikely suspect in the war on terror. I have lived in the U.S. as a foreign national for several years now. As an employable, white, European, middle class woman I have an easy pass. In fact, as a Brit, the amount of adoration I receive is downright indecent. You want me to say things, you think I’m adorable, you like to imitate my accent, you offer me tea, and you tell me every connection you ever had with the British Isles—from your ancestors leaving on the Mayflower to that time you had a connection at Heathrow. On a really good day, you bring me Cadbury’s chocolate and Marmite. In fact, I’m so disgustingly spoiled (and I was already an only child) that I can never return home to face the indifference of my compatriots.

But last week the honeymoon ended, my American cousins. I went to the Department of Energy for an appointment. When I filled out the visitor log with the nationality “U.K.,” the guard whipped out a special list and failed to find my name on it. Of course my name wasn’t on it; the poor guy I was meeting with had no idea about my immigration status, and had even less clue that admitting legal (but not permanent) residents from legitimate organizations required advance security clearance.

After several minutes of whispered phone calls, the security guard put me on the phone with Mr. X: I was forbidden from meeting with him, but my American colleague could go right ahead. We suggested that he come down to the lobby where there was a perfectly nice seating area with sofas and chairs etc. But, no! He hastily explained that if I didn’t leave the building voluntarily, I would be escorted out.

Wow. I found myself back on Independence Avenue on a gray winter’s day, hailing a cab, while my colleague had the meeting I had initiated. It was hilarious and humiliating at the same time.

I could make some snide comments about the sale of ports to foreign governments, the failure of American policy in Iraq, and end with some clever twist on Dick Cheney’s right to bear arms. But that would be too easy.

The reality is that my feelings are hurt. I was rejected from the big American party where I’m usually welcomed. It was a warning that my invitation can be rescinded on a whim. And it reminded me that while that day I was briefly inconvenienced, the real injustice is that your government refuses to recognize my eight-year relationship with an American citizen because she shares my gender. And right there is my personal experience of a different war–a war of terror.
And I’m tired of that particular war. I’m tired of living with a low-level fear of failing in my quest to become a permanent resident. I’m tired of bad immigration lawyers, and I’m tired of good immigration lawyers. I’m tired of the cost and of waiting for Godot. I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s not a pretty process. There have been scares and panics, inordinate trips to Canada for visa processing, and if I’m lucky, it might be over by 2009.

I live in fear of having to end this American life, of having to transport myself and my cat and my partner (yes, in that order) to England where we’re lucky enough to have gay immigration rights. Of leaving behind my hard-won career and my precious friends. Of being stripped of my choices, my independence, and my self-determination. And again, I’m one of the really lucky ones with a serious chance of winning the mythical green card.

So I’m left with this feeling of simultaneously being your best friend and being nothing more than another bureaucratic case, one of millions trying to crash the party. You love me, but I’m no one. And that’s terrifying.

4 responses to “Resident alien”

  1. Ra chel says:

    Stella,
    I’m sorry you had to experience that most recent of many slaps in the face from Uncle Sam, and that you are at the nexus of the country’s deplorable treatment of foreigners and gays. The U.S. is happy to employ your intelligence & energy, spend your taxes, and deny you some of the basic courtesies of being human.

  2. Isabel Brault says:

    I too can only offer my apologies for your experience. Thank goodness our current administration does NOT represent the majority of American’s feelings. Uncle Sam should feel horrible for inflicting such humiliation on a dear friend and supporter. We would not have been subjected to such embarrassment by your government had the situation been reversed. Have faith and know that things WILL change with the next election.

  3. Riptide says:

    Please don’t leave us.

  4. Isabel Brault says:

    Yes – I agree with Riptide – please don’t leave us. We’re more than cousins – WE’RE SISTERS!!!