Sunday, July 5, 2009

This is not a place of compassion by Olga Bukhina

This is not a place of compassion
by Olga Bukhina


U.S. employers must check to make sure all employees, regardless of citizenship or national origin, are allowed to work in the United States.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

It is too early in the morning. I am so sleepy. Jack the lawyer said to come as early as I can. He said that it will be a long line just to enter to the building. He was right. It looks like I will be standing outside for a good couple of hours. The State of New York Immigration and Naturalization Service. The name itself gives me a chill.

I do need to receive this work permit as soon as possible. I should start looking for a job. We will not survive too long without me working. Jack said that I should get it today. It is three months after we filed the application. Although, we did not do it. He did. We only wrote the checks. One to them. One to him. That is why I need a job.

Too many people. It does look like the UN. Everyone is here. Every possible language. Very possible face. Two and two of each kind in the Noah’s Ark. And everyone is afraid as if we are about to drown. Nobody even smiles.

Good, I am inside now. Where, he said, should I go? Eighth floor, room 805. Here we are.

One more line. Have a seat. Who knows how long this will take. Everyone desperately needs a work permit.

Hey, they are calling my name!

What are you saying? I cannot get it now? Three months after the INS cashes the check? It was not cashed till February? You mean that I should return in three weeks? I am not sure that I understood… I am sorry…

You are not sorry. One more word and I will call for the guards. Did I do something wrong?

Stop! Stop crying, you, stupid girl. It does not matter that in the Soviet Union they were treating you like this all your life. It does not matter how many times they were shouting at you before. You should get used to it by now. Why did you think that it would be any different here?


Before leaving the U.S. on an emergency, aliens should determine if they require a travel document to re-enter the country.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

I am sitting and crying. Hour after hour after hour. Such a long line. So many people. A huge hall and this awful smell. Human bodies and human fear. We are immigrants. We are afraid of something, all of us. I cannot stop crying. My father is so sick there in Minsk. I do not have proper documents to go back home. I need this “advance parole,” who knows what it is. I am not a criminal. Why do I need a parole? Maybe, I do not understand English?

My husband seems to understand everything. He is born here, in New York; he teaches in the University. He is so smart. He is kind too, he lets me sit on my chair and cry. When it was our turn, he went to the officer instead of me. I can hear their conversation but I cannot help him. He is pleading with the officer, asking him for help. See, her father is dying. See, she cannot stop crying. He did not die yet, the officer asks. No, no, God forbid. If the relative is dead, we will give the advance parole documents to her immediately. No, he is alive but she needs to go now, he might die any day. I cannot help you. Her papers are lost, and it will take a while to find them.

What they are talking about? My father is not dying. Yes, he is ill and I need to see him, but he is not dying. My husband is wrong. Why does he try to stir the pity of these people? He should demand my documents. He is an American citizen. He has rights. It is me who does not. Yes, he is angry now. He is calling for a supervisor. No, the guy is just shaking his head; I am here to be a buffer between the public and a supervisor.

My husband keeps talking and talking and talking. He is so nice but what if he will not love me any more after this? He is always so busy, and it takes so much time, the whole day. What if he will decide that he had enough? When we met at my parents’ house – when was it – three years ago, everything was so simple. I will come here. We will get married. What did I know about green cards and advance paroles? I am so afraid. My father, what will happen to him? What will happen to me? If I will leave without this damned parole, I never will see him again. They say they will not let me back in. I hate this place, this huge room full of people, waiting, sweating, and shivering. Everything is so gloomy here. This woman next to me, she is reading a book. No, she is not reading. She is also listening. What is she waiting for, also for the advance parole? Something happened to her father too?

Please, have compassion to her, my husband pleads with the officer. The man looks straight into his eyes. You must understand, sir, this is not a place of compassion, he answers.


Every year over 450,000 thousand United States citizens marry foreign-born individuals and petition for them to obtain a permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States.

United State Immigration Support website

Hassan Ali? Come closer. Why did not you put your social security number here? How can I figure out that you are the Hassan Ali I need? You think that you are the only Hassan Ali here. No way. So many of you. It used to be a country of John Smiths’. Now it became a country of Hassan Alis’. Return back when all your paperwork is in order.

What a place! All these couples. Hundreds of them. A Japanese guy with a Japanese girl. A Chinese guy with a Chinese girl. A Mexican guy with a Mexican girl.

Look at him! An American. White! Maybe, a lawyer? No, he doesn’t look like a lawyer. A husband. Unbelievable, he sits right in the middle of this zoo and reads his New York Times as if he is in his own study.

Next. See, it is him. I knew, I knew. What a lucky day. One more idiot with his crazy accent, and I will be done forever. Come here. Please have a seat. It will not take too long. Is this your wife? Good. Let me look at the documents. Your bank account? Joint? Wonderful. These are your tax returns? Filed together? Excellent. Your family photos? Vacations in Arizona? Marvelous. I’ve been there once. What do you teach in college? Philosophy? How interesting. I myself was majoring in sociology in my college days. Of course, your wife’s case should be approved. Everything is just fine.

Actually, there is one little problem. They lost her documents. Or rather, not exactly lost. They sent them to the Missouri State Archive where they were supposed to send the documents when the case is closed. But the case is not yet closed. I cannot approve her green card without these documents.

What to do? Do not worry, professor. It is very simple. See, just one click of the mouse, and my computer will send a request for her documents to be brought back to New York. How long will it take? Really, I do not know. Two months, three, or four.

Author bio:

Olga Bukhina enjoys her life in New York and love translating books from English into Russian. She published over fifteen translations of the books for children (Carl Sandburg, Louise Fitzhugh, C. S. Lewis and many others) and some historical fiction of Philippa Gregory. She is very attached to her old country and publishes her translations in Moscow, Russia. She writes about children’s and young readers’ literature for various journals. Her short story in English is published by And Than in New York. Her poetry in Russian is appeared in The Russian Street (also in New York).

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