American in Exile, A Tale of Bureaucracy in an Unknown Number of ChaptersDecember 12, 2008
Immigration law in the United States favors the wealthy. The idea of paying your own way and being able to marry the person you want from any country you want as long as it doesn’t represent a cost to the taxpayer has been taken to the logical extreme, to the point where, like in so many things, only the wealthy are truly free.
This is a long story, and is far from being over, so I’m not going to try to tell it all in one sitting. I’ll be writing about other things as well, but I will provide regular additions to this story for those of you who are interested.
This is the story of why I can’t go home again, and may never be able to. It’s not that I’m dying to live in the United States again or anything, but when the situation is forced, you never know what you would choose if you could. Argentina is an extremely difficult place to live, and the idea ever since I moved here was to move back with my wife as soon as possible, because as bad as things may be in the U.S. right now, it is easier to get a job, get a paycheck, and use that paycheck to eat and pay your rent than it is here.
The reasons my wife and I are in the situation we’re in today are many. It’s a story with a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy, but it’s also a story of hypocricy, betrail, incompetence, hatred and discrimination, and I think reflects in an interesting way the dehumanization of the working class taking place all over the world.
I’m from Lawrence, Kansas. It’s a middle-sized town which loses a good percentage of its university population during the unforgiving summer. It’s very close to the exact center of the United States – hot summers, cold winters, and the constant threat of being crushed by a tornado. On an electoral map, it’s a little blue spot in a sea of red. Lawrence was the epicenter of the abolitionist movement, and hasn’t changed a bit since its foundation, but the rest of Kansas has evolved on exactly the same lines as the GOP. Their electoral votes have gone to the Republican Party ever since Lincoln was elected.
When my wife and I met, I was living a lifestyle fairly typical of people my age in my town who weren’t going to college. I was always looking for work and never finding it, bumming from couch to couch with high school friends and local party people. I’ve had my fair share of wage-slave positions, I’ve been vegetarian since the age of 15 when I worked at Burger King for a few weeks, I’ve breathed the fumes at the plastic factory, and I’ve spent long hours on the phone reading sales pitches off a DOS screen. I bet you didn’t know that there are a lot of old women with a serious addiction to romance novels, to the point where they get in real financial trouble.
We met through an online message board on the Radiohead website. It’s an odd little community with a high tolerance for drunken rambling and general cryptic nonsense. I won’t get into the details but we met, we started talking frequently, and we fell in love. We started to call what we had a relationship, started spending ungodly amounts of money on calling cards, and made plans to meet.
Meeting involved having money, and at the time, when I was lucky enough to actually have a job, I was spending every penny on my share of rent and bills, food, a couple of unnecessary items we won’t get into, and calling cards. My wife was studying filmmaking and got a call center job as well, so there were only a couple of hours in the middle of the day and at night that we could communicate. I did end up having to turn down a couple of job offers to make it possible to continue this relationship. And believe me, it wasn’t easy. If you’ve ever been in a long-distance relationship, you know.
Eventually I found work at a small news back office. My job was to watch shows ranging from Good Morning America and the other morning news shows, to 60 Minutes and Nightline, to Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, summarize the reports they gave, which was difficult at times with the celebrity shows because sometimes the news story was just “this famous person went here and we got a picture” and I had to come up with a headline for it. I would compile all that information for a report we sent to the major networks and other news entities to make it easier for them to keep track of everything that was on the daily news circuit.
This was a good job for me. I’m interested in current events, although I got real tired of writing about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, but it was interesting because I was working during the 2004 election. I’ve got the mad typing skills, so I was really doing well in this job and when I left I had to turn down a promotion.
The problem with this job is that they only paid $7 an hour, and I was trying to save up to leave the country. The hours would turn long, because they were terribly understaffed (that is, I was doing the bulk of the work), and this put a terrible strain on the relationship.
Eventually, however, by spending as little as possible on food and living on sandwiches and Ramen noodles, I was able to start spending less than I was earning by a small margin and put some money aside. Then we started making plans for me to move to Buenos Aires, finding out what paperwork I needed to take with me. And there, from the very beginning, long before we would even know, the seeds were sewn for a dark, impassable jungle of bureaucracy.
To be continued…