Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Note From Work

I'm on the consular line here in New Delhi. I'll be doing two years of consular work here, along with my colleagues. We each adjudicate around 100 visa applications each day, and it's simultaneously boring and heart-wrenching. Today, I had to decide whether or not to let a woman travel to the U.S. to see her dying mother, who has been diagnosed with liver cancer and is deteriorating rapidly. Unfortunately for the poor woman who was applying, this is a very common story and one that is more often than not fraudulent.

She actually came to my window yesterday for the first time. She barely spoke a word, and was softly crying as I read her application form. While she seemed genuinely heartbroken, her supporting documentation was thin at best. After some conversation (a combination of English and patchwork Hindi), I asked her to come back with more information from the hospital in the States. She protested that her mother was dying, the holidays were upon us, and she needed to get her visa quickly before the Embassy closed.

Without going into details, suffice it to say that there were many reasons to suspect fraud in her case. But lo and behold today she showed up again, still silent, still crying, and with much more detailed paperwork from the hospital. It was very sad to read about her mother's condition in the report, but it seemed clearly real. (NB: Next time, I'm going to cut to the chase and just call the hospital to verify facts...) After some more questioning I approved the visa. Because we were closing early today and won't open again until next Tuesday, I asked her to wait in the lobby while we did some emergency visa production work.

Here's the best/worst part. Her brother (or cousin?) accompanied her, and he is an American citizen. He came up to me afterward and told me he was an Amcit and that I had made the right decision, he knew I was concerned about fraud, etc. etc. I said thanks and shut the blinds on my window (it was the last case of the day, of course!). I went to a late lunch, and when I came back, someone came up to me and handed me a hand-written letter. The brother had come looking for me again, to give me a thank-you letter, telling me again that I had made the right decision, and that he was proud to be part of a country that judged people with feeling, etc. The letter was very nice, and it was great to get. But at the same time, it just made me more nervous that this woman had pulled the wool over my eyes.

In talking to colleagues, there were many suggestions (Call the hospital! being the most sensible one) and many more stories of heart-breaking stories that were ultimately false. I think I will never know if this woman came right back to India or if she overstayed her visa. Heck, maybe her mother actually lives around the corner and is fine, or maybe she's in the hospital but is doing fine, or maybe she really is sick. It's a little like being in a David Mamet play, like House of Games or Spanish Prisoner (not like Glenn Garry Glen Ross, thank goodness).

My gut says she's going to the US and will return, but I'll be interested to see what it says in 6 months if I get a similar case. I guess the moral of the story is to see the best in people, but call the hospital!


At 4:38 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Crazy ... Hopefully she's saying good-bye to her poor mom. What a whopper if it were all fake. Let us know if it happens again.

As Joe Mantegna said, "Semper fi."

At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Tony Danza said...

Mama mia! This reminds me so very much of an episode of my hit television show, "Charles in Charge." No wait, that's not right. I was on "Who's the Boss." Man, I really hate that Scott Baio!

PS - Please watch my show.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Danny Pintauro said...

Yo Tony, can't you ever stop hogging the spotlight? Hey, I was the only genuine actor on that show. You and Milano got nothin'. Nothin'! I'm still the boss.

PS - Please come see me in Shear Madness. I need to feed my family. C'mon, I mean, it's in Kansas. Please.

At 9:24 PM, Anonymous stinky mcmuffin said...

I know its your job to get it right, but on some (cynical) level - who cares if she was lying? If she was playing the game she did it well enough to earn her right to come to the united states and play the game here. She obviously has the skills to play here if she did such a convincing job of lying. What if she was on the level, comes here, her mother dies - and then she over stays her visa! All you can do is make sure she's got her stuff in line, smells right, and stamp or no stamp. You're not god after all and every interaction is going to be a guess in the end.

Ps - is tony danza still alive? I thought he was killed in a horrible soccer accident. Or was that just a nasty rumour?

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Well, since Tony posted here, he's clearly still alive.

I really agree with what you said about letting go and not dwelling on these decisions. It's funny the fishbowl effect that happens here. We (I?) pay very much attention to rejection rates, potential fraud, etc. I guess it's good to be professional, and to do a good job, but at the end of the day, this is definitely not a person who's going to do some horrible crime in the US or suck the system dry. (Unless she is, but anyway...)

I think the main thing for me, beyond the fraud / no fraud question, is that the cumulative effect of these cases is that they are changing my worldview. They really hit me in the gut after a while. After realizing that someone could be crying (quite convincingly) at my window AND be completely fraudulent, it starts to mess with my view of people, even outside of work. I don't think I'm naturally cut out to be a police inspector, who always doubts (at least initially) seemingly genuine emotions, but sometimes that's necessary here. Ah, the loss of innocence...

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

For anyone who might possibly be interested in a serious but pretty technical visa line issue, check out this article on the abuse of visas meant for religious teachers.

At 12:56 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Nice article. I wrote my senator.

At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I'm not convinced. To me, the critical sentence in this article is:

The only option would be to try to refuse under 212(a)(3), which is for someone deemed to be a terrorist threat, but this is unlikely to stick based only on inflammatory rhetoric.

If a person isn't deemed a threat, then they're not deemed a threat. If you're going to start refusing people because you don't like their vibe, then all the "dark" applicants don't make it but all the "pale" applicants do. As for inflammatory rhetoric, people like Thich Nhat Than and the Dalai Lama, as well as the Pope, have said some things that are critical of US Foreign policy or of the materialism of capitalism. Should they be denied a visa?

At 4:05 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Let us know, if you know, what happened to this case. Sounds like you did the right thing.Unless she was a terrorist, of course.

At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Becky said...

As someone who has spent the last four years on the other side of the counter, I wouldn't worry too much about it. The reality is that she can't "suck the system dry". I am legally here, married to an American, been working my butt off teaching American kids and paying American taxes since I got here, and even though I qualify for the Oregon Health Plan (because teachers' work apparently has no value in this country) I'm not eligible until my green card is five years old.

A line I picked up while in India was "better to be had than hard". It has served me well. As an aside, I have written a letter to the one person in my immigration process who treated me respectfully and acted like I was a human being. They even made it into my Christmas card letters that year, so don't let a little outpouring of gratitude make you too suspicious. If there were more people like you around, I wouldn't have the recurring thought that, in a year, I should just become a citizen so I can leave this country and not get treated like a terrorist suspect if I want to come back and visit!

On another note, NPR just did a little piece on the street dentists in Delhi. Thought of you!

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...


A few things regarding your disagreement with the article:

1) One thing to keep in mind is that (I believe) immigration law is one of the few (only?) areas of the law where the burden of proof is on the non-immigrant visa applicant to show that s/he can overcome a presumption of immigrant status. Said another way, a person is judged to intend to immigrate to the US unless the can show otherwise. So, according to the law it's not enough to not be a threat, one needs to show reasonable proof that s/he will go only for a temporary time and intends to act lawfully while in the US.

2) While I take your point regarding potential improper discrimination at the visa window, I don't think getting a weird vibe from someone should be automatically linked with racial profiling or political disagreements. All kinds of people come to the visa window, with many different reasons for coming to the US. If an officer senses something wrong, if something doesn't add up, according to this article s/he can't refuse the R1 visa, even though a specific threat hasn't been identified in the system. It's true that a prejudiced person might abuse this tool, but the solution there would be to change that person's behavior, not remove the tool completely. And it's a tool that exists for most other visa classes, but not the religious worker visa (again according to the article).

3) I think it's true to some degree that the actions we/the U.S. administration take lead to hostility that wouldn't otherwise be present, including having a "suspicious" immigration standard. It breeds an atmosphere of distrust and resentment, which leads to violent feelings that might otherwise not be there. But at this point, if we let in anyone that wasn't an already proven threat, would that be the best solution?

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Street Dentists!

I get to see very little of this kind of thing where I am in New Delhi. It's pretty sterile, by India standards. I have to go out to Old Delhi or other areas to get this kind of feeling. I'm going to try to take some pics and write about this soon....


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