(published in Glitz Magazine, 'Perspectives from across the Atlantic')
Persona non grata: The Illegal Immigrant
These days everybody wants to come to the United States of America and I don’t blame anyone who does, after all this country is the wealthiest in the world. From freedom of speech to surplus basic amenities, this country has it all. It doesn’t matter who or what you are or where you come from, with hard work and dedication you will be able to afford yourself a comfortable life that will be considered luxurious by Nigerian standards, and that of other countries. People come to this country for different reasons and by different means, but it is important for anyone who plans to make this journey to understand that despite all the hype about America and it’s allure, all that glitters sure as heck ain’t gold. This 4-part feature series explores the lives of different Nigerians who have made the journey into the land of opportunity called America and what they go through. This is not meant to discourage anyone but rather, to act as a guide for those who aspire to live or study in America, of which I am certain encompasses a large population of Nigeria. As they say, experience is the best teacher and when I look back on my own experience, I wish I knew then the things and people I know now.
Having said that, I now introduce the first category of Nigerians living in America, the Persona Non-Grata, officially known as the illegal immigrant. For this person, nearly every telephone ring, door knock or cop car in the rear-view mirror sends jolts of electricity up and down his spine. He thinks the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has finally caught up with him. This individual is usually low-income, young-adult or middle-aged hustler (mostly but not limited to males) or a fairly elderly person with limited need to wander beyond the four corners of his/her hosts house, making this person easier to hide from authorities. The latter is usually there to help care for a relative’s children and help with house chores, so that the host can work double shift and overtime to make ends meet.
Life is very hard and rough for anyone who is an illegal immigrant in America, especially in this post September 11, 2001 days. It is for ones own good never to fall into this category because that could really dampen ones goals in life, especially with the recent globalization of the world or what some refer to as “Americanization.”
Illegal immigrants are folks who have outstayed their welcome by not leaving the country when their visas have expired and those that make a hop, skip and a jump across the border with Canada from Nigeria to Asia via Europe (you get the picture). If you happen to be from an unfavorable race or your country of origin is listed in the black book of the INS or President George Bush’s Homeland Security Agency, you can kiss this country goodbye forever wearing only the shirt on your back, when you get caught.
While in Nigeria I heard of the many people who promise to send people to America in exchange for payment. For the love of God, do not waste your hard earned money and precious time on such false promises because it’s the classic 419 in action. If the person telling you this cannot produce identification showing he or she is an employee of the US embassy, run as fast as your legs can carry you. I come from a really large Igbo family that fits the Nigerian stereotypes of the Igbos and while I don’t pretend this is applicable only to a certain people, I will tell you now that some family members have fallen victim to these gimmicks and are stuck some where between the devil and the deep blue sea. It wasn’t like no one told them; they just weren’t patient enough to do things the legal way and felt the need to do it the fast way.
As an illegal immigrant, you will be stuck with ‘under-the-table’ odd-jobs, as there will be no education, employment or any other amenity ordinarily reserved for taxpaying legal immigrants. Consider yourself lucky if the Nigerian manager of roadside McDonald’s or the Pakistani owner of the mini-mart at the gas station illegally hires you to do dishes or mop his floor. If you are a male, no one will have pity on you, not even your family members. In fact those will be the very first people to desert you when you need help the most. Some of them will advise you to marry an American so that you will get citizenship and they’ll be quick to say, “After all isn’t that how we got ours.” The idea here is for you to marry a non-suspecting Caucasian or African American (some are wise to make a contract) get a divorce, then go to Nigeria and marry a nurse, who will have your children and make all the money so that you can focus on getting an education; it does sound like a brilliant plan, rather reasonable, but don’t be fooled. This has worked for some and failed woefully for most, especially when children become involved, as many Nigerian men feel the need to “sow their oats.” If you are lucky enough to successfully get your papers, be sure that your American ex-wife won’t let you go scot-free; paying child support for your kids or alimony is sure to break your bank.
Before the terrorist attack on of 9-11, it was easier for an illegal immigrant to make a livelihood and become a legal resident, but I guess some folks just like to screw things up for others. There were places in the boondocks of rural South Carolina and the Appalachian backwoods of North Carolina where you could get a fake Social Security Number with which you could at least work and get paid; how that works I really can’t explain, but it does. However these places have been taken over by the INS, Homeland Security or are just no more. The terrorist not only changed America, they pretty much screwed up things for other minority groups and foreigners. They practically sealed the fate of many who are in this country illegally and trying to make an honest living. Even formerly illegal immigrants are paying for their crimes of several years ago; just ask the Arab man, married to and Arab-American, who spent 6 months in solitary confinement and a New York State Maximum security prison for a visa violation from a few years back. These are certainly the dying days for the illegal immigrant-success stories in America.
This doesn’t mean that hope is lost, but I am certain anyone who is nursing plans of taking a ‘quick route’ has been discouraged, that’s the whole idea. Mason Cooley once said, “Proverbial wisdom counsels against risk and change, but sitting ducks fare worst of all.” In the second part of the series, I’ll provide you with an alternative to turn your dreams of coming to America into a successful reality. You will meet the second and most important category of Nigerian-Americans and Nigerians in America; the Students and F-1 Visa holders. Be sure to pick up the next issue of Glitz to read more on Coming to America, until then I leave you with a few words of wisdom from Lord Chesterfield; “Whoever is in a hurry shows that the thing he is about is too big for him.”