What if that were me?

I believe that the world would be a much better place if each of us put ourselves in others’ shoes before taking a course of action. There has been a lot of divisiveness, argument and tension that could have been avoided, especially when it comes to immigration, if we had had more compassion for others. I’d like to share what I have been through in the past two years in the US. These are personal experiences and stories I came to know from my close friends.

Administrative hurdles

Before I could board a plane to the US, I had to apply for a student visa just like so many others. After tedious preparation with plenty of paperwork, I had an interview with an immigration officer at the US Embassy. At that point, the result was essentially out of my control. The officers have the authority to deny or accept visa applications on the spot without having to give a detailed explanation. A rejection certainly doesn’t do an application any favor for future attempts. My experience is nothing compared to other refugee applicants; which John Oliver explained here. Let me tell you: it’s not easy or enjoyable to even be able to board a plane to the US.

The first time I was in the US, I landed in O’Hare airport in Chicago. There are two lines at every international airport in the US. One is for permanent residents and US citizens while the other is for other folks. It takes normally at least 1.5 or 2 hours to get through the long line of immigrants waiting to be verified by the immigration officers. These officers have the authority to deny an immigrant entry to the country and to put him/her on the plane back to the origin. Since going to Omaha always requires a connecting flight from a bigger airport such as Seattle, Chicago or New York, I always have to look for flights that must have more than 2 hours in layover. Usually, it results in a more expensive flight ticket. Imagine that was you. Would it be comfortable that you stood in line for 2 hours doing nothing, with luggage and sometimes with your crying babies after hours of flight?

I had to come back to Vietnam to renew my student visa. I used to live in a town of 50,000 people in Finland for more than two years. Every year, the only thing I needed to do to have my visa renewed was to visit the local police station and 80 euros. With the US, I had to be physically in Vietnam to apply for a renewal. I didn’t mind a chance to visit my family and friends, but it came with almost 70 hours of flight and $1,600 for a round-trip flight ticket. Before booking my flight, I was looking for a cheaper alternative. There was an option involving a layover in Canada that would cost $300-400 less. The caveat was that I would have to apply for a transit visa. The possible savings weren’t worth the administrative trouble I’d have to go through for the transit visa. What if you were me or any other immigrant? How would you feel about the troubles we had?

After renewing my visa, I came back to the US and landed in Seattle for a layover. After the lengthy immigration process at the checkpoint, I was pulled in for a random luggage investigation. I had no idea why I was pulled in, but I wasn’t going to protest or make a scene. I brought Vietnamese coffee in my luggage for personal consumption (by the way, we have great coffee!). When I opened my luggage, I saw a note saying that somebody already checked my luggage and there was coffee all over my belongings. The officer opened another bag of coffee to check. After a 5-minute check, I was allowed to retrieve my luggage and get on my way. Needless to say, I had to wash my clothes off the spilled coffee.

Racism

I suffered two incidents of racism myself while in the US. One time, I was walking to a bar in the middle of an area full of bars and clubs in Omaha. A car passed by and a young woman pointed a middle finger towards me and shouted aloud: “fuck you Asian”.

The other time was close to my university campus. I was waiting at the bus stop to go home. Standing with me was an African American guy and we started to converse to kill time. There was nobody with us there. Suddenly, a car with loud music inside passed and somebody shouted aloud: “shut the fuck up!”.

What if the roles were reversed? Would any American honestly feel that such behavior was acceptable?

Working in the US

I have been lucky enough to have a job here. The struggle wasn’t easy, though. We immigrants don’t speak the language fluently and don’t understand the local culture completely. There were a few times at my office when I didn’t get the jokes from my colleagues. As immigrants, we also bring with us the future requirement for a visa sponsorship. Companies are not in the business to lose money. So, the requirement doesn’t do our applications any favor. If you think it’s easy for immigrants to secure a job, you may want to think again.

I have two close friends whom I have known for 8 years and are living the same building as I am. They graduated in 2016 and have been working as full-time employees for more than 2 years. They are highly educated with a dual Master’s degree and absolute contributors to their respective companies. Nonetheless, none have secured a working visa for no reasons that anybody can explain. They have been working in the US with their OPT legally, but haven’t left the country for 5 years. A lot of life plans and decisions hinge on whether they can get a visa. Just spare a second to think about all the uncertainty in life that results from the anti-immigrant policy.

 

I am not trying to complain. What I have experienced is much better than many other immigrants and refugees have. The point is that to be able to live, study or work here legally, it is not easy at all for us. There are many difficulties and challenges involved. As an American, you can go to any country to travel for 30 days without a visa. You can earn a lot of money in developing countries by teaching English, the language that you speak fluently already. Whenever you come back to the US, you don’t have to wait in line for hours or live in uncertainty that an officer can put you back on a plane on the spot. In the US, you have an advantage in job search as there is no required sponsorship or gap in local culture.

Surely, there are some bad apples among immigrants, but the number makes up only a small percentage of all immigrants. It doesn’t make sense to generalize all immigrants and treat us with hate. Put yourself in our shoes. How would you feel if you had to go through what we went through?

Everything would be much better if everyone could take a second to wonder “what would happen if it happened to me?” or “what if that were me?”

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