Saturday, January 12, 2008

[Barely] Coming to America …

I got up bright and early anticipating that the process at the Cordova Bridge Port of Entry was going to be a long one. But I was thinking 2hrs to 2.5 hrs tops.

It is/has been a pleasant morning, in spite of the 35 degree cold.

I am currently at the Cordova Bridge Port of Entry. It has been exactly 4hrs and I don’t think the end is near. Although, from what they have done so far, it seems to me that things are in their final stages, but I have been wrong so many times and this could just be one of those.

Let’s step back a bit to that bright-and-early-waking-up thing. It was 6:30am, so I gave myself about 1.5hrs to pack up everything I had (that was quick!), eat breakfast, check my email (for the last time this week in Mexico, hopefully) and check out of Hoteles Colonial. By 8:05am, my cab was outside (yea, I didn’t want to walk to the bridge this time round).

I walk out of the hotel and the first thing I ask is “How much to the Bridge?”
The cab driver says “Ocho
So I repeat what I THOUGHT he said, “Five?” making sure to lift my palm so he could see what I meant.
He blurts back “Si!”

So I hop in and he drives me to the border bridge. It took about 8 minutes or so. I didn’t have any change and only had USD 23.11. I hand him the $20 bill and he says “No change?” After answering no, he goes outside and comes back with change and hands me $12.

“I thought you said $5?”

He answers “No, ocho.” Right then, I realized my mistake and I said “F**K!” He obviously thought I was nuts … I don’t blame him. I wasn’t trying to haggle or anything. Had I realized earlier, I would have, but I’ll never forget what ocho means. I am not promising anything though. My memory is on strike, I think.

Anyway, I then headed to cross the bridge to an awaiting line at the Port of Entry. Some 10 minutes later, I was at the front of line, all my paper work at hand. This included, a letter from the Chief of the NIV section at the Juarez consulate, a sealed envelop from the consulate, my Passport (with my expired, cancelled visa), all my I-20s, I-94, letter from my program director, letter from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Registrar, my resume and a brief hand written description of my research that they made me do at the consulate. The officer at the gate calls me. As soon as I got there, I handed her all my paperwork.

She looks at them and says “This is going to be complicated” and takes me to Window 10 of the Permits/Permisos Section. Behind the window was this officer Williams, whom, as I learnt later, had only been at the Port for a week. In my mind I was thinking, “It sure is going to be complicated.” I think she read my mind … she smiled at me.

Let me digress a bit and bring to your attention a few things that you, the reader, need to know to understand what is coming next.

- If you read my very first blog, you will realize that somewhere, I mentioned that my visa was stamped “CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE” and the date on the stamp was “Jan 08, 2007.” Please, will you curse with me or for me at this point if you can?

- Foreign students in the US can travel to and from Canada and/or Mexico on expired visas as long as they have maintained their “student status” and that their Forms I-20 and I-94 are not expired. Ideally, I could have come to Juarez to visit and gone back to the US without any problem. As soon as your visa is cancelled though, your I-94 is invalid and useless!

- Cordova Bridge Port of Entry seldom receives cases like mine. Normally, people get caught in such situations at their home countries and usually, they wait for everything to take its own course. They are so rare, and since Officer Williams was one week old here … you get the point.

Back to the story: Officer Williams then signals one of the other officers behind the counter. I later learnt his name was Vasquez. At this point, I can overhear them saying “Why did they send him here …” Why did they cancel the visa before doing the administrative processing” “bla bla bla.” I zoned out. A moment later, Officer Vasquez comes to the window and says. “John (I hate that!), where were you before coming here?” I told him. The he proceeds “How comes your visa was cancelled in Jan. 08, 2007?” I didn’t swear at this point. I mean, how many more things can go wrong before you have to expect them? Well, I explained why, painstakingly. Officer Vasquez was very understanding and agreed that I had not been in the US illegally. This actually helped me out a little bit. It showed a little bit in incompetence at the consulate and helped explained some of the questions they had.

Things went smoothly after that. They called me in did some fingerprinting and some picture taking. Then, Vasquez tells Williams “Why don’t you check his bags to make sure he doesn’t have any bombs.” Ok, let me tell you something. Officer Williams is HOT, very beautiful and about my age. I was hoping that they would just x-ray screen my bags. Come on, I had worn my clothes more than the doctor-recommended times and it did not smell good in there. I also had my running shoes. Those smell AWFUL by default. Officer Williams, I could tell, realized this and didn’t really go through my luggage as she was supposed to. Oh well ….

They took me to a private “INTER” room with immobile chairs equipped with cuffs about an hour after the start of the whole process. Yea, I wasn’t scared … they had exhausted my “scared resources.” For the next 2.5hrs, they did paperwork. It turns out, Officer Williams was still undergoing training and this was one of the special cases. I was taking notes at this point, but that only lasted for the initial 30 minutes. They left the room, they came back, they talked, they asked, they yawned, they talked, they laughed … I was just sitting there. I learnt a lot and even asked them if they could hire me. Then I thought, oh crap! My flight is at 11:20am! I said that loud. It was 10:55am and the airport is some 20 minutes away. I asked to use their phone, they let me … I changed my flight, the 8th time and then the 9th time followed soon after.

All this time Officers are walking in, asking questions and amazed at how unique my situation was. I was wearing my Boston Marathon jacket. Since my passport said Republic of Kenya, I made some friends. At one point, one officer came in and asked “Do you run?” I said “Yea.” He then followed that with “Me too!” And I continued “Yea?” He said “Yea, to the buffet and back!” He was funny. I was really comfortable after all this that I was actually asking questions, some which even seemed personal, now that I think about it. I learnt that Vasquez had been in the military and thought the entire system, immigration, sucked. Williams had been a teacher prior to her current job etc etc. I also learnt that they were letting me under section I-546. That I had an A-file opened. And all these fell on Section 212i (7)/border patrol section 274 law. I have no idea what these mean, but I have them scribbled down … so I have to write them here.

Three and a half hours later, they take me out so they can do more paperwork and verifications. This included more fingerprinting and pictures, as though the ones they had already taken were insufficient. They then ask me to wait while they complete the process.

Oh, they just called my name. I forgot to tell you I was typing this while waiting.

I am at the El Paso international airport for the section below … there is nothing international about El Paso airport, except me!

Soon after they handed me a paper to sign, verifying my fingerprints, they hand me another form. This form is called I-546, hence the name of the entire process. This form is a replacement for my passport and visa that they are going to keep. It is my permit for entry to the US. But it’s valid for only 14 days. It is a piece of paper … and on it, is a stapled new I-94 form. Its headline reads “Order to Appear Deferred Inspection.” Under it, as it is “ … YOU ARE ORDERED TO APPEAR IN PERSON AT THE BELOW INDICATED ADDRESS ON THE DATE AND TIME INDICATED … FAILURE [TO DO SO] MAY RESULT IN YOUR BEING TAKEN INTO CUSTODY … your pass port has been retained …”

I am ordered to appear at a totally different Port of Entry here in Texas, El Paso area, regardless of whether the consular calls me or not. They said there is a possibility that they will allow me extend it at a near immigrations office if the consular doesn’t call me.

I am tired of writing. My flight is supposed to be departing at 4:10pm local time. It is 3:50pm and I don’t see anything happening soon. Maybe there is another story cooking, that I can tell later.

In the meanwhile, tune in for beginning of part II of Kipitos Mexican adventure. Something is bound to happen within the next 14 days.

No comments: