Today’s lead topic is re-cycled from 17 years ago. Why? Because I am utilizing my rarely-used right to be professionally lazy; and also because migration to the USA has been a powerful blight in our national lives for some three decades now.
America, the country the world loves to hate, has been a magnet for those Guyanese who managed the great escape into the exile of opportunity – real or imagined. These days we read weekly of the misbehaviour of some of those lucky immigrants-turned-citizens of Obamaland.
I speculate that many of them got there using the once-famous ‘back track’. I mean by false documents, paying off former consular officials, going to the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico and physically infiltrating American borders, arranged marriages and US visa weddings etc. etc. The ‘back track’ to America served some dreams well. For others it was a nightmare of involuntary return or jail time. Seventeen years ago I experienced American consular officers “processing” Guyanese who dared to apply for non-immigrant visas to vacation in the land of Uncle Sam’s opportunity. Here are some of my observations of 17 years ago.
A day at the consulate…
I was among those two hundred aspirants and applicants waiting to be interviewed for some category of non- immigrant visa to visit my daughters in New York.
Hoping for B-1 or B-2, I was in good employment in Georgetown. To me my own credentials and pride were intact. (I always explode secretly when immigration people from other countries dare to even think that I Allan A. Fenty, would want to stay in their homelands indefinitely!)
Seventeen years ago you could have walked with “documents” – employment letters, bank statements, invitation letters, endorsements etc. But on my day the four consular officers seemed to be in foul mood. Impatience, sarcasm, witticism and terse, summary refusals characterized that seemingly typical day in that virtual house of hope in Kingston.
But the poor consular officials had to exercise discretion, judgment and application of their regulations every time a hapless Guyanese appeared in front of them. The precedents for not retuning from “vacations” were many.
Holiday became Holi-Stay and the officers were stern today. One guy exasperated his interviewer by not answering the questions but revealing about a dozen “documents” instead. His “ties to Guyana” were fragile. He was turned down. He left muttering “well is back track fuh me now, yeh.”
All intending immigrants?
The American embassy people should be guided – at least 17 years ago – by then Section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which holds that every “Alien,” every vacationer shall be assumed to be “an intending immigrant” until it has been has been established, to the officer’s satisfaction, that entitlement” to non- immigrant status applies.
In other words, that the Guyanese visitor will quickly return to Georgetown or Vreed-en-Hoop. Armed with Sections 214 (b) and 291, the consular officers sit in daily judgment. After all, it’s their country. And they don’t invite a soul to their embassy. Tourism ads notwithstanding.
Mind you, they seemed to lighten that day with their often-grim, wry, day dismissive humour! An Indo- Guyanese lady took along her cute chubby three-year-old. The officer loved the baby but turned down the mother. Another gentleman wore his crucifix indicating that he was “Pastor” Benn. “Even Jesus can’t write a letter to impress me, Sir,” said the impatient lady, turning away the minister of religion. And when another old applicant declared that “God knows I’ll be retuning home “, the officer retorted “Madam, God doesn’t issue visas here.”
That day too, I learnt that you shouldn’t tell the officer that “I love my country”. Thousands of “Guyana- lovers” don’t return! Wonder what will be my fate when next I apply…
Gecom’s doctor speaks
I am definitely a fan of the language of Dr Steve Surujbally, the chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom). He has a way with words, fearlessly chastising those who would misrepresent the role and actions of his commission.
Before I quote my choice from his lips last week, I remind you all of his responses to Present Jagdeo nineteen months ago (September 2009): “Such exaggerations serve only to evoke sentiments ranging from tut-tutting to hypocritical shock, especially from the non-knowledgeable and those who love to wallow in Schadenfreude.”
According to Dr. Surujbally, the President’s, “utterances on this matter are really nothing but flights of fantasy, a figment of someone’s imagination and excursion into untruth…More importantly, relative to the cost of elections in Guyana, is the question why do we spend as much money as we do… Does Gecom ask for scrutineers to look over its officers’ shoulders? Was the scrutineering activity necessary? Of was the $300,000,000 tab, ostensibly associated with the payment of scrutineers of the PPP and the PNC, having another motive as its point of origin?”
Dr Surujbally also questioned who asked for millions to be spent on a Fingerprint Cross Matching (FCM) exercise, pointing out that it was not Gecom.”
Last week’s sarcastic gem, for me, was:
“I do believe we are the whipping boys when the political parties cannot in fact combat each other on issues…” And “I would wish to see a Gecom that is so credible that whatever it does would be accepted by the political combatants for high office in this country…”
Still, to me a fearless, professional official as impartial as his laws allows him to be. Not many around!
That age-less new construction long-long going up at High and Princes streets.
What is it? How long being built? Cost? Come on young investigative reporters!
Till next week!