Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rebuilding

We were devastated that M was not going to be able to return with me. We had not even considered any other options, but now we were working overtime trying to make a plan. I had brought a considerable amount of money with me for the trip and so a hotel was not a problem. M's cousin, with whom he usually stayed after long trips like this one, was not in Canada. He was at the time visiting the states.

It was very difficult to swallow the new situation, and we didn't yet know all of the implications. At the hotel room we tried to discuss options, but to him it was just hopeless. The next morning we got up and started looking for a longer term hotel to stay in until he could get contact with his cousin and apply for jobs. We used some of the money I had brought to pay for a month in a not so nice motel next to M's mosque. The condition of the motel did not matter as much as it's proximity to both the mosque and his cousin's apartment and the fact that it included his necessary furniture and electricity. Do remember that it was January in Canada. The motel was warm, and that pretty much says it all.

After a few days I had to return home and left M sitting in his room, alone.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to be a little less detailed about the next few months. The incident at the border had M convinced for months that he had done something wrong and was being punished by God. He was depressed, his cousin was still away, and finding a job in the winter in his city is sometimes difficult. His only comfort was the mosque.

I visited every three to six weeks at that time. Every time I got a few days off, I would drive myself 12 hours to see him. It took months for me to book my first ticket by air, which was a new experience for me. I had never flown anywhere. I scarfed up student airfares and found last minute bargain prices as often as possible.

M was having trouble figuring out the best way to go about the divorce and was beginning to doubt that he could even go through with it. He had called his parents within days of his arrival in Canada and made it known that he intended to divorce the woman. It was made a somewhat more simple (a difference of degrees here) because within days of his return to Canada, the girl's siblings has started calling and writing to M and his family trying to get money (large sums of money) sent for business ventures, among other things.

M tried going to his imam and some of the elders at the mosque for advice on what he should do about the divorce. He ran into a wall when he asked for advice about divorce. The answer was always "try to work it out." The men would not even listen to the story, they just advised not to divorce. It took M until April to find a man he still refers to as "uncle" to listen to his story and advise him based on the actual background and not the pat answer.

In the meantime I was not patient or kind. I was growing more impatient every day. I had waited months for him to return and I had mistakingly thought it would be easy for him to 'leave' the woman he'd met only once. I had no concept of the emotional toll this would take on both M and his family. His parents would change their minds daily going from supporting the decision (on days when her family called for money) to yelling at M for trying to "abandon" this woman and his own family.

In April, "Uncle" managed to convince M that his marriage was not real. M describes it as if Uncle were trying to wake him up. He says Uncle yelled at him that it was not a marriage at all. Uncle criticized his family for ever allowing it to take place. Uncle's own marriage, though it was 45 years ago, was one of love and not necessarily family arrangement. Uncle told M he was "not really married" he told him he had done nothing wrong, and that the woman would be free to marry someone else, as soon a M would "free her" to do so, meaning the divorce. It took this man's opinion to make M feel comfortable enough to go through with everything. It took this man's knowledge to figure out how to best go about the divorce for the sake of both M and the woman.

I had always assumed that M would do a divorce in Canada, but this man asserted that a divorce would be better for the woman if handled in Pakistan. The requirement being a formal letter, witnessed, sent to the union council in her area. This would be quickest for her and would give her proof and the ability to move on quickly. And so, this was how it would be done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Memory

Certain things about that day at the border are burnt into my brain. The name of the officer who issued all of the orders, the reactions of his co-workers to his attitude and demeanor, the way that the other officers watched M and I each time we were again placed together over the course of the day. But I think the picture that I replay the most was M's face.

M was already 'broken' when he came back from Pakistan. He was emaciated, aged and more depressed than anyone I had ever known, but each time he saw me start to break he would come alive, and I did the same thing for him. It sounds dramatic as I type it, but when the officer first told us M was going to be denied entry I turned into stone. Every American stereotype about believing in "rights" and "justice" came out in me. I glazed over and stared at the officer. I made him give every inch that I could possibly take. I demanded explanations of each sheet of paper M had to sign. I stood my ground about getting my phone back and being allowed to call home. I demanded to know where M was going to be each time he left me. When M started to break, I told him not to worry, things would be fixed. This would be fixed. I drew my determination that day, and trust me, I needed it.

I had no idea of the determination it was going to take. I had no idea of the multiple laws that had been written in such a way as to undermine exactly what it was that I wanted, a life (in the United States) with M. I was ignorant to exactly how powerful this one man was in the grand scheme of things, and I had no idea that my government really has written away the rights, the same rights we as American citizens take for granted, for anyone who is not a citizen of our country. The same rights that dear Mr. Bush ironically propagandized spreading all over the world.

When it was written that "All men are created equal. . . ." it did not mean "all" men. At the time it left out both women and people of color. Now, it left out anyone not from the United States. When we tout "due process" and "justice" and "innocent until proven guilty," all of that has been intentionally written out of our immigration laws, and NO, it does not make it easier if you are married to or related to a U.S. citizen.

The memory that strikes me the most from that day, I was sitting in the waiting room in between the first and second round of questioning, still hoping to be allowed to take M home. M had disappeared from sight for what had to be an hour and I heard his voice. M is tall, over six feet tall. I caught sight of him as he was being led between a few cubicles. One of the other officers was taking him to be fingerprinted and he looked out and saw how worried I was. I was standing on my tiptoes to try to see him, to gauge the look on his face. He looked square at me, and winked.

Monday, April 20, 2009

'Dedicated' pt.2

I was nervous as we walked inside without our passports. We looked for a representative to have them. We waited a few minutes before addressed by an officer who started to ask M questions about his trip to Pakistan and then questions about his residence in Canada. M was too honest and though he technically had a place to stay with his cousin, admitted that he had no lease in Canada as he had just come back from a five month stay in Pakistan. They discussed his previous jobs in Canada, since he also had no work in Canada right now, again, he had just returned from Pakistan.

Every part of the conversation continually went back to Pakistan and it was then that I started to get antsy. I must have rolled my eyes too obviously because the officer told me that I was no longer allowed to stand beside M and must go sit in one of the lobby chairs a few feet away. I felt I had no choice but to obey. Within a few minutes M joined me and the officer set out to search our car. When the officer came back he had basically decided we were up to no good. In my briefcase he found, as I had told him he would, out of date immigration paperwork and as I had not warned him, articles on divorce. The articles were research I had done on what M would have to do to divorce the woman in Pakistan, but somehow the officer had conjured in his head that we had some elaborate scheme starting six months ago for M and I to apply for his immigration, get married, and then for me to divorce him.

The officer placed us in holding cells behind the secondary inspection desk. We were separated and I was seated on a wooden bench in an entirely green room. He decided to "interview" us separately. I began calmly and explained that I had already told him about the expired visa application and told him that it didn't matter anyway, that M had been forced into an arranged marriage while in Pakistan and that was why he found the research on divorce. I also pointed out that if he read the research I had come up with, he would know that M had to return to Canada to divorce the woman since in my state you have to be a resident to obtain a divorce.

Additionally, I rationalized, we could not apply for the visa at all since M was already married and a divorce would take months or even a year to accomplish. I did not stay calm during this interview and in fact was reduced to tears in telling the story along with the investigators questions and accusations. The man basically ranged from accusing me of immigration fraud to complete stupidity for believing anything this Pakistani man had told me.

M's interrogation was handled a bit differently. He was offered coffee, and the officer tried to "rationalize" with him. Somehow, this officer believed there was something sinister behind the two of us traveling together, besides the obvious fact that M was in fact, technically, married and I looked like a hussy. I was kind of beginning to feel like one too.

The officer placed each of us back into the cells alone and I got to listen as he and his coworkers searched through my purse and briefcase taking great care to look at each of my ID cards and EMS certifications. At that time I carried with me all of my Paramedic cards, student ID's, etc. He used the computer to research us and I listened as he joked about the contents of my purse and the fact that "She's obviously from *insert my state name here* look at all this stuff." Continuously my phone rang as the hours passed and I got to listen to them sit and ignore it as my mom frantically called to see what had become of us.

Posted all around the secondary inspection area were rules that they were supposed to follow. . .things like allowing a phone call. . .letting you speak with a supervisor. It did not matter which of these I requested, all were denied. In fact, I was there seven hours before being allowed to drink water from the water fountain or to even go to the bathroom. I was forced to not only request the bathroom trip, but wait for my specific officer to come back (after 30-45 minutes) to be allowed to go.

The officer decided that allowing M to enter the United States was too much of a risk. You know, being married and Pakistani and all. Instead of allowing him to withdraw his petition to enter, the officer decided to conduct what is called an Expedited Removal. This is a process that was signed into law in 1996, the Clinton era. It was a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act and basically gave Customs Agents the right to deport anyone applying or attempting to enter the United States. The entering 'alien' is not allowed to appeal the decision or to see a judge. They are not even in the United States, but they are declared 'deported' just as if they were, and are banned from entering for five years.

There is no appeal process and no seeing a judge. One requirement is that a supervisor approve the removal, there was not one on duty that night so the officer phoned him at home and he must have given verbal permission. Additionally, it is posted that I had the right to speak to the supervisor--the only manner of appeal--the officer denied this and did not allow me to speak with him.

M was photographed, fingerprinted and driven back to the Canadian side, after nine hours of holding, by the officer. I was allowed to follow, apply for reentry to Canada and pick M up in the Canadian immigration office. It was about 10:30 pm when we headed back to find a hotel where we could both stay.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A 'Dedicated' Protector of the Homeland

Okay, so I admitted that I was a fairly naive person. I had not traveled much by this point and definitely not with M. We had all of course lived through September 11, but somehow in my mind, nearly four years later it just did not occur to me that it could cause me an issue. Neither did I think that the fact that it was the week of Bush II's second inauguration should cause me any issues. Truthfully, I had forgotten it was the same week.

Bordering on completely worthless and stupid, It didn't occur to me that a Pakistani man traveling on a Canadian passport could be singled out because of a Pakistani visa in his passport even if that visa was used so recently.

I did have qualms, knowing very little about immigration law about the two of us traveling together one on a U.S. passport and one on a Canadian passport, but I figured being truthful about our plans and the fact that M only had one suitcase of luggage would be proof enough that he had to return to Canada. In case anyone is unfamiliar, when entering the U.S. no matter from what country you are required to basically prove that you do not have immigrant intent. This usually comes into play with countries that require a visa, you've probably heard about it in reference to Pakistan, Bangladesh, India. . .even Mexico a lot, but every border agent is "trained" to try to figure out if you are trying to immigrate without the proper visa.

M and I had discussed it, and I had to go back to school and work relatively quickly. M would travel with me to my town and stay there a few weeks. It was our assumption that he would need to return to his home in Canada to obtain a proper divorce from his "wife" in Pakistan. And so, on the morning of January 15, 2005 we set out on our trip. We decided to stop and see a few of his friends first and got lunch at a nice little Italian place before beginning the journey. In a nice pile of mistakes I made, I had printed out directions from online and they were different that normal. They sent us to a different POE than we usually used, one in a much smaller, rural town bordering New York and Ontario, instead of my normal New York/Quebec POE. This makes a difference, I think, because of the "type" who was staffing each POE and their level of racist paranoia. (oops, did I write the word racist. . . .hmmmm?)

Anyway, M was unhappy with this route because it wasn't his normal either, but we didn't have a map and I was too worried to try to do the other route by memory, so we took it anyway. We waited several minutes in line before being "inspected" by the border agent. He quickly flipped through my passport and then M's, asking as he went, "How long are you planning on staying in the United States." My answer was not certain enough when I told him "Three weeks or so" for M's answer, and the man wanted to know how he would return. I honestly told him that M usually took a flight or bus back, but that we hadn't made plans for that yet, we would buy the ticket when we got there.

It was at this point that I realized the guard had stopped at M's Pakistani visa and used my passport as a bookmark to keep it open to that page. "Ma'am, " he said, "I'm going to need you to pull your car over beside that building. Leave the keys and all of your personal belongings inside. Do not take your cell phone with you." And still, I did not see that things had gone terribly wrong.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Airport

I arrived at the airport at 12 noon. I couldn't sleep anyway and what if his plane landed early? (yeah right, an early international flight, right?) M still had not called, but what else was I going to do? I had driven 12 hours to pick this man up from the airport. . . . I walked around the airport shops looking for food. Drank some juice and watched others waiting for their families in the international section of the waiting area. There weren't very many stores because this section of the airport was undergoing renovations.

I found a phone card after walking around for a while and called M's home number to see if he picked up the phone. One of his brothers answered. I called the cell phone, no answer. It wasn't a definitive answer, but at least I knew he wasn't stupid enough to have ditched me and then answered the phone. The brother who answered the home phone seemed to be trying to tell me he wasn't there anymore, but with our broken language lines, I just couldn't be sure.

I checked the flight prompter, each time I checked it there was a different delay, it went from on-time to one hour delay, to thirty minute delay and then to landed. The plane marked landed around 1:45 pm and by 2:30 I was getting antsy again. I was pacing a little and each time the doors opened I watched intently to see any sign of which flight was coming in, an impossible task considering that there was such a crowd and I couldn't catch a glimpse of a ticket or luggage tag, and was too far back to question anyone as to which plane they had gotten off of.

I began to notice that other people who were waiting had began to watch me. One specific old man had been watching me for the last two hours or so, I guess wondering why I was still here and what I could possibly be doing. I was starting to lose hope that M was coming at all. His plane had registered "landed" for more than an hour and a half and still no sign of him. I was standing behind a crowd of people and I was too short to see over them, I had to peer between them to see the new arrivals. I began to get panicked thinking that maybe I had missed him completely and he was in another part of the airport looking for me.

Suddenly the doors opened again and a fresh batch of arrivals came walking through. I could see women, then a family and an elderly couple and then a thick batch where I couldn't make out each individual face. I was standing on my tip-toes when I saw him. He'd only been gone for five months, but he had aged years. There were bags under his eyes and his normally strong thin frame was emaciated. He was a little darker and rail thin, but as soon as he saw me his eyes changed to the person I remembered. He grinned the same surprised grin he gave me when I had come to Montreal the first time.

His mouth was open and his eyes turned red. I teared up, but I did not cry. I darted to the outside of the ropes and M came underneath it. He hugged me the way I remembered. He hugged me hard and close. I couldn't believe he was back. For the entire trip I had convinced myself that I might not see him even this time, but here he was, thinner and sadder, but here. He quickly stopped hugging me and grabbed my face and just stared at me. "I really thought I would never see you again," he said, "I didn't think you would come."

We walked out to the car holding onto each other all the way, tightly.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Back to Canadastan

So the night before M's flight to Montreal I drove and drove and drove. It was January, so there was a lot of snow. I didn't reserve a room figuring I would just get one close to the airport.

Twelve hours is a long time to drive, especially when you've worked a day shift and only napped a few hours before starting the trip. I had a lot of time to think. . . I was very excited, but not completely convinced that M would actually be on the plane when it landed. I spoke to him again before he was scheduled to leave, he had stops in the UAE and Frankfurt before landing in Montreal and I asked him to call me from one or the other. He called me before he left and didn't call to cancel, as he had on all previous trips. During my whole trip I pegged where he should be and when. He was supposed to land in Montreal at 1:00 pm. . .he did not call once during the night.

I arrived in Montreal around 5 am. I barely recongnized the streets covered in snow. It was wet and dirty, beautiful Montreal in January. The first two hotels I stopped at had no rooms and I was getting a little tipsy. I desperately needed a nap. When I walked into the Ramada they had a room, but I had to rent it for the previous night because it was before check-in time. . .and pay for the next day. I did not care, I needed a shower and somewhere close to stay before I picked up M. I went back outside to get my luggage and slipped into a mud puddle under ice. I was so excited and nervous, it made me laugh.

I went upstairs to shower and laid down in the bed. I could not fall asleep. I had been so tired originally, but now I couldn't shut down the images in my head. For months I had imagined that M would just appear in places around my home. I kept thinking that he would just show up at my work, or at my house. I would see him places, in the store, on the street, even in the towns I had to go to for work on the ambulance. I would see him places he would never be.

I would dream about the day that I would pick him up from the airport. I imagined hugging him. I imagined the way he would look at me. I could feel it sometimes, the way that he hugged me. M had this way of hugging me like he might never see me again, hard and tight. I could feel that in my dreams sometimes.

Now, I couldn't sleep because I wasn't sure if he would be there, and if he was, I wasn't sure of what was going to happen now. My good little Pakistani Muslim was technically married, we had technically already broken up and I technically hadn't heard from him for his entire flight.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Reeling" Me Back In. . . .

While M was gone I was not in the best of health. I've never experienced something so completely physical caused by something so emotional since. I was unable to eat normally. I would wake up in the morning with a nervous stomach ache. I would go to work at 9am and by 2:00 pm I was able to eat something. I would eat a small meal and most every day, I vomited it right back up.

Thinking back to it, it is quite inexplicable. It was a depression that I cannot rationally describe because looking back it seems quite ridiculous. It resulted in a 30 lb weight-loss that was actually quite obvious. I had been working while M was gone and had also gone back to attending graduate school. I was doing a Master's in Teaching, working my two Paramedic jobs and doing a short practicum for school. My luck was always that my Paramedic schedule was very flexible and that college schedules always give ample breaks.

It was the very next day that after my lashing out that M called me back. He said that he just wanted to let me know that he was flying into Montreal on January 13. He told me that he didn't care if I came or not, that he had a lot of "decisions to make" and that he would "find a way home" even if I didn't come, but that he thought I would want to know after such a long time.

It was obvious to me that this was his way of making a plea. We talked for a few minutes and I told him that I would be there. I was quite afraid that he was going to let me down again, but at the same time, I could not refuse. It was completely impossible. I had waited too long and dreamt too often of seeing him again. The things I said the day before were clouding us both, as was the obvious overhanging of the past five months. Nonetheless, I again rearranged my schedule and planned for a week of travel time. I knew that he would come back home with me. There was no doubt in my mind.