“Destination USA – Secure Borders – Open Doors”

The United States Embassy in Dublin is starting to feel like a Florida gated community; a fortress for the protection of the wealthy and worried. I am sad for them that this is so. The rest of us have now been demoted to queueing on the street outside the perimeter walls. Stretchy airport-style barriers corral us neatly on the pavement, and one by one we shout our business to the American woman behind the plexiglass. She checks through our paperwork making sure we have everything we need for the appointment. Over and over, she shouts back that the passport photos are too small, that photo booth pictures are not acceptable, and that the chemist next to the bank beyond the traffic lights will take the regulation 2 x 2 inch photos. She is pleasant. When everything is in order, she slides a small square of cardboard into the metal tray. It is green.

    “Take your green card and present yourself to the security guys.”
Somebody has a sense of humour. It isn’t me.

The United States Embassy in Dublin is starting to feel like a Florida gated community; a fortress for the protection of the wealthy and worried. I am sad for them that this is so. The rest of us have now been demoted to queueing on the street outside the perimeter walls. Stretchy nylon barriers corral us on the pavement, and one by one we shout our business to the American woman behind the plexiglass. She checks through our paperwork making sure we have everything we need for the appointment. Over and over, she shouts back that the passport photos are too small, that photo booth pictures are not acceptable, and that the chemist next to the bank beyond the traffic lights will take the regulation 2 x 2 inch photos. She is pleasant. When everything is in order, she slides a small square of cardboard into the metal tray. It is green.

“Take your green card and present yourself to the security guys.”
Somebody has a sense of humour. It isn’t me.

In a small booth at the gate, the security guys check my name off on the list of 10 a.m. appointments. They are Dubs, and sympathetic to the Fortress America pilgrims. As they frisk me I ask them how they like the new system. One shakes his head.
“Ah Jaysus, every time we come down here there’s a new fuckin’ procedure.”

They search my bag, x-ray it, take my mobile phone and give me a pass. Now the next green card holder is let in to be searched, and I’m allowed to cross the grounds and enter the embassy, where another security desk is staffed by a smiling, dark-haired Dub. The presence of my own people is comforting in a place designed to make me a stranger.

Inside the door of the visa office, portraits of Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and George Bush survey us masterfully and get the odd dirty look in return. (Is there a plainer man alive than Dick Cheney?) Every seat is taken; several are broken. There are several college students waiting for a J1 summer visa and fretting about their finals. Three Filipina nurses. (I hope they’re not leaving for good. Ireland just legalised work permits for their spouses to encourage them to stay, something America does not yet offer.) There are several cranky, veteran H1 “skilled workers” like me. Some green card holders from the Donnelly/Morrison handouts in the early nineties. Various unidentifiables.

I give my paperwork to an Irish staffer, who is patient when we discover that my passport is still stuck in the x-ray machine outside. He checks through everything again, preparing ground for the American visa officer. At the next hatches, the interviews are taking place. A helmet-haired Sandra Bullock type calls Irish names with midwestern tilt: “Christine DAHN-a-hue?” Fifty of us listen with interest as a Riverdance hoofer applies for a green card, possibly under the Alien of Extraordinary Ability program, though I can’t quite tell. An Indian PhD student is up next, forced to shout his financial means at the glass as we stare slackly, missing our text-phones. The visa officer asks him about his academic study in surprising detail. Arthritis research. We nod. Give it to him, go on.

I smile at a foxy-haired man who looks familiar, sure I must know him from somewhere. He is with three or four friends and they all look hungover. He gives me a “grand girl yourself” wink and sits two seats down from me, edging for a chat. It dawns on me he is the lead singer in The Sawdoctors–in fact, the entire band is here, getting visas for their March tour. The signature lyrics of my sixteenth year were theirs:

I useta see her up the chapel when she went to Sunday Mass
And when shed go to receive, Id kneel down there
And watch her pass
The glory of her ass

Newly mindful of my ass, I am distracted when finally called up to The Hatch.

My visa officer, Sandra Bullock, is lovely. They all are. It’s not their fault I am not an Alien of Extraordinary Ability or a Bruce Morrison protegée. It is not their fault my sense of entitlement is so huge and so wounded. My lawyer has prepared every detail I might need, but the biggest challenge turns out to be the new inkless fingerprinting system. The whorls on my pointer fingers are faint, but Sandra does not lose patience in the eight attempts it takes to capture them. I really should stop playing with candles.

And that was it. The postman has just delivered my passport, battered and stamped from all my wanderings, and now with a full-colour H1-b visa issued at Dublin, Ireland, authorising me to work at Meetup, Inc., expiring in February 2007. On Sunday I’ll fly to Amerikay.

8 thoughts on ““Destination USA – Secure Borders – Open Doors””

  1. So are Irish rock bands that sing about the glory of a young lasses’ ass ( at mass) excluded from the visa waiver program?

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  2. Glad you have finally jumped thru all the hoops and breeched the barriers that the bureaucracy has erected. Sad that the bureaucracy has erected such an onerous system in the name of homeland security which is a feel good system to mollify the fears of masses and let the politicos crow. Meanwhile the smoke and mirrors of this system probably do little to thwart the real terrorists who are cleaver enough to be watching and scheming for another way to whack the fumbling giant.

    But the end result is that you are free to pursue your dreams where you want to. I guess I should be thankful that I do not have to fret over such formalities. Welcome back to New York!

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  3. Sorry to see you go.
    Ireland (and Limerick!) need more creative and thoughtful people.
    It is interesting to see the contrast between Americans in person, friendly, generous and helpful, and the sinister bureaucracies they create when they are afraid.

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  4. If you consider returning to Ireland with token gifts for the unwashed masses, please stuff a Sunday edition of the NYT (any week will do) in the bottom of a bag along with two Peppermint Patties. I will reciprocate with an equally fetching gift bag.

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  5. Hooray! Sorry I’m late to the welcome wagon–I’ve been [strike]watching too much TV[/strike] [strike]having too much fun[/strike] slaving too hard for The Man to keep up with the exciting InterWeb this week.

    I’m very glad that you’re finally on your way back to frosty Brooklyn. Though I’ll miss reading your observations about places elsewhere, I’m sure I’ll continue to be entertained by your [strike]observations[/strike] theories about New York.

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