‘Don’t You Want To Know The Colour Of Our Toothbrushes?’, or How to Get a Green Card in America

Getting a Green Card in Trump’s America.

By Gordon MacRae

Photo by Daniel Soares

For the last few months, I’ve had a monthly column in the Guernsey Press about living in America. The newspaper is only available with a paid subscription online, so I’m posting them up on Medium when they are published. It’s only a little bit about Trump.

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A letter arrived requiring me to take a morning off work to complete a ‘medical exam’ for my Green Card application. The purpose of the exam would be to provide the American government with evidence I had neither Syphilis or Tuberculosis. Either of which diseases were apparently fine so long as you were a US Citizen.

If I didn’t complete this medical exam, the letter said, the government could decide not to renew my visa and ask me to leave the country. So it had significant ramifications.

I cycled over with the rush-hour traffic, got lost around a construction site on 2nd Avenue and arrived at the doctor’s office 10 minutes late, breathless and glistening with sweat, which I hoped didn’t make it look like I was TB-ridden. My doctor was a fifty something woman wearing dark, tortoise-shell glasses and a long-white lab coat.

She ushered me into her tiny corner office. The whole surgery occupied a tiny corner of a dank, 1970s, six-story office block. Her office was overflowing with papers, arcane medical devices and photographs of her younger self with other prominent medical professionals. She asked me my name, where I was from, and why I was applying for a Green Card.

“Ah, I studied in London,” she said with a wry smile, her teeth were grey and tightly spaced. “Where do you work?”

“General Assembly.”

“The Church of Scotland?”

“No.”

“The U.N.?”

“My parents would be prouder if it were either. But no.”

“What is that?”

“We teach people how to code.”

“Ah, so useful. I don’t understand computers,” she gestured to her desk where a computer would have been. But there was no computer, just more piles of paperwork. “Let’s take some blood,” she said eventually.

I pulled up my sleeve. “You look very vascular,” she said.

“I cycled over here.”

“How silly.” She was right. It was about a million degrees outside.

She took out a needle, dabbed my skin with antiseptic, and pressed the needle point into my arm.

“Don’t look at your arm, what are you making for dinner?”

“I’m going out for dinner.”

“That’s wonderful. I don’t often cook, but when I do I like to prepare traditional Egyptian food. I was born in Cairo, you know.”

“That sounds nice.”

“It’s not so much these days. There, all done.”

I looked down at my arm and she had, indeed, finished. I hadn’t felt her take out the needle.

“I usually take four vials,” she said. “But your veins, were so strong looking, I took six. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Let me see your vaccination record.”

I wondered what she was going to do with the other two vials.

“Have you been vaccinated against Tetanus?”

“I think so.”

“It doesn’t look like it. Ah, so if you step on a nail, go to the hospital straight away. Here are your forms. We will call you about the results.”

Outside, it was lunchtime, office workers from the neighbourhood streamed over the pavement. Heat reflects off every surface. A few weeks later a letter arrived instructing me to go, with my wife, to the Immigration office for our Green Card interview.

At work, my colleagues were quick to provide advice on what to expect. The correct tactics to employ to convince the immigration officials we were, in fact, legitimately married. Meetings would turn into ad-hoc quizzes about Caitlin’s favourite colour, day of birth, star sign.

“You’ll need plenty of photographs of you both together. A friend said she took a whole album.”

“What colour is her toothbrush?”

“Where was your first date?”

“What tattoos does she have?” (Trick question: The answer is no tattoos)

Caitlin was concerned but for a different reason. The whole experience made her question whether she was qualified to have a US passport. It was a very existential time. Her mum is American, so she is a dual-national, but she wasn’t born in the States.

She spent a fraught evening brushing up on immigration law, eventually concluding that the great nation would have been unlikely to let her have a passport if she wasn’t legally entitled to one. Still, as the day of our interview loomed closer, she was worried the Immigration official would expose her as a fraud.

“But what if they realise that I’m not actually American? I sound like Downton Abbey.”

Image by Christoph Niemann

The day of our interview arrived. It was seasonably warm, a mid-August day in New York. The temperature was over 35 degrees, with 95% humidity.

The subway station overflowed with roving packs of French tourists and British expats braying about the price of beer. A man played a one-stringed violin outside the entrance, but nobody was listening, we all stared at our phones.

The train cars were packed. People stood four ranks deep on the platform. When a train arrived, filled to capacity, people would contort themselves in the gaps and hold on to whatever they could find. I was drenched in sweat when I got off the train in downtown Manhattan. I looked particularly vascular.

Caitlin was also running late. Our appointment was at 11am. I paced outside the Immigration office, 10.57, 10.58. Maybe Caitlin had been apprehended by an eagle-eyed Immigration official for not sounding American enough. Maybe she’d trodden on a rusty nail.

Eventually, she arrived. “The trains,” she gasped. We hurried through the entrance and took the lift up to the fifth floor. Inside the entrance, a photograph of Donald Trump loomed uneasily over a line of my fellow immigrants waiting to be processed.

We took a number and sat down. I was carrying all our immigration documents in a binder. I had printed what felt like 154 separate pieces of documentation. The letter had been very clear about the number of duplicates and triplicates required. ‘Failure to comply will result in immediate rejection.’ Our number was called and we went back down the corridor, round a corner, and another office.

“Hello,” said our immigration official.

“Hello,” we said, not quite in unison. I worried we didn’t sound like we were married.

“Let me see your forms,” the immigration official said. She took the folder but didn’t open it.

“How long have you been married?”

“A year and a half.”

“Have you ever smuggled drugs into the United States?”

“No.”

“Have you ever been convicted of a crime, either here or outside the United States?”

“No.”

“Ok. I’m going to approve this.”

She stamped the piece of paper on the top of the pile and gave the whole binder back to me. As we stood up to leave Caitlin blurted out “Do you not want to ask us about our first date, or the color of our toothbrushes or anything?” she said, sounding slightly hurt.

The woman looked confused.

“No…” she said.

“Oh, ok.” said Caitlin in a ‘your loss’ kind of voice.

“Did you know the answers to those questions?” I asked Caitlin, once we were safely back in the lift.

“No, but it was very American to pretend like I did.”


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