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No More Take a Number, For Now

Aug
21
2006

I am feeling just like a pedigreed Chihuahua these days. Why? I’ve got my papers, my residence permit, my Spanish equivalent of a U.S. green card.

There were lots of visits to government offices and waiting in lines, but the whole process wasn’t terrible; it was, however, confusing, annoying and full of minor inconveniences. Little if no thought is given to the convenience or the concerns of the immigrant, the new resident.

Still, I imagine the process I went through was one of the easiest you’ll find in the immigration world. As the spouse of an E.U. citizen the reason for granting the permit is clear and the documentation needed is not excessively burdensome. I’m also going into the whole thing as a middle-class, white woman who’s a citizen of a rich, powerful country. So by a small degree, the sometimes tricky balance of power that exists in that moment of civil servant/petitioner relationships is leveled for me. But even being somewhat sheltered (empire helps; the Romans got into Spain pretty easily too), you still go into each interaction wondering what will be dished out.

One part of the mess involved several visits to a police station, where you give fingerprints and show you’ve paid the card’s fee, and then eventually pick up your card; the station covering where I live happens to be very difficult to get to by public transportation (a nice touch for immigrants who might not have a car). The line there, with a waiting time averaging a little over an hour, is outside, with a shed-like roof for coverage. I don’t know if it moves inside in the winter. It’s apparently much better than Madrid though, where a Mexican friend who has to renew his permit every two years says lines can be multi-hour waits, and the police supervising the line are consistently rude.

At the station in Valencia, the police officer supervising the lines was unfailingly kind to everyone and did his best to be helpful. There are mothers with babies and fathers with kids and families and young men and women on their own or in groups, many from African or Latin American. Most of us are annoyed or nervous or confused or some combination, because doing the paperwork for even the most straightforward of immigrations is an annoying, uncertain and confusing process.

The good cop wasn’t around later one day when the line had shortened while some of us were still hoping to get in before the office closed for the day at 2 p.m. (no afternoon hours in August). The pregnant woman in front of me told me she had heard that they were at least going to finish out the line before closing, and everyone was hopefully pressed in a bit closer.

I was 10 or 15 people back from making it inside – it was less a line than a tired, hot huddle at this point, but still pretty respectful of positions – when a five-man or so police squad suddenly took up positions in front of the door. One officer sharply announced that that was it for the day. No one else is going in, he said – backed up by his squad – so if I were you I wouldn’t hang around.

We were all a bit taken aback, because the police attitude seemed to indicate our smallish group was supposed to riot or something; but it was awfully hot, so after a moment’s milling uncertainty we all put away our papers and rolled away our strollers and took our friends and milled off to come back and wait another day.

People go through hell to illegally immigrate to rich countries, a phenomenon caused in part by the countries’ ambivalence toward immigration. Immigrants are needed but they’re still “the other.” But even legal immigrants (not such a clear-cut division of course; overstay your visa one day, and bam, you’re illegal) see that ambivalence in the grudging treatment – like the ridiculousness of the cops that day – they face as they’re allowed in. Papers or not, no one likes to be barked at.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:41 PM | Permalink

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