Renewing My Green Card

February 20, 2007

By:† Rosy Straka

(* not their real names)


I think I need to get out more because I found my appointment at the Immigration office in Oakland this morning quite amusing and entertaining Ė well, after I finally stopped freaking out about it!† Every ten years, I, a Permanent Resident Alien, have to renew my green card.† I submitted a request to renew it in September, as it was going to expire in January.† I FINALLY got a notice with my appointment time and location -- 9:00 a.m. in their downtown Oakland office and itís no longer the ďimmigrationĒ office, itís the Department of Homeland Security.†


The notice said I was to bring my current green card and any information regarding arrests, convictions, etc.† Itís too bad they didnít say, ďSince your last card renewalĒ so I wouldnít have wasted my time calling the Walnut Creek court to get a record of Ďthat incidentí in 1978.† They told me it was so old the records had been destroyed and sent me a letter stating so.† I decided that the records for the Ďotherí incident were probably destroyed, too, so I didnít bother calling.†


As the appointment time drew near, I started freaking out.† Mike had even offered to come with me because he knew I was freaking out.† Unfortunately, it stated on the notice that only translators and medical attendants should attend with the applicants.† I was on my own.† What if I get deported?† What if I should have tried harder to get those Ďincidentí reports?† Where would they send me?† WAAAAHHHHH!†


I figured they couldnít deport me if they saw what a wonderful, upstanding citizen I am NOW.† I went so far as to bring my birth certificate, my marriage certificate, all four of my childrenís birth certificates and the newspaper article from the Contra Costa Times where it showed me as one of the Ďpeople in Claytoní, the PFC President.†


I wanted to be punctual so I decided to take BART.† I went onto BARTs website in advance to ensure I would catch a train that would put me there at least half an hour before my appointment.† Mike said it would take 20 minutes to drive to BART, I gave myself 30.† He even gave me a BART card with $40+ on it.†


Iím driving down Clayton Road and down just past the Sports 4 All, thereís a backup.† OK, donít freak out, you have plenty of time, you have plenty of time.† Breathe.† Itís those darn houses theyíre building by BART.† Why are they allowed to close a lane at commute time?††


Itís 7:48; Iíve got plenty of time to catch the 7:57 or the 8:07.† I go into the BART garage, donít have any idea where I am and I donít think I could have found a further space.† Although it was a nice corner spot, suitable for Silky.† Iím doing good though, plenty of time, plenty of time.† Iíve got a ticket.† I pull it out from the spot I put it in next to my credit cards in my wallet and insert it in the machine.† SEE STATION AGENT.† AARRGGGHH!!!!!!† Mr. Soft Talker* tells me itís demagnetized and I have to get it exchanged at the 12th Street station but heíll give me a pass to 19th Street, where I want to go.† WRITE FASTER PLEASE.†† OR JUST LET ME BUY A NEW TICKET.† I GOTTA BE ON THIS TRAIN!†


I run up to the BART platform in my cute but now not so comfortable shoes and the 7:57 pulls up.† I hop on.† After the doors close, I hope I am on the right train as I didnít check WHERE the train was going.† Itís an SF/Daly City.† Phew!† (Thatís the right one, right?)


I feel out of place.† Iím the only one not reading or computing or dozing with my iPod.† Come on peopleÖI just get motion sickness if I read!† Iím sure everyone is thinking that Iím a retard rookie BARTer.†


At the 19th Street Station, I go to the furthest Northern exit because I know thatís where I need to be to get to 20th and Broadway.† I get to the attendantís station to show my pass (remember, my ticket is demagnetized) to get out of the station and thereís no attendant.† Itís says to go to the main attendant station so I go in search of it.† Back down the escalator, up the other side, walk, walk, walk.† Stupid cute shoes.† Lo and behold, BOTH attendants are chatting in the main attendantís station.† They let me out and I make the trek back to the end of the station (along with the attendant who should have been there in the first place).†




Theyíve closed the BART entrance that used to be in front of the old Emporium Capwellís, which was where I was planning to go.† I cross over to the other exit.† Up on the street, I look around to get my bearings.† HmmmÖthe Capwellís is now a Sears.† I see a coffee shop.† Great!† I havenít had any coffee yet.† I get a lovely latte, and proceed to the address on Telegraph, being careful not to trip on the yellow crime scene tape and stepping over what appears to be urine, puddled and flowing across the sidewalk from the doorway of Papa Bearís Nightclub.†


Hey, look at that.† The wig shop is now Angelís Hair Extensions.† Isnít technology great!


Ah.† 2040 Telegraph.† Darn, no food or drinks, no cell phones, etc.† Well, itís early; Iíll take a few sips of my coffee before I discard it.† I decide to discard it sooner than later when I realize the guys sitting in the parked car are probably discussing how much they should offer me as I stand there, across the street from the hair extension place, on the corner, by Papa Bearís Nightclub, in my cute shoes.   


Itís only 8:30 so I should be in and out of there in no time.† I walk in and handsome LíShawndre* is sitting there with his retro afro, gold (and are those diamonds?) teeth and rent a security guard uniform.† I say to him cheerily, ďGood morning!† I have a 9:00 appointment.Ē† He says very politely, with a smile and surprisingly good English, ďMay I see your green card and your notice.Ē† He hands me a clipboard with a questionnaire, my card and appointment slip back, and a piece of blue plastic with some letters and the number 15 on it.† He tells me to turn off my cell phone, take a seat, complete the questionnaire and wait till they call my number.†


In retrospect, I guess he was smiling because I foolishly thought I was actually going to be seen at 9:00 as stated on my appointment slip.†


So I sit and I wait and wait and wait.† The room is large and sparse.† Two desks at the front, only one of them has a gentleman sitting at it.† The room has 100 or so plastic standard issue government office chairs arranged facing the front of the room, one American Flag and 4 large signs with instructions Ė in English only.† Thatís different.† A pretty Hispanic girl is taking fingerprints and pictures on the side of the room.† She canít possibly be more than 13!† OK, Iím exaggerating.† She has a belly ring.† Donít you have to be at least 18 to get one of those?†


I entertain myself watching all the people.† I donít think all of these extra people are translators or medical attendants.† Of course, WE followed the rules.† The Patels* and King Mustafa* are especially interesting, in traditional Indian and African garb, respectively.† They try to complete their questionnaires.†† King Mustafa apparently canít read (or speak) English and seeks help from the Ukrainian (maybe) woman sitting next to him.† Itís funny how people think if you talk really loud, you will be understood.† YOU NEED TO WRITE YOUR NAME HERE.† WHAT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY?† THE COUNTRY YOU WHERE BORN IN GOES HERE.† WHAT IS YOUR MOTHERíS NAME (raises her left arm skyward)?† WHAT IS YOUR FATHERíS NAME (raises her right arm skyward)?† Do raised arms signify your parents?† I really want to take a picture of all this Ďethnicnessí but I get visions of LíShawndre tackling me to the ground and handcuffing me.†


The solo guy at one of the desks at the front of the room is continually calling numbers.† 175Ö.197Ö.210.† OK, even though my number only says 15, it must mean 215, right?† So I go up to the desk when he calls 215.† He sees that I have a BLUE number and tells me that I have to wait for someone to call me from the other desk.† I tell him there has been no one at that desk in the half an hour that Iíve been here.† He points to the other desk where a blue number 14 is the last number.† ďSee, theyíre on 14,Ē he says.† He assures me someone will be calling me shortly.†


I sit back down.† Fast forward about 1 minute.† I KID YOU NOT.† The guy gets up from the desk and goes to sit at the other desk and calls blue number 15.† I go up to the desk.† I sit down and I wonder if I should laugh or make some smart remark or what!† I decide he could potentially make my life a living hell and decide not to say anything.†




He asks if Iíve been out of the country for more than a year since 1997.† I say no.† He asks to look at my hands.† Is he checking to see if I have fingerprints?† Or if I have tried to change them in some way?† He hands me a piece of paper with the letter L on it, asks me to sit and wait until they call my letter.† Big sighÖ


King Mustafaís help is up at the desk and he is looking around for another helper.† I just donít feel like being helpful right now, plus I donít speak any African languages nor apparently, do I know International sign language.† I donít make eye contact with King Mustafa.† I plug in my iPod, hoping LíShawndre doesnít come over to tell me I have to turn that off, too.


Another pretty Hispanic girl (this one could definitely be at least 18) appears from a closed door and calls for letter D.† YOUíVE GOTTA BE FREAKING KIDDING ME?† D?† Only D!!!!† I never even saw A, B or C while I was there!† GOOD LORD, Iím going to be here ALL day!!!!† Maybe that guy gave me the letter L because I Ďcomplainedí and/or spoke better English than him.† I try to see what letter he gave the two people that he called after me. One of them is King Mustafaís helper.† Theyíre sitting in my row and I slyly try to peek at their papers.† The people behind me probably think Iím trying to cheat.† Canít see the letters.†


SighÖ. I take off the iPod and put it away.† Iím just not in the mood for music.† Too bad I canít call anyone.† Letter K.† Oh, maybe I wonít be here all day.† The letters donít appear to be in order.† Letter M.† Damn!† He did screw me!† Should I complain?† No, theyíll just make me wait longer.† Just chill outÖIím sure thereís a good reason they called M first.†


The girl from the office comes out.† L.† YEAH!† She proceeds to give me instructions in Spanish.† I canít bear another minute of not being a smart ass so for my amusement and in my perfect, beautifully spoken English, I say, ďIím sorry.† I donít speak Spanish.Ē† She says, ďOh you donít?† But you were born in Mexico!Ē† I say, ďYes, but Iíve been HERE 47 years.Ē† She tells me I should get my citizenship and I tell her that project has now moved WAY up on the priority list.† We finish the niceties, she hands me over to the fingerprint girl.† That girl takes my fingerprints and a new picture (darn it to heck, my hair coloring appointment isnít till tomorrow!) for my new card which will be sent in the mail.† She hands me a critique to complete.† Sheís kidding, right?† She comes back to get it but Iím still writing:† Donít send me a notice for a 9:00 appointment when you have no intention of seeing me at 9.† Tell me what to expectÖ.etc.† I wonder if any of them will or can read my comments.† They say Iím done, I can go.


And this, my friends, is our Home Land Security.†


OK, that wasnít SO bad; itís only 9:44.† I call Mike to tell him he doesnít have to buy me a house in Mexico where everyone can visit me.† Sorry to those of you who were hoping for a nice vacation spot!


Iím at 19th Street so I decide to go ahead and walk to the 12th Street station and exchange the demagnetized BART ticket.† Mike asks if itís safe.† Broken window at Sears, homeless guy approaching.† SureÖitís safe.† I might have been scared if I hadnít hung out here for so many years.† Hey, when did this Lionel Wilson building get here?† Ahhh, City Center!† I should go reminisce.† No, better not.†


I hippity hop down into BART.† Of course the attendant is on the OTHER side.† I trek down to where I can cross over to the attendant.† Stupid, stupid cute shoes.† She tells me to go to the other booth, the ticket exchange booth.† Darnell* and Shaniqua* are in line in front of me.† Menchu* is behind me. I hope Iím not her type.† They all have piles of tickets they are turning in.† Itís OK though, the Pittsburg train wonít be here for 10 minutes.† Menchu says there ought to be a machine they can feed the tickets in for exchange.† I canít believe there isnít.† Did you know you couldnít use a ticket that has under a certain amount?† So apparently, these people are exchanging tickets with very small amounts that canít be used, for one ticket with the combined amounts.†


Mr. Lee* finishes counting Darnellís tickets and asks for $8.90.† Then he counts Shaniquaís tickets and asks her for 65 cents.† Iím confused.† Is there a service charge for exchanging tickets?† Why isnít he just giving them a new ticket with the total amount?† Anyway, Shaniqua doesnít have the 65 cents.† She proceeds to tell Mr. Lee her sob story about not having time to go to the bank (yeah, like she has a bank account).† Mr. Lee isnít budging.† Shaniqua asks if one of us ladies has sixty five cents she can borrow.† I say sure and pay her sixty five cents.† Menchu canít believe I gave her 65 cents.† I tell Menchu I donít want to be here all day.†


My turn.† I need to exchange this $37.40 demagnetized ticket, please.† Mr. Lee, in broken English, with a very heavy Chinese accent, ďOK, you give me 60 cents.† I give you $38 dollar ticket.Ē† I donít get it and I also hope I didnít just give away my last 65 cents since my ATM and credit cards are probably also demagnetized.† I ask why.† OHHHHHH!† You can only give me tickets with whole dollar amounts.† OK, whatever.† He hands me a ticket and says, ďHereís your $30 dollar ticket.Ē† I thought it was $38?† Menchu agrees that he said $38 the first time and $30 the second time.† I look at the ticket which turns out to be 2 tickets, one for $20 and one for $18.† I tell him itís OK, itís $38 dollars.† Am I the only one that thinks itís weird that he didnít give me just one ticket with $38 on it?†† I wonder if Mr. Lee is running some sort of a scam.


I head onto the platform.† Oh, there are two.† Which one is it?† I do my impersonation of a man and donít ask directions.† I go to another platform.† UhÖI donít think I want Fremont.† Stupid, stupid, stupid cute shoes. I better ask.† A nice lady tells me to go back upstairs.


On the quiet ride home I just laughed at myself for freaking out over nothing and laughed out loud over my silly morning.† Anyway, Iím legal again and Natalie doesnít have to freak out about me potentially getting deported!


Incidentally, I meet some girlfriends for lunch afterwards and they tell me I look cute.† ďOh, and what cute shoes!Ē† They also notice how patriotically Iím dressed in blue jeans, white t-shirt and red coat.† CRAP!† That was a total coincidence.† Maybe LíShawndre was smiling cause he was thinking, ďDamn, what a brown noser!Ē