Legal Immigration

Since Donald Trump moved into the White House immigration into the United States has become a hot topic. Most attention has been focused on the border with Mexico. However immigration in general has not escaped Trump’s wrath. It’s odd that he should be so rabid in his condemnation of immigrants. His current wife and one ex-wife are immigrants into the United States.

In my time I’ve done my fair share of immigration into the United States. In 1967 I first entered on a Student Visa to study on a scholarship for a year in Wisconsin. I entered through San Francisco Airport and spent my first week in the student accommodation at Stanford University. The only problem was going for a swim in a local pool that allocated three hours each week for local nudists. You are right – I chose the same three hours. I didn’t realise my mistake until I was changed and walked out to the pool to discover I was the lone swim suit owner. I retreated and waited for the three hours to end.

My next long term stay in the United States was in the US Virgin Islands. I began my stay on a visitor’s visa. The club wanted time to work out whether I should be their coach and I wanted time to decide whether I wanted to spend two years on a small island in the Caribbean. When we decided the answer to both questions was “Yes” I returned to New Zealand to get a permanent work visa. I decided to apply for an O1 Visa. This was a pretty ambitious move. The O1 Visa is a prestigious document. Here is how the US Government’s website describes the Visa’s conditions:

“The evidence to be submitted must demonstrate that the applicant is truly extraordinary. “Extraordinary” entails a high standard as applied to business persons, scientists, educators and athletes.”

Swimming New Zealand and the NZ Olympic Committee would never have approved the visa, however the US Government thought the deeds of Alison, Toni, Nichola and Jane plus a couple of popular swimming books counted as “extraordinary” and stamped an O1 Visa into my passport.

The guy doing the stamping in Auckland assured me I would never have a problem getting into the USA with an O1 Visa. He said my O1 Visa was the first one he’d seen. What had I done that was so famous? I didn’t want to say nothing in case he took the visa away, so I mumbled something about being a swimming coach at the Olympic Games. That seemed to work. I was spared the embarrassment of admitting I’d made a hash of my Olympic experience.

Equipped with my “easy” O1 entry into the United States I flew back to the Virgin Islands. The first flickers of concern occurred when the immigration officer at the Virgin Island’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport seemed to study my passport and its shiny new visa for way longer than was necessary. I was certain his attention was because he had never seen anything quite so prestigious.

Then he asked if I could come with him. You never say no to that sort of question especially when the person asking has a gun. I followed him into a small office. He asked if I could wait while he made some enquiries. I agreed. After half an hour I thought I’d ask what was happening. I went to the office door. It was locked. All I could do was wait. Eventually, an hour later, the immigration officer came back smiling and said, “Welcome to the Virgin islands Mr Wright. Please enjoy your stay.”

“Um, thank you.” I said, “Is it okay to ask why I’ve been sitting in a locked room for an hour and a half?

Well, it is the strangest thing, he said. “There is a David Wright from New Zealand who is on our immigration watch list for passing bad cheques in Texas. He is younger than you but we had to call New Zealand to make sure it was a different David Wright.”

If I ever find that other David Wright we are going to have a serious conversation. The guy totally ruined the thrill of my first O1 entry into the United States.

The consulate officer in Auckland was right about the Visa though. On almost all other occasions it provided easy entry into the country. One immigration officer in Miami Airport insisted on telling me about his father who had been on the 1936 American Berlin Olympic Games diving team. Clearly he thought swimming and diving were the same thing.

Apart from the first time I used the O1 Visa the only other time it gave me a problem was the last time I used it to enter the United States. I was returning to Miami after spending a month in Europe at the French high altitude facility in Font Romeu and attending the three Mare Nostrum meets in Barcelona, Canet and Monte Carlo. I presented my passport in Miami in the normal way. The immigration officer studied it and his computer for several minutes and said, “Why are you trying to get into the United States on expired documents?”

I knew immediately what he meant. I explained that I’d been in Europe for a month and while I was there my newly applied for Green Card had been delivered. I didn’t have it of course but Alison did and she was in the airport waiting for me to arrive. I could either enter with the O1 Visa or we could go to reception and use the new Green Card.

“No,” he said. “You are trying to enter the US on fake documents. That is illegal. Go to that illegal immigrant’s office over there.”

I did what I was told and sat down in this awful room; full of really distressed families arguing with immigration officials. Babies were being sick. Mothers were crying. Fathers were yelling. Suspicious looking 20 year olds with facial tattoos were grouped together plotting something. It was awful. I waited for an hour and a half before it was my turn. I explained what had happened. The official frowned. My heart sank.

“Good God, you should never be here,” he said and stamped my passport.

I walked out to find a concerned Alison with my Green Card. The first time I used it was a couple of months later also at Miami Airport. I handed it to the official at the same desk that had caused me problems on my previous journey. The official glanced at it, didn’t stamp anything, smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

What a difference a card makes.

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