“If you ever come back to Ireland, I won’t accept this crap again.”
The fact that this was the most hopeful (and productive) time in my four weeks of acquiring my Irish green card, has given me a bit of an understanding of the troubles with immigration around the world. Governments seem to think they’re doing you a favor by letting you enter their country, as opposed to accepting that you are the one helping their economy by adding money and intellectual capital (in the case of internships) that is desperately needed. To get an understanding of what took me to this climactic day, let’s return to June 23rd, 2010; arrival day…
Off the plane in Dublin I walked slowly along the airport corridor — a narrow hallway split into two lanes. On the left was our entrance walkway containing a carpeted floor and a muraled wall that was covered in large photos of asian boats in a floating market. The scene reminded me of what Venice might be like, with streams running through a city right up to the windows of buildings. It was both beautiful and lively – a mix of old customs and tourist’s SLRs. On the right (through a glass wall that separated the two lanes) was another mural, this one of New York City, complete with the naked cowboy and a bossy black female police officer. These two murals argued for some stark differences between the dynamics of downtown America versus the rest of the world. On the left, there was a market – a necessary place where people buy food to survive; on the right, there was an intersection of fast food restaurants and entertainment buildings. On the left, the tourists were clearly distinct from the locals both in dress and accessories; on the right, there was no clear distinction between tourists and locals. On the left, nature and humans were in harmony; on the right, nature was completely absent. On the left, people formed a network of cooperating boats in a river; on the right, a police officer was forced to direct traffic. These murals seemed to be more telling of the group that put them in place, than of the places they attempted to represent. In fact, one of my first clues as to why I thought America may be regarded as a loud, culture-less, nature-less melting pot was on this first entrance into Ireland.
After the twenty-minute crawl through this entrance-way to customs, I took out my passport and entrance letter and prepared myself for hell. You see, one of my greatest fears in preparing for my trip to Ireland was the possibility of deportation on arrival. A friend of mine who attempted to take a similar-type trip to the UK was turned away on arrival for not having proper letters regarding her stay in the country. Instead of lying and saying she was just there for holiday, she told the truth: that she would be there for an extended period of time to study and teach. When she couldn’t produce original letters of acceptance into her program, the immigration officers put her on a plane back to America. Fortunately, I was able to learn from this story and requested an original letter of acceptance in the mail from DERI — something they had, at first, told me I should just pick up on arrival. When I walked up to the customs window, I pushed my stack of papers through the window and waited. And waited. After about five minutes of tapping away on a Dell keyboard and staring at a Windows XP-infested screen, the immigration attendant genially told me that the computer was not working and that I should just go to my local Garda (police) station within a month of arrival in Galway. “Easy enough,” I thought, and I went on my way.
My second week in Galway, I set off to find the local Garda station. The accountant who had just helped me set up my AIB bank account was nice enough to draw a map for me to the local Garda station. As I didn’t yet have a bike, I set off on a 20 minute walk to begin my long journey to legalization.
On arrival at the Garda station, I noticed a few angry people sitting in chairs and two glass windows, behind which were a couple Garda officers. I stood to the side to wait my turn, not sure exactly if there was any system in place to produce a line. After a few minutes of waiting, with no one walking up to the window, I turned to a woman sitting in a chair and asked if there was a line. “No, no, you can just go ahead” she answered. (“Thanks for telling me that now…”) I walked up to the window and was met with utter confusion. Not only did the Garda officers have no ability to perform immigration functions, they had no idea if Galway even had an immigration office. One of them looked it up online and found the place, but simply told me “tell a taxi to take you to ‘Lizbin,’ they’ll know how to get there.” Not wanting to pay for a taxi if it was walkable, I asked:
“But, could I walk there?”
“Oh, it would be probably a half hour walk, I’d just take a taxi.”
“Ok, but can you point me toward it at least?”
“Sure, it’s up this [unrecognizable street name] and down this [unrecognizable street name].”
Realizing that I wasn’t going to get much useful information out of these officers, and that they were probably more used to dealing with Irish criminals than tourists, I quickly thanked them for their time and began to walk in the general direction they had pointed. Fortunately for me, Galway is fairly small and I soon ended up downtown. While there, I found the famous Eyre Square and asked the friendly tourist help desk for their, well, help. Very genial and peppy, the man behind the counter took out a map and drew me a line toward where I needed to head.
“You’d be better off taking a taxi there, though, it’ll be a good 20 minute walk.”
Intent on traveling without a taxi, I set off and fortunately found a bike shop on my way. I quickly bought a bike so that I could travel a bit more smoothly around the city and set sail. On arrival at the Liosban Industrial Park, I went searching for the immigration office. Hiding in the back of the complex, I found the office… closed. “Due to court appointments, our office will only be open for one hour today.” In order to not make the trip a total waste, I went next door to O’Brien’s café and treated myself to a chai.
A week later, I tried again, this time equipped with a new weapon: early birdness. While the sign outside the immigration office had said “open 7:30am – 2:30pm” I had a feeling that the earlier the better. So, I left DERI at 7:30am (I worked all night to make sure I would be awake early) and biked over to the office. On arrival at 7:45am I met a room full of immigrants and a sign that said “only serving numbers 1-19 today.” I asked the room, and yes, 19 had already been chosen. Yikes. I didn’t remember the last time 7:45am wasn’t considered early bird. (Of course, I’ve never waited in line for an iPhone…).
A few days later, I ended up in a workshop at DERI with another American who told me that my experience was par for the course at immigration. She recommended that I take a taxi (what is it with people and their taxis?) an hour or two early to make sure I was one of the first ones there. “If you get the 15th number, you’ll be waiting there all day.”
A few days later, I decided I’d just try a new tactic: use a phone. At nine in the morning, I called over to the immigration office and asked if they had any free spots left: “we do, if you get here quick” the man told me. Success. I biked right over and grabbed number 57 (that day they were serving numbers 42-59). Instead of waiting in the cramped, hot immigration lobby, I hopped back and forth between O’Brien’s and the office to make sure I didn’t lose my space. A few hours later, I popped in just in time to see number 56 getting up from the immigration window. When I sat down, the officer seemed nice enough… until I began to show him my papers…
Strike one: As I began to pass over my letter of acceptance, he mumbled “that better not be from DERI.” Of course it was, and he promptly complained to me about how only the International Student Office was authorized to accept out-of-country students. I tried to explain to him that I was not a student, but instead a paid research fellow, but I soon realized that this wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Nodding along with the “ridiculousness” of DERI’s practices seemed to be the more productive tactic, so I just began to do that.
Strike two: For proof of residence, I had two letters from two separate banks addressed and postmarked to me at my Irish address. “We don’t accept bank letters” he informed me. Scrambling, I produced another original letter from DERI stating my place of residence (mind you, this letter was proof enough for AIB to set up a bank account for me. Granted, AIB along with every other Irish bank recently collapsed in Ireland, so I probably shouldn’t take their example too highly). “This doesn’t mean anything” he argued. Knowing that speaking would just taunt the dragon, I put a confused look on my face and nodded along.
Without a strike three to use against me (and with me willing to pay the €150 entrance fee), he finally consented to take my picture, digitize my fingerprints and legalize me. Throughout the process, just to show me how frustrated he was, he warned me “If you ever come back to Ireland, I won’t accept crap like these [letters from DERI] again.”
“If I every come back to Ireland,” I thought, “I’m gonna offer to fix the Dublin airport’s computer just so I don’t have to deal with you again.”
Almost as if he could read my mind, the immigration officer complimented me on my awesome new Irish shirt as a way to lessen the tension in the room. I contemplated offering to buy him a pint, but thought better of it as I shuffled out of the room as quickly as possible.