the immigration process

Fears that America will be damaged or neutered or whatever by large numbers of immigrants who don’t share “our values” as a country and have no wish to do so is not a new thing. According to the article Rise of a New Underclass by Ellis Cose, we have been down this road before and it proved untrue.

Part of our problem today however stems from the fact that there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what it means to be a citizen of the United States. What makes us Americans? There are probably as many answers as there are American citizens, and while many of these definitions are likely quite similar, it make might sense to focus the immigration debate on exactly what we mean when we talk about assimilation beyond a common spoken language. We Americans have this odd sense of freedom that often seems to be something that we want for ourselves and those like us and would like to curtail in others who are “not us” so to speak. And here lies our problem. We welcome those who come and submit to the “American Dream” but anyone who wishes to retain aspects of themselves that don’t fit within the narrow span allowed, or who wish to redefine the dream, are deemed undesirable.

Illegal immigration gets all the attention, but what we have is an overall immigration problem within which illegally entering our country is but a symptom – albeit a large one. And it really all starts with identity. But is it one we all share? And if not, where are the overlaps? How can we expect immigrants to assimilate if we can’t answer that question with a united voice?

Or maybe it is Part Trois? I am no longer sure just how many hours, make that days, no – scratch that too. Weeks. How many weeks have I put into emigrating to Canada before I crossed the border and immigrating into Canada after crossing. I may have mentioned this before but the sheer volume of paperwork and the innumerable steps that are none too clearly defined by the CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) could make an illegal immigrant out of a Rhodes Scholar.


Between us, Rob and I have ten years of post secondary education, but we have yet to crack the CIC code that would allow us to read directions on any given requirement without need of clarification by way of just phoning them up and asking what exactly they meant or what precisely were they intending us to understand when they wrote X, Y or Z requirement. I have come to the conclusion, especially after today, that obtaining official sanction to live in another country via a permanent resident card, or green card as we know it in The States, is partly a subtle attempt to assess the IQ levels of the applicants and their families and partly a test of their endurance. It is most assuredly a test of will. You have to want it, or you will never manage to get through the process. Why? Because it is incredibly time-consuming, costs significant money by way of the various fees, and, like most travails through government systems, it is designed to induce a feeling of inferiority and remind you that you are an outsider who does not belong. The people who have the most need to make use of programs are usually the people least able to traverse it. There is a reason for that, in my opinion, but I admit that my time spent dealing with Medicaid, for example, or the State of Iowa’s DHS or even the Social Security system, have colored my judgement. Still it seems to me at times that agencies designed to help people somehow have acquired subconscious mandates that demand the grinding down of the souls and dignity of those they were designed to aid. I always come away feeling devalued and ashamed after the majority of my dealings with any of its representatives. I understand the desire of countries to pick and choose who they admit into their societies. No country should have to allow people to become citizens when these people will not be assets in any way, ever. Still, becoming a resident of a country other than that of your birth should not be a process that requires you to divulge highly personal information or allow the government of that country any avenue for collecting more data on you than it should otherwise have.


Today my daughter and I had to submit to the medical exam that is required of all immigrants applying for permanent residency status here in Canada. Just finding a doctor who is sanctioned by CIC to perform one of these exams was a task. The exam requirements from beginning to end took almost three hours. Most of this time is spent waiting. Waiting for the paperwork. Waiting for the doctor. Waiting in the various labs for x-rays, blood and urine tests. Although waiting is the common theme underlying all things medical in this country, the Immigration exam waiting is particularly hard simply because there is no logical rationale for collecting the majority of information they want from those of us who are the spouses of citizens. The reason for that is that, according to its own rules, spouses and their minor children cannot be denied residency based on health issues of any kind. But, it’s not just Canada that builds hoops simply for the pleasure of making its citizens or future resident/citizens jump through them. It is one of the basic building blocks of governments everywhere to amass information via pointless paperwork with no visible end in mind. As an example, my own experiences in obtaining Medicaid for my late husband involved two different counties that essentially were branches of the same state agency and yet they couldn’t access each other’s files. They couldn’t even manually supply information collected in one county to another. So, whenever Will went from one county to another for treatment, or residential reasons, I had to fill out paperwork and supply fresh copies of data that I had already given someone for identical reasons. The province of Alberta has a “nationalized” health care system that should in theory allow immigrants to go to their own local doctors or clinics to have the very basic exams and test run that are needed by the CIC. The doctor who I saw today told me that all the information is sent to Ottawa and placed on a government server for the different CIC branches to access after all. Does this leave the door open for corruption? Yes, but the system as is does not necessarily free it from the possibility of fraud. Fewer people in the chain doesn’t ensure it will prevent people from trying to circumvent it anymore than involving more people dooms it to failure.


The medical history and physical exam portion is relatively straight forward and, aside from the having to strip to your panties and let some guy you are never going to see again poke and prod you a bit, it was tolerable though time consuming. The doctor was Chinese and probably old enough to be my father. He was pleasant and made a point of explaining the process and what paperwork went where in a manner that the Immigration handbook could have but didn’t. A chest x-ray came next. Probably because it was a bit more efficient to irradiate me than perform a TB mantoux test which would have required me to come back for follow-up. No matter what they find during the course of this examination, there is no follow-up. For that matter, I am not even sure you are told if something of a serious nature comes up. Because you are receiving the x-ray for immigration purposes, they fit you in to the queue at the earliest convenience. If you are lucky this won’t take long. Then there is blood work and urinalysis. My daughter’s age required only that she pee in a cup. Five year olds are only marginally better at peeing in a cup than they are at remembering to use toilet paper after or washing their hands. I had blood work and a date with a cup. Afterwards I made a mental note to self to refrain from early morning snuggling and whatnot on days I might be called upon to fill a cup with urine.


One the things that got to me about today was the facilities. Fortunately, I haven’t been sick since moving here. Katy either. Knock wood. The only time I have ventured to the doctor’s office had to do with getting refills for prescription shortly after we arrived because the pharmacies here would not honor prescriptions written in the United States, which makes me wonder how senior citizens in my home land  manage to get scripts filled north of the 49th, and one other time a month or so ago when Rob nagged me into going when I had a cold that was hanging on a bit. Not unusual for someone with asthma, but Rob is understandably a bit paranoid about my health. Socialized medicine is an equalizer. It allows everyone who is entitled access to health care, but it is not like home. The doctor’s offices I have been in have a worn look that is almost, maybe is really, reminiscent of untidiness and unhygienic. The washrooms Katy and I used today at the medical lab were actually dirty but cleanliness and restrooms are not synonymous here in the Great White North when it comes to public facilities. I guess when you are able to drop drawers and go, virtually anywhere according to my husband, clean bathrooms are not a pressing priority. Filing systems run the gamut from virtual and space-saving to hand transcribed and lining the walls. Payments, those very few that even apply, are expected up front and can run the gamut from cash or cheque only to credit cards. The receptionist at the lab hauled out one of those manual credit card machines complete with carbon. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those and it was particularly odd here where everyone seems to pay using credit or debit. I haven’t been to a hospital yet, and prefer to keep it that way. Although I fully appreciate the seemingly democratic way everyone has an opportunity to see a doctor when necessary, I miss being able to make same day appointments or appointments period and the way my doctor back home would and did call in refills on prescriptions and the personal relationship we had (she is one of the first people I told about Rob and she was thrilled because she and I go back to long before I was even pregnant with my daughter).


Which brings me back to immigrating. Back in the United States, as here… everywhere anymore really, immigrants are not accorded much respect. Our motives are suspect. Our worth questioned. I am a white woman who moved to another country because she met, fell in love and married. I am not an aberration although my skin color, middle-class background, ability to speak English and my education level afford me a bit of shielding from many of the prejudices hurled at foreigners. There is no real reason to make the immigration process nearly incomprehensible or extraordinarily difficult. Manuals that example the steps should be easy to read and understand. Steps in the process should be manageable and respectful of an individual’s human dignity. I admit that some of my reaction to the process is, as my husband is wont to point out to me, that I am easily driven to the tipping point due to my inherently water rabbit tendencies, but some of it is my failure to understand the point of making anything hard to understand or accomplish seemingly on purpose.


So now, we gather all the documentation and send it off. We’ve completed all the tasks set before us and like the Baker and his wife we are ready to leave the woods.