Part of the Diversity and Inclusion Blog Post Series
It was Wednesday. Not a very interesting Wednesday in fact, definitely not one to write a blog post about. It was much like many Wednesdays we have all had in our lives. You have the weird itching feeling that the weekend is coming soon, but it is still too soon to celebrate. You must be professional and responsible because there are still a good amount of days left in the work week.
On this particularly hot summer Wednesday, I received the infamous call that many practitioners are familiar with: “I haven’t heard about my case. Why is it taking so long?” Before the pre-emptive, “It has not been THAT long. It is still processing. I will look into it and if anything, you will be the first to know!” response, I decided that I had enough energy to call the torture hotline that is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). I promised to call the client back as soon as I heard any news.
I was now on a mission –A USCIS mission. I hung up a few times, because I thought I knew the prompts by heart and had in fact hit the wrong keys. Either way, I finally got to a person. The first person one gets on the phone always follows a script that boils down to: I am not the right person to help you; you will not get the info you need. I’m feeling good though; I am an advocate of the law, of immigrants, of my clients, I am an empowered business owner, a proud Latino man, a proud gay man, a seeker of subversion, a rabble rouser. Okay, I’ll stop.
I let the script be recited to me. Alas, I need to be sent up the ladder to an Immigration Officer. Alright, good, I am ready. My file is open. I know all the questions they will ask. Where does your client live? Their date of birth? I am ready. And then I hear this: “Your wait time to speak with an Officer is 268 minutes.” I am sorry, what!??! I mean, how do machines even get to the point of counting that?
I set up a call back and I move on to other work.
The call finally happened at 6pm. They called as I was out on my deck reading. I drop what I am doing, rush inside, grab the file that I never let too far out of reach all day and answer.
The Officer that answered was a woman speaking Spanish. Somewhere along the road between the first officer and the second officer, I was put in the Spanish speaking line. Whatever. I’m fluent. Let’s do this. The woman also had this beautifully thick accent. Then it happened. The Officer asked me if she could speak to Mr. Montesinos, the attorney on record. I smiled to myself (stupidly as no one was in front of me) and said, “Yes, that is me.” Pause. The officer continued with, “I’m sorry I can only speak to Mr. Montesinos or the applicant about the case.” I know it was 6pm and the day was dragging but c’mon, I already answered. Once again, “Yes, I am Mr. Montesinos. My G-28 was already submitted with the filing.” Pause. “I’m sorry, but I cannot give you any information. The attorney is clearly a man and your voice is too feminine for me to verify that you are Mr. Montesinos. Please call back tomorrow.”
I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream at this woman. This Hispanic woman. This beautifully accented woman. My sister. I asked to speak to someone else and she said no. Then I just hung up in frustration. Angry at her, angry at myself, angry at the system. What did they expect me to do? I knew all the answers to the questions – of course I did, they were about myself! I was in shock. I felt deflated, embarrassed, a bad attorney, a girly man.
The next day I called back, did the whole dance all over again and was told, “Case is still processing.” Checked the box. I mentioned the previous day’s incident and was given an apology by this new officer. No one would give me the name or agent ID of the other officer. I was left empty in a weird sort of way. Not an emptiness that was all encompassing–I still have many blessings in my life that will forever take the place of this one nasty incident. But I still felt wronged in a way that was beyond myself. An injustice that will never be righted. A symptom of some greater thing. A realization that discrimination is still alive and well and thriving–even on a boring Wednesday. A punch in the gut of the phrase, “if you ever forget about your differences, someone will always be there to point them out.”
This holiday season, irrespective of your beautiful beliefs (whichever form they might take), let’s focus on unity. Acceptance. Peace. Togetherness. All the staples that we are constantly told about and want to live by, but are often disrupted by the busyness and snap judgments of life. Let’s be proactive about our inclusion and thrive in the lush landscape of diversity. As the weeks pass, another quote comes to mind from Eleanor Roosevelt. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Officer X, happy holidays! My gay voice will be out singing all the carols.
Update: I got a Request for Evidence (RFE) on the case. It was for all the things that were submitted with the original filing. **Insert head desk emoji**