17.7.07

The Kind of Test You Can't Study For

For those of you who have been following the saga that is my Green Card application, (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) I have an update for you. I have a temporary work permit, and an interview date to see if everything I said on paper is true, and then I may get one. That means I've been able to take on a few writing jobs, which is exciting for me.

I realized this week that I never told the story of my immigration physical. I started to write it but never finished. So here for your reading pleasure is an excerpt from my account of what is involved when you are an alien who wants to live and work in the US.

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Once again I responded to a summons. This time it was to have my body examined by the branch of government whose job it is to decide whom among those “tired, poor, and huddled masses” is healthy enough and wealthy enough to be allowed to stay. A civil surgeon appointed by said branch of government performs the actual exam. I arrived early in the morning at the office of the qualified examiner closest to my home. I found myself at a neighborhood walk-in clinic packed to the ceiling with people, all of them Hispanic. We live in a very old California town and the population is at least half Mexican and we're all poor. Every chair was taken, moms, snotty nosed kids and heartbreakingly tiny babies all drinking formula out of the bottle. It’s one of those clinics that charges on a sliding scale.

I sat with my own tiny baby in my lap, nervously eying the children coughing and snotting in her general direction. At one point she was hungry so I nursed her, discreetly, and suddenly became aware of an intense buzz of interest in my child and me, even though I don’t speak Spanish I’m pretty sure they were unfamiliar with any kind of breastfeeding. Then I changed her diaper while laying her awkwardly on my lap since the germ infested bathroom didn't have a change table. (As an aside, when did it become the well educated middle class women who breast feed their babies while the poorer less educated part of the population is buying formula? How did that change?)

I watched while a lab tech came out to the waiting room and checked the bathrooms; turning on the lights and then turning them off again. On her hands she wore white gloves. I found myself hoping she would take them off and put on new ones once she was finished touching the light switches and handles and sinks of a restroom only used by sick people. Then I wondered if that’s why she was wearing the gloves in the first place. Come to think of it, I would be wearing them too. A few seconds later a little girl threw-up all over the floor right next to where I was sitting.

Finally my turn came to be examined I removed my clothing from the waste down and then lay down on an exam table with a paper sheet on. This was complicated by the fact that I had a baby to hold because there wasn’t anywhere that I was going to put her down in there, and I hadn’t thought to bring her car seat in with me. So I lay clutching my infant to my chest as the doctor, a youngish Asian woman with a giant zit on her nose, casually examined my genitalia. I guess it must have passed inspection, my labia must be up to American standards.

After that I got to pay for the privilege of allowing that same white gloved lab tech to stab me repeatedly with needles. My blood was tested for AIDS, and previous immunizations. I was given a tetanus booster, and a TB screen. Finally, arm aching from the repeated stabbings, I exited from the clinic.

I couldn’t help wondering how the average American would feel if they were traveling to a foreign country and upon disembarking from a plane were asked to please turn aside and take off their pants so that they could be properly screened before being set loose on the general population. (Maybe fewer little girls in Bangkok brothels would be infected with AIDS. But those men aren't average Americans.) Would they feel as though their basic rights had been violated? Sometimes I do.

8 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:24 AM

    Doesn't sound like much fun, but I think the getting-off-a-plane comparison is a bit of a stretch.. there aren't many places where you'd have to go through a physical exam beforehand just to visit.

    So although I understand -- well, I can guess at, anyway -- the feeling that your basic rights had been violated, I don't think any were. There's no basic right to move to another country and not undergo some simple health tests designed to protect the public in case you're unaware you're carrying the Canadian Plague or something.

    Likewise, though paying for this unpleasantness doubtless feels like adding insult to injury, it doesn't seem to me that it's fair to ask the Americans to pay for it either.

    But I'm glad that it looks like everything's working out for you. Good luck with the writing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, icky, icky! Poor you! I totally agree with you that it's unfair to put you through all that, just to grant you a green card!!!! What is this? "I'm sorry, Ma'am, your genitals just aren't nice enough. You look like you might be catching a cold....I'm afraid you can't be one of us, cuz we only take healthy, drop-dead gorgeous immigrants" Phooey! You've been there awhile, you aren't damaging society by doing anything horrible or underhanded.....you should be approved no problem. I hate red tape beaurocracy!

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  3. Um anonymous that is my point. you DON'T have to go through a physical exam beforehand just to visit. If it were required you would feel uncomfortable and icky if not more. OR think about it this way, imagine that you are trying to rent an apartment and they require you to have pass a physical and be free of STDs before they give you an apartment. As I understand the constitution this would be a violation of your basic freedoms, you can't be discriminated against because of race, or creed, or disability.

    Those who aren't American and live here have no such rights however, which flies in the face of "all men are created equal".

    I just keep thinking, "What if I were a refugee from Darfur, what if I had been repeatedly raped and infected and somehow made it to America. Would I still be subject to the indignity if a physical exam? Would I be turned away because of an illness that was forced upon me? How is this just?

    I could visit from Canada every day for years and infect all sorts of Americans with STDs and nothing would be done, but as soon as I want to change my residence to here
    I must pass a physical. It's an illogical distinction.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That sounds entirely unpleasant. and there are some studies done that do nothing to refute your point about it being the more privileged women who are nursing these days. Indeed, you are correct. Breastfeeding rates among the poor in this country are pretty abysmal. And I think, in some ways, this speaks to the amount of support sometimes required for breastfeeding to be successful: a helpful partner, a certified lactations consultant, access to pumps and other materials, etc., that in many ways don't translate well to the poor communities.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have never understood our absurdly byzantine immigration laws. While I can understand certain health concerns about the spread of disease, there is no real reason a woman couldn't have an exam from her own doctor whom she trusts and who treats her with diginity.

    I'm sorry you had to go through such a humiliating experience.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous8:11 PM

    Very interesting. I went through the immigration health exam 6 years ago and it did NOT include a gynecological exam (I think that I would have been traumatized if it had). I got a TB screen and X-ray, blood drawn, and general physical (throat, mouth, heart sounds) but no shots. Are they doing things differently now, I wonder? That's horrible.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sophie9:24 AM

    I've been a lurker on your blog for awhile, but have decided that I need to say something in response to this post. I came back from one of my trips to Ethiopia a couple years ago, and was met in the immigration area with a plane full of refugees. They were silent and scared, big eyes soaking in every single activity going on in the room. We arrived after a couple of other planes as well, so ended up having to wait for 2 hours before we (myself and 2 little Ethiopian girls who I couldn't even talk to) were even seen. I became one of the watchers, and was appalled at the treatment that these people got. One man from Japan couldn't speak English (duh!), so was pushed to the back of the line--the man at the desk didn't want to deal with trying to understand him, and said, "if you want to come to America, learn English first!" When the refugees' turns arrived, the woman at the desk said that they could wait until everyone else was done, because they're "just refugees..." I got pretty fired up about that. Every time I have entered a foreign country (with the exception of France), I have ben welcomed with open arms. Yet, these people have excaped the terror in who-knows-what country and conditions, and they are shoved to the back of the line and disrespected. What is our country coming to?? so much for "liberty and justice for all"!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sophie7:21 PM

    I've been a lurker on your blog for awhile, but have decided that I need to say something in response to this post. I came back from one of my trips to Ethiopia a couple years ago, and was met in the immigration area with a plane full of refugees. They were silent and scared, big eyes soaking in every single activity going on in the room. We arrived after a couple of other planes as well, so ended up having to wait for 2 hours before we (myself and 2 little Ethiopian girls who I couldn't even talk to) were even seen. I became one of the watchers, and was appalled at the treatment that these people got. One man from Japan couldn't speak English (duh!), so was pushed to the back of the line--the man at the desk didn't want to deal with trying to understand him, and said, "if you want to come to America, learn English first!" When the refugees' turns arrived, the woman at the desk said that they could wait until everyone else was done, because they're "just refugees..." I got pretty fired up about that. Every time I have entered a foreign country (with the exception of France), I have ben welcomed with open arms. Yet, these people have excaped the terror in who-knows-what country and conditions, and they are shoved to the back of the line and disrespected. What is our country coming to?? so much for "liberty and justice for all"!

    ReplyDelete

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