Out in the Cold

An Afternoon on the INS Line

As LaBrie notes, "people tend to leave these things to the last minute," and indeed, less than two weeks before he was required to be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed about his presence in the U.S., Anis, a 26-year-old waiter who won permanent residency in a green-card lottery and came to New York at age 19, was in line to apply for a tourist visa for his mom back home in Tunisia. Asked about the pending deadline for registration, Anis shrugged and smiled. "Right now I'm just worried about seeing my mother," he said. Of course the line always has a good share of petitioners who have been caught in a notorious INS run-around. Carlos, 21, was keeping his sense of humor. With a scarf wrapped over his ears like a snood and secured under a baseball cap, he explained his peculiar plight. Born in Peru to U.S.-citizen parents, he's been living in the U.S. for the last eight years and is currently a senior at Brooklyn College, majoring in accounting. Last year he applied for citizenship. The INS took his $250 application fee and administered the test in June. He passed easily. But no sooner had he handed in his paperwork than an INS official told him he was already a U.S. citizen by virtue of his American parents and had no need to make a claim or take the exam. Still, his $250 was not refunded. He applied for a passport, shelling out $50 for the privilege. His request came back denied because, a letter insisted, he is not an American citizen. "So I'm freezing out here because I don't know what I am," Carlos said. "They don't know what I am, either," he added, noting that he recently received a summons for jury duty in the mail.

Immigrants outside the Federal building wait for hours to transact routine business.
photo: Jennifer S. Altman
Immigrants outside the Federal building wait for hours to transact routine business.

Yukiko, a young woman ahead of Carlos in the line, couldn't help laughing at his story, but declined to tell her own. She wrapped her naked hands around a steaming paper coffee cup that promised, "We are happy to serve you." Whether that would be the case once she made it inside remained a question.

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