Unfair system denies dream

Dear American friends:

I am the carrier of a disease so dangerous that threatens to bring down your entire nation. You should avoid me at the school cafeteria and the hallways.


How could I enter your country in the first place? I have started to wonder that myself. But it would seem that your Homeland Security workers are doing a better job than they were four years ago.

My incurable disease is called “Third World Poverty.”

Yes, I admit it. I am poor. I don’t own a house, a car, or a healthy bank account.

Luckily for you, other carriers of the disease have been successfully kept away from this Promised Land.

Specifically, my mother.

Vilma Mendoza, a 57-year-old disabled woman, was denied a U.S. Visa when she applied this week.

By the logic of embassy officials in El Salvador, not owning a house or a bank account makes Vilma–a single mother of three, proud grandma and avid churchgoer– an undesirable tourist.

What could she possibly want in the US? Was she coming to steal somebody’s job? To stay and live on welfare? Maybe she is secretly a trained assassin?

Believe it or not, Vilma’s only intention was to see her son graduate from college after four years abroad.

In case things are still not clear, let me spell it out: My mother did not get her visa for my graduation because we’re poor.

Obtaining a U.S. Visa is difficult in developing countries. I heard countless stories of rejection from friends and neighbors, and it seemed to get harder with time. We knew what we were getting into when we applied.

According to a 2008 report from the Center for Immigration Studies, one of the main concerns of U.S. illegal immigration is the massive overstay from tourist visas. The article argues that it’s too easy to get a visa in impoverished countries, and urges authorities to be even harder on applicants.

It seems like they heard.

According to the same study, the visa issuance rate in El Salvador was about 50 percent in 2007. To this day, I believe it must be lower.

My mother started the process last month, getting her passport –she has never traveled outside of El Salvador– and other documents ready.

JBU International Programs’ office issued a letter describing my intentions to go back home after graduation.

After a month of costly trips from my small hometown to the city, my mother had an interview on Feb. 7 at 8:30 a.m. By 11 a.m., her breaking voice, attempting to hold back tears, gave the news.

My mother is a shy woman who knows not to rush judgment on people, but she finally explained.

“From the minute he saw me I felt discriminated against,” she said, coyly, about the white, giant bald man. “He eyed me from head to toe. He dismissed the letter and said I wouldn’t get it because I don’t have a job or money in the bank.”

The U.S. Embassy website states that bank statements, tax documents, and titles to property may be requested during the interview. The list doesn’t guarantee a visa will be approved.

I keep hearing the same thing: Mom did not prove sufficiently strong ties to El Salvador. They define strong ties as a stable job, a bank account, possessions or a family.

And here is where the American system fails. Its definition of strong ties is by itself a flawed standard., relying heavily on material possessions.

Never mind that my mother just became a grandmother again, or that she has lived in the same house for 30 years and plans to end her days there.

I understand that visa requests are numerous. Consular officers must make a quick judgment of whether the aspiring immigrant has ulterior motives.

However, their own website says they are aware each person’s situation is different:

“During the visa interview they look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors,” the website says.

I was a fool to believe my graduation and imminent return was a social factor in my mother’s favor. In reality, even after playing by the rules and explaining a simple situation, my mom was not interviewed by a kind, understanding North American, so she was simply “out of luck.”

What bothers me is that consular officers are not doing us a favor by granting that interview. I paid all the non-refundable fees, a bank deposit, a very expensive phone call. They were providing a service I purchased; the least they could do was follow their own rules and treat my mother’s case based on its individual factors.

Did I mention I’m going back home as soon as I graduate?

My mother was a customer., and you treat a customer fairly. and with respect At least that’s what I’ve learned in my business classes. How much harder it is to act a certain way than to demand it from someone else, isn’t it?

The website and the consular officer give the same deflated hope: there are three months left. They warn people should reapply only if there is proof of different circumstances:

“Some applicants will not qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, regardless of how many times they reapply, until their personal, professional, and financial circumstances change considerably.”

There you have it. Unless we win the lottery in the next couple of months, there will be an unfairly empty seat as I walk across the Bill George Arena on May 5.

Thank goodness for sarcasm and print, which let me mask the upsetting feelings inside.

And while I still cling to my faith in miracles, my hope in the out-of-touch American immigration system is forever lost.