Monday, March 1, 2010

A Time for Compassion

This is the second time I have been involved in attempts of Peruvian citizens to get non-immigrant visas from our U.S. Embassy in Lima and I have to say that I am not impressed. The official policy seems to be: get the visa application fee ($131, non-refundable) from the Peruvian citizen, ask a set of ridiculously limited questions that ostensibly determine if the individual is at risk of overstaying their visa, and then say "no", regardless of the merits of the case (keep the money, of course!)...

In the first case, we were trying to get permission for the niece of a member of our parish to be able to come up for several weeks to help her aunt while the aunt was recovering from back surgery. The niece, Jacki, at that time was unemployed although she was enrolled in English language classes and a visit to the U.S. could have helped her improve her skills. She was young, unmarried, and therefore childless. Visa denied, in spite of the fact that her aunt has full American citizenship, the family runs a thriving home improvement business and was more than able to provide for the niece during her stay here.

The current case also involves a member of our parish. Angelito has been a long time member, a lector and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. He is the kind of guy who would show up on time, neatly dressed and willing to serve in any capacity in which he was needed. He was also lector coordinator before me in the parish and gave me an opportunity to read, when others thought it was inappropriate for a gringa to be reading in a Spanish Mass.

Now, Angelito is dying of metastatic cancer of the pancreas. He is under hospice care. He cannot travel home to Peru. He has no family in this country except a very distant niece with whom he has had no contact until recently. He has a son in Lima, Orlando, whom he would like to see before he leaves this life.

Last Thursday, Orlando, who is married and employed, went to the U.S. embassy in Lima to apply for a visa. Although he is not a wealthy man, several of us in the parish have been helping Orlando long distance make his case and so he arrived at the embassy with a letter from his father's doctor and another from the hospice care provider testifying to his father's terminal condition, and a letter from a couple in the parish who are American citizens affirming that they will be providing hospitality for Orlando during his stay in this country.

I'm sure you will not be surprise to learn that the visa was denied based on our government's belief that this man did not demonstrate sufficient ties to Peru! It should also be noted for the record that Orlando has never been to the United States and would not be coming here but for his father's condition. Orlando has only been married for a year and the couple do not yet have any children -- a point against him in our embassy's little visa Q and A game. When the prospective host couple told me what happened at the embassy, I sarcastically suggested that perhaps Orlando and his wife should concentrate on making a baby and then bring the sonogram to the embassy. Perhaps THAT would tip the odds in his favor...

I also suggested to the host couple that they contact the Peruvian consulate here. They said that they had, and had been told that there is nothing the consulate can do. The consulate had previously tried to intervene in visa cases involving Peruvian citizens and been told rather undiplomatically to mind its own business.

I can't help but contrast this with the helpful and friendly way I was treated by Peruvian immigration authorities at the airport the two times I went to Peru. I had no problem getting a visitor's permit for as long as I needed. The contrast makes me ashamed of my country. How did we go from those beautiful words on the Statue of Liberty to being so callous that we would deny the right of a son to come and see his dying father?

1 comment:

  1. A little over a year ago I heard a US consular official in Honduras say publicly that they presume that the person applying for a visa is trying to get to the US to stay! She was that blunt. People have to PROVE that they are not going to stay in the US.

    About a month after that I was visiting two former students volunteering in Guatemala (he's a doctor and she has a masters in physical therapy). They had their first child in Guatemala and went to the Embassy to get their daughter papers that proved she was a US citizen. They were treated rudely by the consular official.

    I'm being facetious but I wonder if it's part of the training to take the compassion out of all the consular official so that they treat people like things.

    I share your indignation.