Four months earlier, I was in Chicago, playing ping-pong with a fellow dreamer while a bunch of immigrants celebrated the wedding of two lawyers in New York. I was backpacking again. As I boarded in O’Hare, the same ID-related concern rose up again as the blue-shirted inspector looked at my papers.
“I just have to look at your documents on this little book, and you’re good to go”. In the Argentina section, pictures of valid documents. That time, I was good to go.
Now I was in Minnesota, playing interview with an immigration agent. My sworn statement, Mijanic calls it. Being more used to the shared storytelling that comes with organizing, I ask her all the same questions she asks me.
“How old am I? How old are YOU? When did I come to this country? When did YOU come?”
Neville comesÂ back into the little room where Mijanic is about to begin the interview. As he asks me about my luggage, my phone vibrates. He says I am not supposed to use the phone and to turn it off.
I see some texts back from my friends, the ones who were told I got picked up. I can only read one that says, â€œAre you joking?â€ Good question. I joke too much about the whole being undocumented thing. A lot of us do. Before I knew people without papers all over the country, I knew the ones sitting beside me in school. We had a support group for undocumented students. I was the crazy guy who told jokes. It was too painful to be at the university and in our situation, so we cracked jokes. If someone in class said illegals were the greatest danger to the country, we joked about it afterwards. If a registration officer made fun of you for not having a social, we laughed about it at our meetings. Then we sighed together. Some cried. I tried to make people feel better.
One of the friends I texted is the immigration lawyer. Her flight was an hour after mine so I knew she was at the airport, too. She has come to your rescue, says Neville.
There is a lady out there that says she is your lawyer. Do you know her? She is saying you are her board chair of an organization? I am asking because I have to protect your rights as a person who is detained by us. I need you to say that loud enough so it can be heard by the hidden camera that you had not previously noticed.
I look at the camera like I’m speaking on CNN: “Yes, my name is Matias, and yes, my lawyer…”
You are going to have to answer a few questions and then weâ€™ll let you go with a court date. Neville does this funny thing with his eyebrow when he verses you on administrative procedures. He continues by saying that if I donâ€™t get out in time, he will arrange for the airline to honor my ticket. I know you were really young, but you have to get good legal advice to see if you can stay in the country. He is not aggressive anymore. In fact, he offers me an awkward smile.
A bit later they let me call my lawyer friend. He has to let me see you, she says. Do not sign anything. You have to sign a form. Iâ€™m confused. I hide behind a column to make it last a bit longer. They are being nice to me and I am making friends, I say loud enough for everyone to hear me.
Mijanic comes in again to continue my sworn statement. I worry about Mom. I think Dad probably left work or told someone from church to go be with her.
Basic questions. What is your true and correct name. What is your citizenship. What was the purpose of your trip at the time of your entry in 1999? A lot of â€œI do not know”‘s.