Carlos’ leg taps rapidly on the hard tile floor. He rubs his cold hands back and forth and rolls his neck in an attempt to relieve some of the tension that has been building up over the last few months. This is the last step in what has been a frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive process. And it all comes down to today. Today he finds out if he will be becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. Today he finds out if he will be getting his green card.
I know Carlos’ story well. Very well. Because he is my husband. Needless to say, as we sit side-by-side in the immigration lobby waiting for our interview, my stress level is out of this world (or “stress level midnight” as I like to say). It has been a long process. It began by filing a total of 4 different applications, each of which being so confusing that I (a native, somewhat educated, English speaker) had to turn to an immigration expert (who luckily was also a nice co-worker) for help. A wide-range of documents were also required to accompany these applications such as proof of address, translated birth certificates, photos supporting our marriage, etc. Along with these applications were a plethora of fees. We ended up paying almost $1,500 (not a small sum, especially for someone who is not allowed to work legally in the United States). And this $1,500 was not refundable, regardless if Carlos was ultimately approved or denied.
The next step was to find a doctor who was deemed acceptable by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to complete a physical exam and to give a report on Carlos’ overall health. Another $200. After the physical came the fingerprinting. This was completed at the immigration office in South Meadows and the fingerprints were sent off to the FBI so that they could perform a thorough background check. And then came the waiting game. After months of desperately racing to our small tin mailbox in the hopes of finding something, the letter finally came. Carlos had an interview.
I would like to interject (can you interject yourself?) by saying that throughout this entire thing, I was flummoxed. I was in awe of the millions of immigrants who have and are going through this process. I thought many times about the ridiculousness of some of the obstacles that we ran up against, and time and time again I thanked God that English was my first language. How do people do this? How do they find the money? Understand the forms? Persist despite the tension? I digress.
So cut back to the lobby of immigration. Where we have been waiting for nearly half an hour for our interview. Where the fate of our future rests in the hands of a USCIS employee who will talk to us and ask us questions for a few minutes and then will ultimately decide if my husband will be able to stay in this country. The interview is nerve racking and quick and strangely similar to the immigration interview in The Proposal. And just like that, it is decided. The USCIS employee tells us that barring any arrests that Carlos may have incurred over the last 48 hours, he has been approved. He will get his green card.
And the crazy part is, that in that moment, even though I feel so overjoyed and relieved and happy, I also feel guilty. I feel so so guilty.
I feel guilty that because of my education, my financial status, and my network, we were able to complete this process. And be successful in doing it. And I feel guilty because I have all of these things because my parents and my grandparents and their parents had the freedom to make the choices that they did and the opportunity to come to the United States, the great melting pot, in search of something better.
Sometimes, the guilt I feel as a middle class white woman is debilitating. It freezes me. It makes me defensive. And even worse, it makes me apathetic. And to me, apathy is the ugliest of states, far more dangerous than fear or ignorance or hate.
When I begin to feel this guilt, I check myself. I let the guilt be my call to action, my motivator. I let it spark and ignite in me the desire to create change. And I lean heavily on the age old adage of “to whom much is given, much will be required” (I’m pretty sure that a similar ideal presents itself somewhere in Spider-Man–something about “with great power comes great responsibility”).
And this idea is EVERYTHING. We do not need to feel guilty about our stories, our race, or our socio-economic status. But we do need to be accountable. To be diligent stewards of all that we have. To recognize that we have so much more than so many and that much of what we have is through no work of our own.
We need to feel grateful. We need to feel empathy. And we need to understand that the bettering of our world is our collective responsibility, not just the responsibility of those whom much has not been given, those who do not have great power.
So the next time you feel guilty, do not check out and become apathetic. Do not give in to the defensive reasoning that you can substantiate with your well-rehearsed facts and cliched sayings. Let your guilt catalyze you to action. And take ownership of your resources, your giftings, of who you are, and use it to change the world.