I was 15 years old when I was first denied a visa to visit the United States. It was in April 2005 and my mother and I were supposed to attend my older sister’s graduation in Washington D.C. For my mom’s visa to be approved, she had to go through a very arduous process. That of obtaining written approval from the minister of education of my country as she was a public school teacher, that of providing her bank statements, her marriage license, the birth certificates of all her children and the death certificate of my younger sister that passed away, her pay stubs and her official property documentations which were to prove her wealthy enough not to want to make America her new home. That qualified her for a two months visa to visit her two kids studying in an American college in Washington D.C. I, on the hand was denied out of fear that my mother would leave me in the United States with my siblings. I recall that my parents were both outraged that the US consular would think that they would abandon their young high school student to reside illegally in the United States. That assumption was extremely offending to my parents who were outraged by the condescending way we are treated by those who were empowered to filter the visitors to their country.
When Donald Trump first signed his initial immigration law which halted citizens of certain Muslim countries including the ones with a valid visa to enter the United States, I have realized that American elitism, individualism and superiority complex is routed in every corner of the U.S administration regardless of who is in power. Numerous Americans see in every visitor (especially those who look different and speak a non-English language), a free rider that is here to take advantage of their country and their resources. Very few are aware that the United States is one the first countries that practices what former right wing French president Nicolas Sarkozy vehemently advocated for: “immigration choisie”. Donald Trump has not started selective immigration to the United States; he is just reinforcing it. The immigrant and nonimmigrant visa refusal rate for my country Togo was 54.6% in 2016 and in some other African countries, it surpasses 60%.
Doesn’t visit or move to the United States who wants to, but who can afford to.
In Togo where over half of the population lives below the poverty line, applying for a U.S visa is itself, a very costly endeavor that requires months or years of savings for the average person. The majority of those applying for visas has relatives in the United States or has won the “lottery visa”. Winning the “lottery visa” is sometimes the most celebrated event in a person’s life and also the costliest experience to any aspiring immigrant to the United States. The amount of health exams, documentations, fees, and travel costs that are involved requires thousands of dollars that most families cannot afford. Families sell their properties, lend huge amount of money, and wipe their generational savings to send just one of their kids to America. In other instances, the visa winner is forced to marry a wealthier person for the arranged spouse’s family to cover the expenses for the both of them so they can all benefit from this “jackpot”. I do not wish to go into the details of “white marriages” but I need to mention that lot of abuse resulted from it for numerous “American dreamers”.
There is nothing worse than sacrificing so much and losing everything; I mean everything (your money, your dignity, your self-esteem and most importantly your dreams) after a 5 minutes interview.
I remember a friend who almost committed suicide after being denied an immigrant visa despite winning the lottery. Yes, winning the lottery is just one step closer to winning the visa but they are two different things. Numerous people are denied visa after investing all they have and borrowing the amount of money that they can never reimburse as long as they live in their country where the average person earns less than $70 a month. In 2007, the year I was reapplying for a U.S visa this time as a college student, sit-ins were held in front of the U.S embassy of Togo for several months by the estranged visa applicants who were denied their ticket to “heaven” after winning the lottery and going through the laborious application process . It took intensive police repression (considering that we live in a police state), to finally stop these protests that were held daily regardless of the ravaging rains of the season.
My second experience as a visa applicant was even more stressful than the first because this time around, my future depended on it. This was the only way for me to escape the overcrowded university of Lome where I had to be at the amphitheater by 4 am if I wish to find half a sit to put by buts on for lectures. Leaving my country was more than a dream; it was a life goal as we Togolese youths, just like any other youths living in a poor dictatorship want nothing but a chance to survive. Would I have not come to the United States, I might not be alive still because even the best medical facilities couldn’t afford a simple nebulizing machine for the acute asthmatic that I am, or maybe I would have died of the bullets of our militaries considering that democracy activists like me, are officially enemies of the 50 years old regime that rules us or luckily, I might still be alive, would have been part of the 20% girls that that graduate from college and would probably be dealing with the dilemma faced by almost every girl which is whether to open it and get a job or protect my feminine dignity and endure poverty. So yes, I wished to live and I do not regret living. But for me to be granted the visa, I had to apply three times. The first time I was denied because my parents didn’t have at least twice the yearly tuition and fees amount ($36,000) in their bank account to demonstrate they could support my education in America. The second time I was denied because they had a little over 5 times that amount, which was deemed suspicious although they had provided proof of selling their properties to raise that kind of money. And finally, the third time, I WON. Well yes I won, after missing two semesters of school, falling behind by a year, and having my parents give up on their cherished lands. The truth be told, neither did I win nor earned this as this visa wasn’t a prize, but a merchandise.
The American dream is nothing but an expensive gamble and the visa a casino token.
Capitalism is not just an economic model in America; it is simply the American way of life. The American dream the most expensive dream anyone could ever afford and you even have to pay for the chance to dream the dream. Would I have done so much better if my parents had invested that money in my education somewhere else in Africa and financed an entrepreneurial activity for me? I believe yes because my social and economic status today wasn’t worth the investment and the dream wasn’t worth the sacrifices. But the answer is NO because there is no way, I Farida at 17 would have believed in a better future in Togo or somewhere in Africa as my whole life, I was indoctrinated to believe that our country has nothing to offer no matter how much we the youths, we the people sacrifice for it. Although the poverty is real, and although some would have never made without immigrating to the United States, the cost of immigrating could have afforded us a better life back home. But we would rather have our family sell all they have, or embark on dangerous trips through the ocean to flee our misery. We would rather be humiliated by a condescending consular official for a visa to the “New Land” only to be considered beggars, occupants and parasites once we land. Because the dream, that dream we dreamt of dreaming, starts fading right at the airport when the TSA agents give you the “what are you f**king * doing here?” look.
I had no real purpose of writing this blog if not to express my frustration at a country that constantly rejects, discriminates and belittle others who were made to admire, respect and highly regard them. Being born an American is a privilege that many enjoy at the cost of others bring born something else. But with the way things are going, with wealthy nations draining others from their happiness trough abusive corporations, politics and wars, America will no longer be the dream of the desperate underprivileged. Rather, these self- made enemies will become America’s nightmare. You don’t ever humiliate the person that honors you. If Americans cannot allow others into their dream, unfortunately they themselves will no longer be able to sleep.
The American Dream is real, well, I until you wake up.
Farida Bemba Nabourema