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wWednesday, July 09, 2003

AMERICAN GODS MUST BE CRAZY: Neil Gaiman, an acclaimed British writer living in the U.S., is having trouble with his Green Card:

There's sometimes a faintly Kafkaesque quality to dealing with some branches of American government -- for example, the immigration division of the department of homeland security. A year ago my Green Card expired, so I went to the INS (as it was then) in Minneapolis, and they took my Green Card away and stamped my passport, and told me that a new Green Card would arrive in a couple of months, and the stamp on my passport was all I needed. The stamp on the passport was valid for a year, and expires in a couple of weeks.

I called a helpline number a few days ago. Someone helpful answered. I explained that I didn't have a new Green Card yet. "That's because the average wait time for a new Green Card from the Nebraska Centre, who are processing your case, is fifteen months," I was told. "But they only stamped my passport for twelve months,"I said. "That's right," she said. "They only do twelve month stamps. You'll have to get another stamp. It's very routine."

I checked the Minneapolis Immigration offices website, which explained that the St Paul office was open to customers from 8.00am until 2:30 pm. I figured that, as a very routine thing, turning up around midday would be fine. (It was fine when I did it a year ago.) We strive to provide quality service to our customers, they proclaim on their website, which seemed pretty reassuring.

So I drove the hour's drive to the centre, and I walked in at midday. There was a new waiting room, with guideropes snaking around to guide the crowds, who weren't there. There were just a few doleful looking people sitting in chairs who were outnumbered by the armed security guards protecting the X-Ray machine and metal detector while striving to provide quality service to their customers. "You!" barked a security guard, at me. "What do you want?"

"Er, I've come about my Green Card," I said.

"We're closed," she said, bluntly. "Be here at 6.00am. Only the first 300 people in the line are seen each day. If you aren't here at 6.00am you won't be seen."

All the security guards seemed to think this was very funny, some English guy turning up at midday, six hours late and Mister Three Hundred and One, and actually expecting to be seen.

"Er, my Green Card expired and they put a stamp in my passport..." I said, hoping they'd say something about, oh in that case come on in, but another guard said "Card hasn't come. Stamp's expired. Right?" Obviously this was something that happens a lot.

"Right," I said.

"You better be here at 6.00 am," he said flatly. "We only see the first 300 people."

I've just spent about half an hour looking at the various official immigration websites, and am puzzled that they all state explicitly that I was meant to hang on to my original Green Card, the one that expired, although it was taken, and I was told the stamp in the passport was all I needed. And nothing I can find seems very clear on whether or not I'll soon be committing a crime by waiting hopefully for the Green Card to arrive, seeing all the forms and so forth were filled out, money was paid, two copies were attached of a really terrible photo of me looking faintly like a sheepdog (but displaying my right ear. Or possibly my left ear. Whatever the legal ear is, I was proudly displaying it in that photograph), all that... [more]

posted by Jeremy at 10:37 PM