Friday, March 1, 2024

The American dream requires lots of paperwork

Lawyer Ashley Whelan (left) helps Afghani immigrant Zeyah fill out a 20-page form. 

     "Have you ever committed, or threatened to commit, any hijacking, sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination or used a weapon or explosive to harm another individual?" asks Ashley Whelan, a lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, ticking the crimes off on her fingers.
     Zeyah, a bespectacled, 24-year-old immigrant from Afghanistan, gives a tiny shake of the head and mouths a silent, "no."
     Forty-eight questions down. Thirty-eight to go — more, actually; some questions have multiple parts.
     "Have you ever assisted, or participated in, selling, providing or transporting weapons ... ?"
     It is Tuesday, in a large, sunny conference room on the 28th floor of 155 N. Wacker. Lawyers and translators confer with clusters of immigrants at small tables. They are two hours into the process of filling out paperwork for getting a green card.
     Only three hours more to go.
     "Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" Whelan asks.
     Those grumbling about immigrants invariably try to hide their xenophobia behind a fig leaf of legality. They only want newcomers to do what's legal, they insist, without having the faintest idea what a complicated, years-long odyssey being a legal immigrant entails, or how difficult it can be to keep right with American law under the best of circumstances.
     "Have you ever been a stowaway on a vessel or aircraft ... ?"
     And these are literally the best of circumstances. The morning began at 9:30 a.m. with fresh berries, assorted little pastries, and coffee, as volunteer lawyers from Skadden and J.P. Morgan Chase were walked through how to help one specific group — the 76,000 Afghan immigrants airlifted here after the fall of Kabul in 2021 as part of Operation Allies Welcome — fill out one specific document, the Department of Homeland Security's 20-page Form I-485, "Application to Register Permanent Residence."

To continue reading, click here.

Shiringul, 21, (left) and Zeyah, 24, escaped Afghanistan in 2021 when American forces withdrew from that country. Both are students at Northeastern Illinois University.


  1. Very good article. I'm particularly pleased that you chose or stumbled upon as the case may be an afghan refugee. People from Afghanistan and Iraq fall into a special category. Many of whom assisted American forces in their effort to a hesitate to say, conduct the war on terror.
    They're at extreme danger to remain in their countries. After we leave. This can overlap and be a similar category to asylum. But people from these war-torn countries do fall into a completely separate category when they're allowed to come here. Hence all the strange and weird questions

    People that are coming across the southern border are an entirely different category, as I'm sure you know and don't have the same ease If you can call it that of application as the people in your article nor should they. Many seeking asylum don't qualify for it but come anyway. Escaping conditions while awful to not meet eligibility requirements.
    I would like to see our government gain control over this circumstance while at the same time doing more for the people who came here or want to come here legally
    This has been going on most of my adult life. I mentioned in an earlier post about my friend who came from Vietnam.

    With our aging population in low birth rate, we need young people who are willing to work hard to want to come here. It's important to be able to fill all of the jobs that are available to have a thriving economy. We can and do absorb hundreds of thousands of people every year, but they're jumping the line and aren't properly vetted before they're allowed to come in. I hate to sound like some kind of Republican about it because I'm not. We just need to devote more resources to the whole process
    It's very heartening to hear about someone who has worked so hard and played by the rules now helping others. What a terrific person

    1. There are way more people trying to come here than there are people from Afghanistan or Iraq. The people trying to get through the southern border have suffered nearly as much or more than immigrants coming from Afghanristan or Iraq. There is plenty of room here and like you say we have an aging population. And if the abortion laws or like the law passed in Alabama I see a further drop in child birth.

  2. Not a Republican, FME, but not quite your incisive self. "I'm particularly pleased that you chose or stumbled upon as the case may be an afghan refugee." What is that?

    1. It's called "someone who was too impressed with their stunning logic and flowing prose to bother to proofread."

    2. "Not a Republican, FME, but not quite your incisive self. 'I'm particularly pleased that you chose or stumbled upon as the case may be an afghan refugee.' What is that?"

      With some strategic punctuation added, that sentence becomes more clear: "I'm particularly pleased that you chose (or stumbled upon, as the case may be) an Afghan refugee."

      Not speaking for FME here, but the weirdnesses in punctuation throughout suggest that he's dictating into the same recent Samsung smartphone that I own. Its speech recognition is far worse than that of previous models, but that's another topic for another day.

    3. Yes Andy I speak to text. I have worn out my hands . Never mastered punctuation or spelling.

      One only least favorite aspects of comments sections. The need of others to correct the form and ignore the message.

      When we speak punctuation and spelling are invisible. We seem able to understand one another.

  3. Almost every article you read now is about people who have come here from Venezuela or someplace else in south or Central America. And denigrates them .And it seems that the plight of people from Afghanistan or as I say Iraq is pretty much forgotten. Again, thank you for that. This seems like a positive article about immigration. I don't know if you chose this particular person on purpose. I hope that clarifies where I'm coming from

    1. Then why not just ask? I asked the NIJC if I could sit in on a session, and this is what they offered me. I didn't specify the nationality of the immigrants being helped.

  4. When I'm reading an article about immigrants and I see the name of Northeastern Illinois University, I remember why I loved teaching there for 36 years.

  5. Stories like this make me so happy that I was born in the USA. A sweet cleaning lady at the office became a citizen, and I had no idea how difficult it is. Most citizens would flunk the test, much like they did in high school civics. I digress. God bless those new immigrants, and I pray for their success no matter where they came from. We are a nation of immigrants.

  6. That question about having ever been a member of the Communist Party seems funny (ironic?) when you consider the many Putin fans in our Congress!

  7. Woe...dozens of questions...that take hours to answer. And the bureaucrats are getting more and more picky these days... such as "names rendered in different ways on different documents." My wife sometimes uses her maiden name, sych as when she writes for publication. Sometimes my last name...and the deed to this house still has her first husband's name on it. We get all kinds of junk mail in different names. Utility bills are in different names. They;'ll take your money, but the poll workers almost denied her the right to vote for POTUS. We finally got that fixed.

    And my Chicago birth certificate had smudged one or two letters of the middle name. The Ohio BMV wouldn't let me get an "enhanced" driver's license, so I could fly. They accused me of forgery. I had to re-apply and get another copy from the nice folks in Cook County, who didn't charge me. But I had to pay the Ohio BMV twice. They're a joke.

    Addresses? Every address where an applicant has lived over the past five years? That's fine if you don't move around a lot. But what if you're in a real war zone, and have no fixed abode? There are nameless refugee camps in the middle of nowhere. No street addresses for those places, sometimes not even a town. If that's the information that exists, it's good that it's all fine with Uncle. Wait until they want to start driving legally. Or apply for naturalization in order to obtain citizenship. I bet those processes are a lot of fun.

    1. The drivers license thing is ridiculous. I was born in Chicago. I am not sure if birth certificates were even notarized in 1947. I had a copy which isn't the same size as the one you get now. My birth certificate said baby boy but was later crossed out with my name. I live in Racine. I took a ride to Skokie. The original still said baby boy on it. I had to apply for a new one. As it turns you can wait until next year to update your id. But being that my card expired in a few weeks I was going to need a new id anyway

  8. If I had a daughter and she turned out like Laura Bernescu, I would be very happy.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.