Lost in the system- Part 1

I have been lost in a system I can never hope to understand. Once, an immigration official told me, “Immigration is the part of government that changes the most.”

No kidding.

The letter in the mail. The journey to the immigration office in Almería to request information.

“You need a new invitation to work.”
“And a new empadronamiento?”
“No, you don’t need that unless you’ve moved. But you have to turn your paperwork in to Immigrantville, not here in Almería.”
“Where in Immigrantville?”
He gave a vague answer that told me he had no idea.

So I put in a request for a new invitation to work and waited and waited. Weeks later, it came. We signed and sent it off. The same papers came a second time, requesting signatures again.

“What happened?”
“I don’t know. My guess is some little old lady working in the office lost your papers.”

So we started again. And waited again.

I wasn’t sure where this elusive Immigrantville immigration office was, but one morning I started out across town with a vague notion, a handful of papers, and a trembling aloneness.

“You need an appointment.”
I stood, almost panting after my 45 minute walk. “When?”
“Right now we’re scheduling in December…”
“My card expires in November.”
“Oh, well you should have come sooner.”

But she squeezed me in just after the weekend. Another 1½ hour round trip on Monday. This time I was at least 50% sure I was in the right place. If I wasn’t, I would have to start all over somewhere else.

I waited an hour with a cluster of Senegalese men, listening to Wolof and crocheting. Round after round of crochet as my hope dwindled.

“Could I borrow a scissors?”
The receptionist gawked at my amateur square of yarn. “Of course.”

Finally, I was across the desk from a lady who was late for her lunch break. But she was the one who actually knew something.

“You need a new empadronamiento.”
“But the man in Almería told me…”
“It expires after 3 months.”
“I know. But the man told me…”
She shook her head. “Sorry. You need a new one.”

She offered to keep my paperwork until I made my next trip.

In the morning, I was the first client at town hall, one half hour before opening. Within 2 minutes, I had a new empadronamiento. Within 20 minutes, I was presenting it at the immigration office.

A friend stopped by and sat with me while I waited for the process to be finalized: another 45 minutes for that tiny stamp in the corner of my form that said I was still a legal immigrant.

“Lost in the system” to be continued in part 2…

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