Things your mother never told you about immigration

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In the wake of all the discussion about illegal immigration, it is perhaps important to understand the onerous process to become a legal immigrant.

It has been an eye-opening experience for me to walk alongside my friend Riziki Mastaki, a political refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as she goes through the “proper channels” to bring her father over as a legal immigrant.

Her story adds color and humanity to the black and white facts as it illustrates the daunting bureaucratic roadblocks and debilitating lack of support for those attempting to immigrate legally.

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I met Riziki in 2005 and was immediately taken with her optimism, in spite of experiencing near-death and violence in her hometown of Goma and nearby Rwanda. She was so happy to be able to live and work in America and went to a community college at night to learn English and I was there to celebrate when she was sworn in as a US citizen in 2007 in order to get a passport to visit her family after a 10-year separation.

Unfortunately, any hope of visiting her family was crushed when her village became embroiled in yet another conflict that threw her family into daily economic and physical jeopardy.

Although her father was able to afford to put all of his children to school and to save for retirement, he lost all financial resources when his home and computer repair business were destroyed by war and the earthquake. In the wake of the recent uprisings, most of his children have fled for safety as refugees to Kenya and France.

Riziki has been working with an immigration lawyer to bring her parents here as a legal immigrant since October 2010. Saving money (sometimes from working two or three minimum wage jobs), she has spent over $4,500 in legal fees, postage, applications for passport and visa, affidavit of support, birth certificates, medical exams, shots, DNA testing and a green card for just her father. All of this was in addition to supporting herself.

All of this paperwork takes time and has to be mailed back and forth to Africa, sometimes getting lost in the mail along the way. Once they had all of the required paperwork, Riziki paid $600 to fly her father to the capitol city, Kinsasha, on Jan. 9, 2013 to meet with immigration authorities for the final approval for his visa.

Each time he showed up for his Thursdays-only appointment, he was given another hurdle to scale until he finally received his visa on April 2, 2013.

Fortunately, he was able to stay with cousins while he was in Kinshasa so Riziki was able to save for his plane fare ($1,300). She has moved into a two-bedroom apartment and has been lining up job interviews for when her father arrives on April 28.

It has been over 2 ½ years since they started the process!

– Robin Edgar, Landrum