Saturday, August 16, 2008

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

June 2007: Illegal Immigrants!  Stealing out jobs!

I just spent a week at the fabulous Wigwam resort in Litchfield Park, AZ on the Department of Education's dollar (it's dirt cheap at the Wigwam when the temps average 115 degrees.). Now I'm at Sky Harbor headed to Philly for a summer visit with the family. I'm in this tiny bar in old terminal two--which seems like the least "sky harbor" terminal now, being little and simple and lacking towering parking garages on either side and above.  The bar has six stools and two tables with two chairs each.  It's packed.  Beside me is a very cute, very Phoenix-looking blonde. He's athletic but not bulked out.  Thin and tan, I'm guessing he's an engineer or in some corporate sales job.  He has the blue-eyed, all American look that could easily sell. It's not long before we are chatting, exchanging the usual where-ya-headed info.  He's going to Winnipeg.

"For work?" I ask.

He chuckles into his beer and says, "Kind of."  He then proceeds to tell me all the trials and tribulations related to being a canadian working in the United States.  He tells me how often he has to go back to Canada to renew his visa, and all the paperwork he has to fill out and how easy it is to forget and fall behind.

"What's you job?" I ask.

"Well, I'm kind of between jobs right now. My last job had to lay me off cause I forgot to renew my visa." It was a computer company, big name like Dell or Gateway or something I forget. Then he's off on a soapbox about US immigration law, but more importantly, how at fault his company was in not doing the paperwork for him. 

I'm nodding, agreeing that it's a tough process. I'm about to begin telling him about my experience with immigrants and the immigration process when I suddenly realize: "Oh my God! You're an illegal alien!"

This is after two glasses of wine and my tactfulness might have been lacking.

"Well, kind of." He says, furrowing his brow and swirling his beer. He looks pensive as if this is a new concept for him.

I am laughing out loud now, "I know quite a few immigrants with expired documents," I tell him, "but none of them would be stupid enough to tell a stranger about it in an airport bar!" He did not seem offended, though I thought he should have been. "Must be because you're blonde and not brown," I said.

He shrugged and swirled his beer.  It was obvious that he did not associate himself with illegal immigrants, and definitely not the brown ones.  I couldn't stop shaking my head, but I did try to muffle the laughter.  He went on complaining about the bureaucracy and how unfair the system had been to him.  Maybe he had no sense of irony, but I simply could not handle it.  I remember reading once, a long time ago, that the highest number of illegal immigrants working in Los Angeles were canadians.  

As I listened to him go on, I couldn't help thinking of my clients, friends and neighbors who have to wait decades for work permits.  Those who are separated from husbands or wives or even children for years and years with little hope of reunion. Those living in tiny unfurnished apartments with eight other exhausted men sleeping on inflatable mats strewn all over the floors sending every cent home, dreaming of a day when their families will all be together and living in houses in some nicer part of town. Each time I try to bring up stories like these, he swirls his beer and resumes talking about himself.  These struggles are not connected to him.  These stories bounce off.

Not only was this blonde 20-something no longer humoring me, I was actually beginning to not like him.  I drained my glass and left the bar without saying adios.