I, Alien

by Sola Osofisan

Dear Sir or Madam,

You have to forgive me for not knowing your gender. It is commonplace to refer to a country as the motherland, her…But when I see you at war, soldiers decked out in all the sophisticatedly futuristic combat gear and weapons, I think you are a man. Still, it has been said that the most perfect beings have both attributes in the appropriate proportion, so, let me call you Dear Sir…

Or Madam.

I write you not because I think you will read this letter. You don’t surf fringe web sites devoted to fringe issues such as we address here. Besides, you have a lot on your mind right now and a letter from a faceless immigrant is the least of your priorities. We all know letters just don’t cut it anymore, do they? Who reads them now, with the fear of Anthrax a pervasive threat? An email will probably command your attention better than any letter. Still, I know of the junk mail that floats into your email box daily. You might delete my message as junk before even reading it. A letter stands a better chance, don’t you think? A letter on a fringe web page!

I am one of the blessed who arrived America standing on my feet. That means I am not skulking around being used and underpaid by small businesses or getting a palpitating heart every time a cop passes by or pulls me over. I am not afraid because I have no reason to be. I am one of those legally called a Resident Alien – no, not in the vein of the movie Men In Black. I am not from a galaxy somewhere beyond the sun. I am from nearby Nigeria. Never heard of it? It is in West Africa? Okay, I am from Africa. Ah, that rings a bell. Thank you.

I write to commiserate with you as we approach the first anniversary of the harrowing events of September 11, 2001. I also write to share with you some of the fears that have made home in my heart since that dastardly morning. Things have changed sir…or madam… In my country, yes, Africa, we say you cannot appreciate a masquerader while standing in one spot. That is because Masqueraders are a wily bunch, dancing and twisting and you may have to change positions, sometimes in synch with them to fully appreciate their magic. That is what you have become too, dear sir…madam. A masquerader. So much is unfamiliar now and I just have to say to you, on behalf of other immigrants like me, it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand you while standing in one spot.

I write you because of some of the recent changes and enforcements in your laws… I was reading recently of a plan to enforce a paper law that requires all “legal aliens” in the US to notify you of their whereabouts “within 10 days of moving” or risk deportation. We are suddenly not sure who to be more afraid of…The terrorists whose cowardly acts impacted upon us also – or the American government that welcomed many of us once upon a time.

What is in a change of address anyhow? It shouldn’t be a problem for us to do that; after all, we already give the Postmaster General a forwarding address. We make address changes across several databases – be it banking, medical, motor vehicle, etc. You already have the addresses anyway. I mean the databases are available to you. You know where I live. You know where we live. Your eyes – “everywhere they are” as Yoda would say – all plugged on those who look different…Especially on the “overstays”. They think you are not aware their student or visitors’ visa has expired and they’re still within these shores.

Since you already have this information at your disposal, why do you now want us to be providing it again? Are you aware that some of us are haunted by the recall of governmental excesses and other experiences that prompted us to seek refuge here in the first instance? Take Kwame for example: He finds himself in need of urgent police help, even though he is here legally, but he hesitates as soon as he realizes he hasn’t informed you of a move he made weeks ago…Yet, he is in dire need of help! The real question some ask is “will the real terrorists report a change of address?”

May I ask again, is it true that any suspicion of terrorist activity will no more need to be proved in a court of law? A man can say goodbye to his family in NJ in the morning and say hello to a different airport in a different country by nightfall? It used to be that the INS could detain non-citizens for only 24hrs without an arrest warrant. I understand this has been increased to 48 hours.

We have all been under suspicion since Sept 11, 2001…All aliens in America. And we do understand this feeling. Even The Bible says a strong man does not turn a blind eye when strangers come out of the ether to maim and destroy his abode and children… But be reminded that strangers also live amongst you. Many of us have lived here, married here, have families here without so much as a speeding ticket for decades. Many of us know no other place to call home.

Of course you have to adapt to the times and no one has a right to begrudge you your right to protect yourself in the face of increasing madness displayed by some people. Safety is a critical issue. Self first is arguably the first rule of human nature in peril.

I would urge you to understand, however, that it is not only a claim to citizenship that makes one law abiding and protective of a country. An American like Timothy McVeigh, for instance, nursed no qualms about his actions against Americans on American soil. I say then that non-citizens of America, I mean Resident Aliens like my humble self, have lived here peacefully for many years and would like to continue living here without having to worry that your next sneeze or change in mood will send us all scuttling for cover.

It is noteworthy that a character in the unusual little movie, Cool Runnings, observed, “People are always afraid of what’s different”. Indeed, we are different… But we do not have to live in abject fear of one another and that difference. Doing that will mean the senile minds behind the assault of 9/11 have won.

Government policy is often eked out of the hardwood of public opinion and Americans and Resident Aliens alike have been understandably jittery since the madness that was September 11, 2001. Believe me, we’re as terrified as you all are. Why? Because we are like the Motherless Child in the famed song, “long ‘way from home”. We are not the first to be protected when the proverbial sh#t hits the fan. And since we’re so far away from our home and our government, even if it remotely gives a damn (and we all know it doesn’t, not as long as there are deals to be sealed) is not equipped to airlift us out of this place or even protect us in any emergency, then we’re kind of f#ck#d.

Still, I know you have to be seen acting decisively in the interest of the very vocal American populace, and this has prompted the emergency approval of new legislations that are bothering on the draconian – considerations that once upon a time would have met with stiff opposition. As a Resident Alien, I urge you to remain considerate even as you try to take back what has been lost. While you make the new laws to keep the great American people safe, please remember that most of us Resident Aliens live in peace and would like to continue to live in peace.

Truth be told, a lot of the INS policies are not being tampered with. People are still being given visas. The Visa Lottery is still ongoing. You are still welcoming the world, albeit more carefully than before. But the perception of the immigrant as the outsider is being re-enforced, and perception can mean so much. It is frightening the impact the actions taken by a handful of animals can have on a nation, nay, the world.

We all must do all within our powers to stop terrorism. We all should be ready to tolerate some of the major changes that the times have imposed on us. All Americans, not only immigrants, go through the security measures at the airports. Checks like these are put in place to help us all co-exist. But having 10 million other immigrants and I report address changes to you after every move sounds more like selective victimization – for that is what any selective application of any country’s laws eventually become. It should not be a crime to be an alien in this country.

In conclusion, this is all a sad reflection of what we have all done collectively to our world and selves. People cannot live in peace wherever they choose anymore because other “people” believe weak-kneed acts like bombing or hijacking planes is the modern way of engagement. The battlefront has been moved to our bedrooms and homes and offices and we are all the sadder for it. May God help us all…

Thank you for your time.

(The title of this piece is obviously a corruption of the Isaac Asimov novel title, I, Robot).

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