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Thinking Out Loud

Immigration Denied: An "Epiphany" (That Might Have Been)

by Michael Jinkins | Jan 03, 2017

Immigration DeniedScene: A ramshackle, squalid little government office on the northeastern Egyptian border. The desert sands whip into dusty spirals forming drifts against the edges of the tiny building at the border crossing. The peeling paint on the cinder block walls looks like it once was more grey than beige, but is now neither. A minor immigration official sits at a metal desk with stacks of papers before him. An oscillating fan on the filing cabinet in the corner blows the warm air and a fine powder of sandy dust from one side of the office to the other and back again. In his hands the disheveled official holds a single thin sheet of paper, an application for permission to enter Egypt. Before him sits a man and a woman. The woman holds in her arms a small child.

Official: I can't quite make out your handwriting. What is your name, please?

Man: I am Joseph Ben Jacob from the village of Nazareth. I am of the House of David.

Official: Do you have some form of identification?

Man: Yes. (The man rustles about in a small bag until he retrieves a government issued ID.) We just came from Bethlehem. We registered there in the census. Here are my papers.

Official: Hmmm. And the woman?

Man: Mary, my betrothed. Oops, I mean my wife. We are only recently married.

(The man hands the official more papers.)

Official: So, you ARE married now? (The official looks over the tops of his glasses at the baby squirming in the woman's arms.)

Man: Yes. Yes. Married now.

Official: Uh huh. Is this your son or hers?

Man: Excuse me?

Official: Are you the father of this child?

Man: (blushing) Well, that's complicated.

Official: (looking the man in the eyes) I assure you it isn't. Either you are or you aren't the father.

Man: Let's just say I am. I am the father.

(The official looks doubtful, but moves on with his questions.)

Official: What level of education do you have?

Man: Yeshiva. I was taught by our village rabbi.

Official: Does the woman work outside the home?

Man: Not currently, but she hopes to … (The man trails off, his words too soft to hear.)

Official: Well, we can't make bricks with hope can we. How about you? What marketable skills do you have?

Man: I am a carpenter.

Official: Not much employment here in Egypt for carpenters. I can tell you that. Our economy is largely agricultural, although we do have lively markets for trade. But most of our buildings are made of stone or brick. Hmmm. (He seems to be studying the papers, but there's a vacant look in his eyes. At last he looks up from the papers and speaks to the man.) Still, sometimes there are carpenters needed to produce wooden frames for construction and molds for bricks, and so forth. It's not impossible that your craft would appear on the list of professions approved for resident aliens. But we won't have you taking jobs away from honest hardworking Egyptians, that I can tell you right now.

Man: But work isn't really the point. Not now, anyway.

Official: (Looking into the man's eyes, then down again at the application form, then into his eyes again.) Well then … Oh, I see. It says here on your application that you aren't seeking to immigrate for economic reasons. You're seeking political asylum? Is that right?

Man: Yes. Yes. We were warned by three wise men that King Herod seeks to take the life of our child. We are fleeing here to Egypt to protect our child from the king. For now, we have enough money to tide us over until things improve back home.

Official: "Three wise men." (The official smiles crookedly.) And where, may I ask, did you meet these "wise" men in your country. I confess I've never met anyone wise from Galilee.

Man: They came from principalities in the east. They visited us in Bethlehem after Mary gave birth. They came to the manger where the child lay and presented us with gifts of great value. The Ruler of all Creation, who sees all and knows all, provided the gifts of the magi that the child might escape the tyrant King.

Official: So, you plan to sell these gifts and live on the proceeds?

Man: That's right.

(The official refers to a thick book. Thumbing through it, he frowns and rubs his chin.)

Official: I've got to tell you, your story sounds kinda far-fetched. (The official studies the thick book, thumbing from page to page slowly.) Why did these "wise men" think your king wanted to kill the child?

Man: Because they knew our son would grow up to be the savior and the messiah. His name shall be called Wonderful, counselor; he will be the Prince of Peace, the Lion of Judah; generations yet unborn will rise up and call him Blessed.

Official: Well, we're all pretty proud of our kids. These are mine here (the official says pointing at a photo of three small children playing in a sandbox). And I'm sure the fellas, excuse me, "the three wise men" who visited you thought that your little guy there was as cute as a button. But ... (he shuts the big book, and looks at the couple) ...  But here's the long and short of it. Egypt is currently under a bilateral treaty with Judea, Galilee, Peraea, Samaria, and Idumaea, the regions under the control of your King Herod. Our ruler, "the Master of All Egypt, Lord of the Two Kingdoms, High Priest of all Temples, May he live forever!" and your King Herod, "May he etc. etc." had a summit last year. So, at least for now, we do not recognize any sort of political oppression to exist in your country. You don't have any political oppression in Herod's region. And you can't legally flee from or seek political refuge from oppression that doesn't exist. Officially that is. Officially, you are now a security risk to Egypt. You may be terrorists for all we know.

Man: But if we return, our child will be killed.

Official: Off the record, I'm sympathetic. Sure. I just read yesterday that soldiers had rounded up little boys in your country and killed them. Terrible. I can't believe what the world is coming to. And I don't know what's going on where you are from, and I don't really doubt your story (except that whole "wise man" thing), but my hands are tied. (Then slowly the official adds), "Hold the phone! I've got an idea. Let's take a look at that guest worker process for you folks. You're a carpenter, right?

(Turning his creaking swivel chair around to his computer. He begins tapping on the keyboard. The man exchanges a hopeful look with his wife, who smiles weakly.)

Official: You know, there may just be an opening there. Let's look and see if you've got an option. (He taps and taps again the keyboard of the ancient computer on his desk.) First, of course, I'll need to take a quick look at our homeland security files on my computer, to see if your name comes up on a watch list. Forgive me, but this will take a few moments. This computer dates back to the Patriarch Joseph.

(The official looks up suddenly from his computer keyboard and laughs.)

Official: Hey, how about that? And you're Hebrew too! Funny.

(It's Joseph who smiles weakly now, then looks down at his feet waiting for the official to work his way through the files.)

Official: (Reading along, nodding, then sitting utterly still … finally he whistles low and long.) Oh boy, here we go. Joseph, Joe, you've been holding out on me, friend.

(There's a long pause as the official reads silently from the electronic security dossier, his head shaking back and forth all the while.)

Man: I assure you, sir, I have never been involved in anything that would make me an undesirable immigrant.

Official: It's not you, Joe, it's your wife.

(Turning finally to face Mary, the official begins to question her.)

Official: Ma'am, is it true that you have written political statements that call for the overthrow of the legitimate ruling authority in your country?

Woman: No. I've never been political.

Official: I want to give you a chance to rephrase your answer.

Woman: There's no need.

Official: Then, do you deny ever saying that God has chosen you as the vessel through whom his arm will strike down the proud; that rulers on their thrones will be overthrown; the poor and hungry will be well-fed while the powerful and rich will be sent away empty?

Woman: That was a prayer, my prayer, in response to God's gracious act of allowing me miraculously to bear this child.

Official: Well, apparently, someone heard your prayer and published it in your synagogue's weekly blog, and it has gone viral. Anarchists and revolutionaries all over the place are rallying to your words. You appear to be suspected of sedition back home.

(The official shakes his head.) This is out of my hands, folks. Sorry. Even if there are jobs available, we aren't about to take in security risks.

(At this point the official takes out a large rubber stamp, presses it onto an ink pad, and brings it down hard on the application paper: "IMMIGRATION DENIED" appears in red across the page.)

(The man, Joseph, slowly stands. Gently, with powerful calloused hands, he takes the child from the woman. As she rises and they turn to leave the office, the official behind the desk speaks again.)

Official: Listen. It's not that I'm unsympathetic. I'm a working stiff just like you. This is off the record, but I heard from a buddy in the foreign office that they are taking immigrants to the east, India I think. Maybe their standards aren't so high. Or maybe they don't have treaties with your king. You might get in there on a temporary worker's permit, if you aren't too choosy what you'll be doing. I'd advise you not to mention the whole thing with the king, though. Religion is bad enough, but nobody likes to get involved in politics.

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