This is my response to the earlier Flashback Track Friday prompt.
James Delaney was having a bad day. Not particularly things going wrong, he was just pissed at having to cover the Sunday shift.
Squeezing one last drag out of his cigarette, he made room in the already overflowing ashtray. He took one last view, checked the name – Mark Ward, then closed the thin case file. Pouring himself a drink to go, he left the coffee area, calling, “Hey Jeannie. You wanna make yourself useful and empty the goddam ashtray in here? I’m gonna see how far I get with this British guy.” A response, inaudible. Probably just as well, he thought.
He approached the Interrogation Suite but did not enter. Instead, he hung back. He always did that, wanted to size them up first. Should be easy, this one, thought Delaney. He was only a youngster. Delaney double-checked the file – 23. Besides, giving them a few more minutes to stew didn’t do any harm. He pushed the door open slowly, so as not to spill his coffee.
“Hi there. Mark Ward?” The man in the chair nodded, though it was a formality. Delaney knew he had his man already. He sat opposite Ward.. “Mr Ward, can I start by offering you a drink? Would you like me to get a cup of coffee?”
“No thanks”, the youngster replied, adding. “Can you help me? Nobody’s told me a thing so far”.
Seating himself, he said, “Mr Ward, I’m Inspector Delaney of the United States Department of Immigration. We just wanted to speak to you today regarding your reasons for coming to the United States.” Allowing this to sink in, Delaney opened the file, pulled out a sheet of paper, placed it in front of the man, and continued.
“Do you recognise this, Mr Ward?”
“Ummmm…yes… it’s the form I just filled out on the way in.”
“And did you understand this form?”
“Of course. There was even a question on there asking me whether I understood.”
“Right”, said Delaney. “That’s Question 8 – the last question. Tell me, do you remember Question 4, Mr Ward?”
“Um, no, not really.”
“Okay, Can I remind you?”
“Question 4. Do you intend seeking work once you arrive in the United States?”
“You ticked “yes” to this question. Now, bearing in mind that you applied for a tourist visa, Mister Ward, that made us very interested in your reasons for coming here. Are you here as a tourist, Mister Ward?”
Finally, a look of understanding crossed the man’s face. At last, he understood. He was trapped.
“No, I’m coming here on business. I’m coming here to do work, but I’m not coming here to seek work. I got confused with the question.”
“Okay, so you didn’t understand. So, why did you tick the box further down the page, to say that you did?
I could continue this flash, but you get the picture. This story is based on true events, although this piece has come purely from my imagination.
Back in the mid-nineties, I used to run a development team. We were ultimately writing a program, but it involved lots of supplementary activities such as creating content. The guy I’m talking about above was a graphic designer.
The company was chasing a deal in the USA – quite literally, because the deal was with Chase Manhattan. And so, staff from the company would regularly fly out to the US, either for meetings, or just to work on such-and-such a part of the product, to entice our desired Lord and Master some more.
Fortunately, I had taken a fortnight’s vacation. Otherwise, I would have been on this trip. The company sent about six guys over to work on something, including this graphic designer. Happened all the time. I did it many times myself.
Several of us, by that time, had expressed an interest in working in the US more permanently, and for us, the visa-application process had already started. But nothing had yet come through, so we used to go over to the fledgeling US operation on standard travel visas. That was probably a bit grey because we were actually “working”, as opposed to “attending meetings” (which was fine). As the boss, 90% of my time was attending meetings, anyhow, but this other guy was there purely and simply, to create graphics.
So, this trip happened without me. But with this graphic designer.
I portrayed his age correctly, he was early twenties and an incredibly talented young man, but with zero common sense. Towards the end of the flight, they hand out immigration slips to non-US citizens. This guy filled the slip out wrong. Said he was planning to look for work as soon as he set foot in the USA. Dumb. Either dumb filling out this form wrongly, or dumb to telegraph his intentions to Immigration. Either way, a red flag, so Immigration picked him up.
What happened afterwards, I have no clue, except for the ending.
Whatever this guy subsequently said was unsatisfactory, so he got deported. Next flight back to London. In the context of my flash, you can imagine Delaney ultimately having a decision to make, and thinking “why should I take the risk?”
There is a flip-side, of course. Our company would have paid a proportion of its profits back into the US economy as tax, so by not allowing the designer into the country, Immigration probably harmed our company’s profits in some small way and therefore harmed the US’s tax take. But I wouldn’t necessarily expect a bureaucrat to see that.
Not only was this designer deported, but his travelling companions were all picked up, and deported, too.
Back then, deported once meant that you would automatically be refused entry, evermore. So, filling out that wrong box on the airplane had huge implications both for this guy and those flying in with him.
In a cruel twist of irony, when I got back from my vacation, what should be waiting for me in my In tray, except… my visa to work in the USA! And, double irony, I left that job about four months later, and never really harboured any ambition to work in the USA again.