Sunday, December 16, 2007

City Life

Hard Times For A Legal Immigrant
By Gunes Atalay

Many people have an idea about how hard life can be for illegal immigrants in this country. However, not a lot of people think about how hard it is for “legal” immigrants. I am one of them. Coming to this country legally with an F1 (student) visa, I didn’t think I would have a lot of problems. Little did I know.

Coming from Turkey, a Middle Eastern Muslim country, made things hard initially. Even though Turkey is the most modern Muslim country and I don’t look Muslim at all, I had many problems getting a visa, and getting in. My family and I had to go through a complete background check. I had to assure the Turkish Consulate that I definitely did not want to “stay” and that I would certainly return after completing my education. One thing that helped was I could speak English very well.

However, getting into the U.S. was a lot harder than I expected. Even though I was bringing money in, I felt my treatment at JFK Airport was way out of line. While I thought I was not being respected, I saw people in front of me being treated even worse, simply because they didn’t speak English. After being questioned about everything, I managed to get in and moved in to a hotel that I booked from my country.

Checking websites like Craigslist from home, I knew housing would be very expensive, and I thought finding a cheap place would be very hard. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t even be able to rent an apartment even if I paid a lot of money. That was simply because I didn’t have a credit card in the U.S., and therefore I didn’t have a credit history.

One solution I was offered was to find a guarantor who made at least 80 times my rent a year. Surprise, I didn’t know anyone in the country, let alone a rich one who would love and trust me enough to be my guarantor. Many landlords didn’t even bother listening, they just simply wouldn’t rent to me. The ones who bothered to listen, said I would have to pay a year’s rent upfront and six months deposit. That was simply crazy talk to me.

After months of searching, I finally got a place by paying an entire year upfront. But that didn’t end my problems. Credit checks and social security number were required wherever I went. I couldn’t get a cell phone plan without it. I couldn’t get Internet, phone, cable, and electric service. I couldn’t get a credit, or debit card either. And this country is very tough without credit/debit cards.

Finally showing my transcript and my passport, I managed to get electricity. Of course, I had to pay a lot of money simply because I didn’t have a social security number. I got a cell phone plan, using a friend’s social. He told me something, I didn’t know. Apparently, before September 11, every legal immigrant got a social security number, but the law changed afterwards. Everyone knows how life in this country changed after September 11, but few people knew about the huge change in legal immigrants’ lives.

In the year that I’ve been here, I managed to make friends, and find an apartment through my friends without paying an entire year upfront. However, things are still not simple. I have to pay a lot of money wherever I go and whatever I do. I have to have credit to get anything, and to have credit, I have to have a credit card. To have a credit card, I have to have a social security number. And the list goes on.

Legal immigrants think that America’s extreme ways of letting people in is the biggest problem. However, even that seems easy, after seeing what life here is like. I love this country, I love my school and I love living in New York City. But many times, I just wish it would be easier and that I wasn’t treated so badly. After all, I am here legally. A friend once said, “You would live here a lot easier, if you were an illegal immigrant.” Sometimes, I can’t help but agree with her.

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