Immigration is a nasty business.
Forget the rhetoric spewed out by politicians like Donald Trump. Forget how people from Africa and the Middle East are suddenly finding themselves persona non grata across vast swathes of the planet. Instead, think about the nitty-gritty. Think about the vast numbers of forms that you need to fill in. Think about the reams of documents you need to produce: the bank statements and affidavits and employment letters and language tests, the granular process of proving, in humiliating detail, that you are who you say you are. And that’s just if you’re doing it legally. I don’t even want to think about the terror an illegal crossing might produce.
I think about it every time I stand in line at the border control of YVR Airport in Vancouver. I’d love to say I was imagining the cab ride home, the trip over the Granville Bridge where the downtown skyline suddenly unfurls itself like a glittering flower, the first beer at our local bar. Instead, what I’m thinking is: have I done enough? Are my i’s dotted and t’s crossed? Or is this going to be the time when the infinitely-polite border agent looks at me and says, I’m sorry, but there’s a problem. You can’t stay.
I leave and re-enter Canada on a fairly regular basis, so this happens often. And assuming I actually get in, it’s only to resume what sometimes feels like a back-alley knife fight with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (an entirely legal one, I might add, in case anyone from that department is reading this). The fight is for the right to stand in that border queue without having to worry, the fight to remain in Vancouver indefinitely. It’s a fight I fully intend to win, even if I have to spill some blood doing it.
But why am I doing it? Why engage in this nasty, brutish, anxiety-inducing process that casts a pall over my existence? Why even bother? What makes Vancouver, and Canada, worth the trouble? I’ll tell you.
Let me introduce you to Vika.
Vika is Fijian. She’s a tiny woman with an elfin face who plays poker like a demon - she once cleaned a group of us out, sitting cross-legged in my apartment, looking completely innocent as she took us for everything we had.