Do Not Lie to INS!

Fatma first entered the United States on a visitor’s visa late last year. She had recently gotten married in Jordan, and her husband had relocated to the United States after obtaining his “green card.”  At the time, I wondered why and how she came on a visitor’s visa. I thought that the spouse of a citizen or permanent resident must enter on a resident visa. Well, regulations change, and it was none of my business, anyway.

They settled into married life, and then she decided to travel back to Jordan to visit her family. Since her visitor’s visa was good for multiple entries for five years, she felt safe to make the trip. Her husband stayed behind because he finally got a wonderful job, after months of sending resumes, attending interviews, and consulting the employment agencies. They did not plan to be apart for more than the duration of her visit– a few months– so she went, and visited her family.

Several months later, she boarded a plane to return to the Untied States.

Upon landing, she was taken into a private room and interrogated regarding the purpose of her travels. She spoke through an interpreter, since she does not speak English. I became aware of the situation when my daughter phoned me in a panic.

“They’ve taken her into a room! They’ve been questioning her for four hours!” Fatma is my daughter’s sister-in-law.

Her husband, with my son-in-law and my grandson, had been waiting for her to emerge, but they never so much as caught a glimpse of her.

“They’re going to send her back to Jordan!” my daughter cried. “She needs a lawyer. We need to find a twenty-four lawyer. Now! They are putting her on the next plane!” They would put her on the next plane for another ten hour flight, without letting her even see her husband for a few minutes, knowing that she would not see him again for a long time? They would do that?

My daughter’s internet connection was down, so I got on my computer and discovered that such a category of lawyers does exist— immigration lawyers available twenty-four hours. I texted my daughter five phone numbers, and waited, and wondered what could have gone wrong with Fatma’s re-entry to the United States.

My daughter called me back an hour later. She had spoken to several lawyers. They couldn’t help, because Fatma is not a citizen or permanent resident, and therefore is not legally entitled to representation.

“Well, what’s the problem with Immigration? Why won’t they let her enter the country?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said my daughter.

“What did they ask her? Why did she say?”

“They asked her if she was married and she said no. They opened her suitcase and found the wedding photos.”

Bingo!

“That’s it,” I said, ” you do not lie to INS! Don’t they know that by now? Haven’t they learned that you cannot lie to INS?” I started shrieking.

“You cannot lie to INS!”

“Why not?” asked my daughter, “she lied to them the first time, and it worked.”

“You do not lie to INS! They can SMELL lies!”

I was flabbergasted that Fatma and her husband would even consider lying to INS, but upon reflection, I realized why they had done so.

He had just obtained his permanent residence. He won’t be eligible for citizenship for three more years. As a permanent resident, he can apply for her residence visa, but the process will take years. They have no legal path to bring her here in a timely manner, and he has just become established on a career path here, so he does not want to give that up, for fear he won’t get another chance. So now they sit, apart, he in the States, she in Jordan. He will be able to visit her once or twice a year if he is lucky, if his new position gives him more than the measly two-week vacation that Americans get at the beginning of their career paths.

They’d better not try another lie, because now she has a flag on her file, and future efforts to immigrate will be scrutinized.  This new family now hangs in limbo, this Arab family that is trying to become American, trying simply to join other family members already here, to have and raise their children in a healthier society than that from which they’ve emerged. Her husband is from Iraq.

His family was able to evacuate Baghdad because of the war. They relocated to Jordan, where they lived for several years, and then, one by one, came to the United States. I hope Fatma will be the next one to come. I almost hope they think up another lie that won’t be smelled by INS. Newlyweds should not be separated during the first years of their marriage, especially after all the hardships these families have already suffered, through no fault of their own.

Now, however, they will have to endure several more years of hardship, for the sin of having lied to INS.

INS did, indeed, put her on the next plane, and her husband went home to candles, roses, and tears.

Are You Fasting?

“Are you fasting?”

I hate that question. My friends in Riyadh used to ask each other that question all the time. The appropriate answer was, “Yes.”  An answer of, “No,” meant that the woman was menstruating or that she was sinning by not fasting. No one wanted to admit either of those two conditions.

Nevertheless, “Are you fasting?” was asked repeatedly, and I always said, “Yes.”

Many years ago in Riyadh, one of my close friends invited me to go with her to an iftar at a Saudi home. Both of us qualified to say, “No,” to The Question, and I asked her, “What shall we do? What shall we say? How can we go to an iftar when we are not fasting?”

“Pretend,” she said.

“Well, what about the prayer? Everyone prays Maghrib after breaking fast, so what shall we do?”

“Pretend,” she said again. “Just go through the motions without really praying.”

“Are you kidding? Isn’t that a sin?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but what can we do? We are excused from fasting today, and we want to attend this gathering, but we don’t want the other ladies to look down their noses at us. Allah will forgive us.”

So we pretended, and I felt like a fraud, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the food and friendship of that rare night out on the town. I still say, “Yes,” to The Question, regardless of the correct answer, but I never again pretended anything beyond that.

Gaining Weight During Ramadan

Oh-oh! I’m about to suggest something no one wants to admit— that it’s easier to gain weight in Ramadan than during any other month of the year. Perhaps I should qualify that statement, for those readers who are quick to say, “Not ALL of us gain weight in Ramadan!”

OK, not all of us gain weight in Ramadan, but maybe more of us do than don’t. Anyway, let’s get on with it. 

I’ll admit straightaway that I gain weight easily.  Ramadan has never taught me control. It’s taught me postponement. I can postpone. I can fast and fast, but by Maghrib, I am like a cat ready to pounce.  I used to follow the Sunnah, which is to break the fast with dates and water, juice  or soup, then pray. That’s because one cannot pray comfortably on a gorged stomach, so, the serious eating had to wait until after dates and liquids.

I’d eat a full meal, including dessert. That would have been fine, except that another meal (and maybe  dessert) followed during the night, after Tarawih, followed by yet a third meal, Suhoor, just before Fajr. Between meals, I’d sleep a few hours, if I was not visiting someone or having guests at home.  Days passed in a groggy haze, similar to jet lag. The hospital in which I worked during my fist six years of fasting allowed Muslims to reduce their shifts from eight hours to six. That was nice. 

I worked in Riyadh, at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. We Musims would stagger our shifts; one worked from 7AM to 1PM, another from 8 to 2, and another from 9 to 3, etc. I was committed to maintaining as close to normal a daily schedule as possible, because I believed I was supposed to do that. I criticized the Saudi practice of switching days and nights.  I accused them of sleeping all day because they did not want to feel the discomfort of fasting. Their focus on food, food, food, both in the grocery stores and in homes, seemed inappropriate and somehow sacreligious, especially when they slept during the day and never felt hunger. 

Well, at the end of each Ramadan, I’d find myself tired and fatter, and finally had to accuse myself of the same fault I’d attributed to the Saudis. Something was wrong.  One is not supposed to gain weight during Ramadan, I thought.

Then I got married, quit my job, and joined the Saudi liftestyle, especially in switching my day and night activities during Ramadan. From the first year I did that, I no longer gained weight, and the whole twenty-four cycle proceeded more smoothly, productively and comfortably.  I slept from fajr til just before Asr, prayed, then read the Qur’an and cooked. I’d stay up all night, going to the
mosque for all twenty rakat of tarawih, and using the rest of the night for household duties usually done during the day— laundry, vauuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc. (I didn’t have a housekeeper). Many evenings I’d have an invitation, or extend one.  Then I’d eat Suhoor, pray Fajr, and go to bed.

Only then did I understand why the Saudis switched their days and nights
during Ramadan. It was a matter of physiology. The body gets tired without food and water; it wakes up after having been nourished. Switching days and nights was the most natural thing in the world during Ramadan, and I no longer criticized anyone for doing it. I found no evidence in the Qur’an or Sunnah to contradict the practice. We are enjoined to fast from fajr to maghrib, but we are not forbidden from sleeping during the day and becoming active at night. I am convinced that switching days and night in Ramadan is not only natural, but more healthy than trying to force the body to behave as if if were nourished during the day, and then force the body to sleep when it is no longer ready to sleep. That practice effectively produces ‘jet lag”, and I see no need for it. As one who is always severely effected by jet lag or any other disturbance in my circadian rhythm, I recommend the Saudi  style of observing Ramadan.

The problem is that the rest of the world is not ready to follow it. When we live outside the Kingdom, we cannot “do what comes naturally.”  That means that here in the United States, if one wants to observe Ramadan, one must remain active while fasting, and try to sleep while not fasting. 

 Ramadan Kareem!

Fiscal Pain?

How many CEOs will feel the “pain” of lowering their yearly salaries by a million or two?  How many corporations will have to feel the “pain” of having to start paying taxes on their profits?  How many corporate jet pilots will be out of a job?

None. None. None.

How many senior citizens will have to worry about their benefits? How many recipients of social services may have to do without, after they’ve already done without (and therefore found themselves in need of social services)? How many sick people may not get their treatments? How many, how many, how many….?

Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands?

I spit on the Tea Party and all that it represents.