September 12, 2019, marks the turning point of a new chapter, a chapter that was about to change my life forever. We have all heard of the struggles immigrants and their families have experienced with the immigration system, but many have yet to experience it firsthand. I am an immigrant from Turkey and one of many who has been put through those struggles.
My father, a now-retired Captain of the Turkish Navy, was assigned a duty that required him to travel to America. While my parents were in America for my father’s Navy duties, my mother, pregnant with my older brother, gave birth. After my father’s duty in America, they returned back to Turkey, and I was born. When I was five years old, my brother decided to finish his high school education in the United States. Due to being born in the United States, he was automatically a U.S. citizen, allowing him to transition abroad. However, my family and I could not move with him due to my dad’s job, meaning we would have to be separated. When my dad retired from the Turkish Navy, my family decided to move to the United States to reunite our family. Since I was not born in the U.S., like my brother, to be born in the United States, moving would mean I would be living illegally in the United States. My parents were able to get their green cards reasonably quickly because they were the parents of my brother. We were naive to think that once my parents received their green cards, getting my green card would be straightforward from there on out. One would think there would be a law stating, “the children of permanent residents should also be allowed residency.” It seems only fair that immigrant children, minors, do not have to be separated from their parents. However, there is no such law to ensure that families stay together.
On September 12th, 2019, three years after I requested a green card, I received a letter from the Consulate. I immediately assumed the envelope contained my green card. I remember the scene so clearly, almost as if the memory has been tattooed in my mind. My parents and I were in the living room; my father started cheering and running around saying, “Your early birthday present is here!” I was beyond excited and too nervous to open the letter myself, leading me to force my father to do the honors. When he began reading the letter, he froze. He was reading it over and over again, not understanding due to the shock. I looked over his shoulder and read the sentence I would come to dread from that moment on: “We regret to inform you.” My mood had never changed so quickly; I acted as if I wasn’t bothered by the letter stating I had two weeks to leave this country, my friends, my family, and my life behind. After a couple of days of research, my family found out that the rejection was for the way we applied, meaning I had to reapply again, but this time with a lawyer. From that moment on, I was numb to the pain waiting to pounce.
On New Year’s Eve of 2019, I received an email from the Turkish Embassy notifying me that I was missing a document that allowed me an interview date. This delay ended up pushing my interview back to March 23rd, 2020, but everything happens for a reason, right? By the time I arrived in Turkey, Covid was beginning to become a severe problem in both the United States and Turkey. In March 2020, just three days before my green card interview, President Trump closed the consulates due to covid which later ended up putting a hold on the immigration process, leaving me stuck in Turkey, unable to follow through with the original plan. I had anticipated that something awful was going to happen; I could feel it in my gut. My gut feelings were right, though I had been hoping they were anything but right.
As time passed and lockdowns started to relax, plane flights back to the United States began to open up. President Trump stopped the immigration process with his proclamation using the labor force as a reason. I was 15 years old at the time, I couldn’t possibly work, but I still couldn’t get my green card. Meanwhile, in order to keep their green cards and maintain their jobs, my parents had to return home. Though they insisted on staying, I pushed them to go with the hope that if I ever ended up receiving my green card, we would still have a life in the U.S. to go back to.
With my parents across the ocean, I needed a guardian, who ended up being my mother’s lifelong best friend, someone I grew to love and trust during this time of hardship. She lived in Bodrum, a small and beautiful town with everything to satisfy my education and love for dance. The time I spent in Bodrum was not dreadful, and I learned some of the most important lessons that have influenced the person and the life I live today. I joined the National Dance Team and became a national dancer. Though the town was pleasing, it didn’t make the complication that stole my life and my home from me any easier to deal with. Unable to manage the stress of my world, I began to overload myself to ensure I was left with no time to think about the chapters of my life I had left back in the United States.
Once I was beginning to feel adjusted in my new home, the Embassy from Ankara, Turkey, called me to reschedule an interview for my green card. My friends and family, who had collectively written 85 letters of recommendation in hopes of proving that I was to be seen as a national interest, were all thrilled for this opportunity. I will forever be grateful for every single one of them. However, my gut thought that something was going to go wrong, so I pushed away my feelings of hope and returned to the comfortable numbness. I had grown accustomed to it. I showed up to my interview by myself, an adolescent girl frightened of the strange questions the interviewers might ask. However, I never made it to the frightening phase. They called me inside to talk about my documents and asked me basic questions, not frightening ones, about myfamily. Once my questioning was over, an officer told me to wait a second, which turned into half an hour. I watched all the officers talking behind the glass, trying to understand my case. I watched as an officer approached me, opening his mouth to say something. My gut feeling was correct. They could not give me my green card. The officer then explained to me the proclamation President Trump had created, overall preventing me from receiving my green card. I was told to reapply again. A whirlwind of thoughts flooded into my mind. Why wasn’t I made aware of the proclamation being an issue before, this proclamation has been around since March and it is now October, why? I didn’t say anything. I thanked the officer and left. Everyone was agitated, but I wasn’t. I was dazed. The year stretched on and the presidential election rolled around, opening up the possibility for me to go home. I waited in front of the TV screen and stalked the news with as much anticipation as I could possibly have, but with no hope. In the end, Biden was elected as the next president, meaning I was finally going to be able to receive my green card once the proclamation was lifted. The thought of returning home left me anxious and scared. It felt as if I had pushed everyone away back home, not having the courage to talk to the people that I had associated with before.
The move back home happened rapidly, leaving me no time to let the excitement sink in. I was relieved to be back, but I could not show or truly feel it. I had to complete a semester of schoolwork with just a quarter of the school year left, catch up with my ballet training, and reform friendships that I felt had weakened during my time away from the United States. I felt like it was better not to feel anything at all. The numbness would allow me to continue playing my game of catch-up, not caring if I was straining myself. There could be no strain if I was numb.
It has now been two years since the beginning of a chapter that felt like a novel. A chapter I think I could only title “Numb,” for that was all I felt during those two years. The thing about feeling numb is that it still leaves behind the same scars as the feeling of pain would have. These scars cover me, but not where everyone can see them. The scars live within the many layers of my skin, hiding from the surface. They have molded and shaped themselves into my body and my being. I will never be able to rid myself of them; I can only grow in hopes that they will get fainter. Fainter as I continue to share my story, exposing those who are unaware of what an immigrant has to go through to become a part of another country. I am now picking up the pieces of the life I had left behind and gluing them back together. It looks as if I’ve got it all figured out on the outside, but the pieces can only fit so well. No immigrant deserves to live with the scars that were so unfairly given to them.