Jan 082011

I was married for a time back in 2000. My fiancé was Canadian, and decided to move into my house here in Seattle. Thus she had to go through all the rigmarole of getting a green card to reside in the United States legally. At least one part was easy, in that the physical building that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was housed in was right here in Seattle. It’s a grand old building, but it also contained a detention facility. The jail was on the top floor, if I remember correctly.

I remember going down there to obtain the paperwork for Jen to fill out. I arrived first thing in the morning, and even then there was a huge line. Detainees would yell obscene comments through their barred windows at the women below. When I got inside the door, I could see I had to go past a guard and through a metal detector. I knew better than to have brought my Leatherman tool, or any kind of “weapon” at all. There was a fascinating display on the entryway wall of confiscated weapons. Eventually I was inside, and obtained a huge packet of papers that Jen had to fill out. Now the burden was on her.

She dutifully filled out the paperwork, but we had to make a return visit to the INS building for an in-person interview as a couple. I assume this was done to assess whether ours was a “sham marriage” in order to get a non-American into the country. We were interviewed together by a very nice Asian gentleman. This was all pre 9-11, so there was no hard-ass vibe about the process.

The questions were prosaic, and so bland I barely remember them. I think they were very open ended, like “how did you two meet” and “how long have you known each other.” “Who are your mutual friends?” The mere fact that we were interviewed together shows that it was a low-key affair, as in criminal investigations suspects are NEVER interviewed together, despite what you might have seen on TV.

But then things took a strange and surreal turn. I could tell this kindly man didn’t enjoy broaching this subject, and in fact prefaced his question with the statement “I know this is a strange question, but legally I have to ask it.” This one was directed specifically at Jen.

I suspect, but do not know, that it had to do with the fact that when another country is trying to extradite someone, the easiest legal way for the US to allow the extradition is if the immigrant lied about themselves to the INS. So the interviewer asks Jen, the beautiful, mild-mannered red haired gal, if she’s ever committed genocide

It was hard for me to suppress laughter at this moment, and Jen answered honestly, that no, she had never committed genocide. Afterwards, the incident became a running joke between us as we would think up potential alternative responses. “What’s the cut-off number between mass murder and genocide?” “Oh, that business in Bosnia? No, we didn’t call it genocide.” “Are you talking about those Vancouver prostitutes?”

Years later Jen became involved in roller derby, and I was slightly disappointed that her roller derby name wasn’t “Jen-o-cide.” Unfortunately that name was already taken…

A few years ago, the INS moved out of the building, and it’s now being used for artist’s workspaces. Last night I went there to attend Bill Beaty’s Weird Science meeting, held at the new location of the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries. A group of us took a tour of the building. We walked out onto a tiled rooftop which functioned as an outdoor “yard” for the INS detainees. On hot days, some detainees would take blobs of roofing tar and write on the brick walls of the building. Some of the graffiti is still there:

An anti INS sentiment:

 Posted by on 01/08/2011 Personal History

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