It’s Not A Trick Question

This is not a trick question. I heard this from immigration officials twice in one day last week. First in the morning at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service during a green card interview. Then in the afternoon during an Immigration Court hearing. Both times it was in relation to a routine, throw away questions. “Are you familiar with the contents of your application?” “Did anyone assist you in filling out your application?”  These questions are no longer a mere formality but now create paranoia and fear in immigrants.

This litany of questions proceeds virtually every interview or court hearing and is usually answered with a series of yeses that are more ritual than substance. These questions are equivalent to the warnings we click “ok” to on the internet or documents we sign with out really reading, taking it on faith that it’s okay.

Of course an immigrant in the United States no longer takes it on faith that it’s going to be okay. No, sorry to say, the expectation now is probably the opposite. You better watch every word you utter lest it be turned against you.

So as a result during my court hearing last week when the judge, one of the most compassionate and fair in Los Angeles, asked my client if anyone assisted her in filling out her application, her face filled with dread and she froze. She looked at me and then the judge and didn’t utter a word. The judge suggested, “did your attorney assist you?” A routine, throwaway question, asked of every respondent in court, but my client still hesitated. But in this climate where ham sandwiches are being indicted routinely, my client was freaked out. Finally the judge had to say, in the kindest manner, “it’s not a trick question.”

It really struck me that representatives of immigration had to reassure two of my clients in the same day, that they weren’t being tricked. Just another indication that notions of good faith and fair play in our country have being eroded and we’ve become the kind of country where immigrants are pre-judged and immigration officials are “out to get you.”

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