Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Miseries of the Alien

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you... Leviticus 19:33, 34a

Have any of you Dance Party regulars spent time as foreigners in the U.S.A.? Does the Department of Immigration in the U.S.A. make things difficult for foreigners living in the U.S.? Because Migración y el gobierno en Panamá sure make life miserable for the Lovely Mona and I. For a "Christian" nation they sure ignore that rule from Leviticus (We also ignore the rule about pork and shrimp. Oh, and stoning people for whatever reason. Oh yeah, and the one about the two different kinds of fibers in a garment. Maybe some other stuff, too)!

We have been in the República de Panamá for over eight years now, but our interactions with Migración and the government never get any easier. We are here on a Missionary Visa, and it renewed for three months and then for a year. Last year Migración decided that we had to begin the entire process over again, and they wanted all the documentation which was required when we first came to Panamá. One item is a police report from the U.S.A. I pointed out that we had been living in Panamá for seven years and we would have to return to California to get a police report from a place where we don't live. We were told that we had spent 30 days in California the year before, so we needed to get a police report (apparently we spend our time in California on state-wide crime sprees). We fought about this for a year, and our visas were renewed for three months at a time. Why does that matter? Because our driver's licenses are only good during the period of our visas. We couldn't afford to get a new license every three months, so we decided that our California licenses would have to suffice until this visa thang was resolved. Bishop Murray finally went and talked with the jeffe of Migración and our visas were renewed for a year (without the police report!), so we have been trying to get our licenses renewed.

The government of Panamá must have some nut-case free-market types in it, because they decided to privatize the process for a driver's license. It used to be a straight-forward process, but now it is, as one might expect, the process from hell. Last Friday the Lovely Mona went to the Transito office in Pedregal. I was wearing my collar as looking priestly on official documents goes a long way here. We brought books, of course, as we knew we would be standing in lines forever. While waiting, I was asked to give a birthday blessing to one of the workers there, which I was happy to do. Once we got to the desk of the official person, we were told to go to Atlapa for our licenses mañana. One little complicación was that the Lovely Mona had to take care of one issue at the PTJ office in Ancon (nothing illegal or scandalous). While she was there she was told to go to the AutoDepo in Villa Lucre to get her license. Well, Saturday morning we went to Atlapa, where we were told that the place didn't open until 2:00 p.m. We have choir rehearsal with the youth choir at 2:00 p.m., so we decided we would return to Atlapa on Monday. We were at a wedding on Sunday and many folks told us that extranjeros got to AutoDepo to get their licenses, so that's where we went Monday morning, where we were told to go to Pedregal. That didn't really make sense, so we tried Atlapa again, where we were told that the office in Atlapa was closed for good on Sunday. We decided to have someone with a better grasp of the language and the process come with us on Wednesday. However, somewhere along the line, I lost my California driver's license, my only valid license. SO NOW I gotsta apply for a new license when I'm in California in a few weeks, and can't drive here in Panamá. The Lovely Mona continued the process yesterday, and, supposedly, may actually receive her license tomorrow. We'll see.

I am considering a season of fasting when it comes to driving and any interactions with government agencies.


FranIAm said...

Jesus Cristo! WTF?

You could not make this up. Wow. And Kelso always makes Panama sound like paradise. This makes NY state DMV sound almost good.

For the record, NY DMV is so bad that even though I only lived in Cali from 98-00, my car is still registered there. Paperwork nightmares just make it easier. And illegal. But I takes my chances.

So sorry you have to ride the bus, but some nice guy in California told a whole bunch of us that was a good thing to do.

He may be right, but it may not be so easy in Panama.

Padre Mickey said...

Fran, ask Kelso about riding the bus here; I'm pretty sure he avoids it! I have ridden the bus system in Berkeley and in Panama, and they are not the same at all.

When the Lovely Mona and I lived in Paraíso, in the Former Canal Zone, we used the local bus service, SACCA, a co-op. They had purchased brand new buses, but someone embezzled the funds to pay for the buses and now they have very scary creaky buses. We now live in the city (Parque Lefevre) and if one rides the bus in the city, one rides what we call Diablo Rojo, which is an old school bus from the U.S. which was deemed too dangerous to carry the children of that school district but good enough to carry the people of Panamá (They do look cool, at least(. They cram as many people as possible on to the bus and the brakes screech and you're sure you're gonna die right there. I actually walk to the church; it's easier, and while I'll probably die of respiratory disease from breathing diesel fumes constantly, at least it won't be on a bus.

Mary Sue said...

Are you kidding, Padre? Por supesto es dificil for foreigners en los EEUU! Shoot, we've even got self-appointed 'volunteers' posing as La Migra. I got stopped by one the other day and got to patiently explain to him that I don't have a green card because my family's been in the US since Tejas entered the Union, and that if he did not stop impeding my path, I would call the cops on him. I had to pull my cell phone out before he got out of my way.

Padre Mickey said...

Mary Sue, I figured it was difficult in los EEUU, but I didn't have any actual experience.

I think every government is tough on foreigners, and with the crazy crap going on in los EEUU right now, I figure it's probably worse than it has been in ages.

I'm not a nationalist and I think it would be easier if I could simply be a citizen of the Reign of God and forget these earthly gummints. However, there doesn't seem to be any kind of Universal Citizen paseporte available anywhere.

Sorry to hear that you get hassled. Athough I'm considered "fair skinned" here, back in California many of the paler types are sure I am a furrner from south of the border.

David Austin Allen said...

It's everything that Mary Sue says and more in los Estados Unidos de America.

It can take 2 to 3 hours to cross the border now.

And where in the past only immigration was authorized to stop folks and ask for papers, today you never know who will do it!

FranIAm said...

The picture of the bus is funny.

Clearly, riding said bus is anything but.

Pobrecito. Lo siento!

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