I was supposed to write another story today but I’m exhausted from an early morning at the immigration offices here in Florence. Though I’m applying for Italian citizenship, I don’t have it yet (I just had to pass a B1 (intermediate) Italian test for the last part of my application, and so I’m legally in Italy on a document called a Permesso di Soggiorno that is based on me being married to Rami, an Italian citizen.
This document is as close to what people in the US will know as a green card, and it has to be renewed every-so-often depending on the type of document it is. Mine lasted for five years this time around, and it expires in October. From the last time I was at the Questura (where the immigration office is), it appeared the renewal was an easy process – go in, get the paperwork needed, hand it back in, done.
I stood outside the building in a line full of other people from all over the world. Senegal, India, Pakistan, Australia, China. I asked if I could just go up to the first window to ask a question about permesso renewal. “This is the line,” the police officer guarding the door explained, so I stood outside the brick building and waited with the rest – watching the tram pass intermittently at the end of the street. The Fort of Florence sat haughtily in the background. Once it was used to keep people out, now all of us “foreigners” were standing inside the walls it used to protect, and the only thing stopping us from living here was a long line and a computer full of our information.
I stood in line for two hours. Kids played down in the big hallway next to the metal chairs littered with people waiting for their turn for fingerprints or submitting other documents. They ran around their empty strollers – the only giggles and shrieks of laughter in the place. I was less free – corraled within metal barriers, the police told us to move closer together to fit in more people. An older man from Senegal asked if someone around him could hold his passport and papers while he got a bottle of water from the vending machine next to us so he could take his medicine. A little girl across the way on the metal chairs had been trying to sleep with her legs tucked up under her chin. She roused herself enough to ask the woman next to her if it was their turn yet, got a head shake, and so turned back to her knees and closed her eyes. We waited.
It was four hours before I got to speak to someone and another hour of finding issues with that information, and never even getting close to renewing my permesso. As I stood in line today, I didn’t feel hardship, I wasn’t scared. Regardless if I renew it on time, I won’t be deported. My life isn’t dependent on this piece of paper, but for so many all around the world, it is. Today (and days in the past) I felt the frustration of being treated as a number, as if my time wasn’t important as a human being, as if I was less, and there weren’t many hands reaching out to help. I can understand how people feel with so much bigger immigration problems come to tears, to anger, to just doing things illegally instead – because if the system is so broken. Of course, Rami’s US immigration primed me with these emotions, as well as a million other stories I’ve heard, but I honestly don’t think anyone really understands the struggle immigrating anywhere is unless they’ve been in these lines of paperwork and wait times themselves.
Tomorrow I’m up at 6am to make it back to stand outside the Questura again. I only hope I can be here this time tomorrow saying it all worked out, but I honestly highly doubt it.