The Nonthreatening Muslim: Navigating Immigration to a USA

February 9, 2015 - accent chair

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“Miss . . . Khan?”

The etiquette central stops, looks adult during me, looks behind down during my passport, and hesitates. That’s always how it starts.

I am an Australian citizen of churned Turkish and Pakistani descent. we have brownish-red skin and non-Anglo-European features. I’m also Muslim, and when we was younger, we wore a hijab. As a result, I’ve gifted all a common kinds of Islamophobic prejudice and ignorance—the yelled genocide threats from strangers pushing past me, a “go behind to where we came from” chants as we travel down a street, a “jokes” about me being a terrorist, a questions about organised marriages and dowries of camels (for some reason, it’s always camels). Part of a reason we chose to stop wearing a hijab was that we was sleepy of not being means to travel by a selling core though people possibly murmur behind my behind or yelling in my face.

I was eleven years aged when a 9/11 militant attacks occurred. The universe altered for large people like me henceforth since twenty group we had never met and to whom we had no tie did a terrible thing presumably in a name. 

I feel like it’s critical to discuss that we was usually eleven since maybe it will remind we that we was usually as infirm as anyone else was to stop a attacks from happening. People seem to forget that.

“Miss . . . Khan.” Perhaps she thinks observant it again will make it reduction scary.

The etiquette central this time around—my third revisit to a United States—is a lady not many comparison than me. She’s substantially a ideally good chairman in her bland life. we doubt she would give me a second peek on a street, dressed as we am in a miniskirt, boots, and a thick sweater, my long-distance-flight comfort outfit of choice. But here and now, in a etiquette line during an airfield where she is holding my pass and can see a name printed on it—Miss Aaminah we Khan—she sees me a approach she’s been taught to see me: as a intensity threat.

She avoids eye hit as she asks me all a common questions, selecting instead to fret through my pass and visa papers regularly as nonetheless something within them will make me somehow reduction of a problem. we watch her demeanour during my passport, afterwards during that paperwork, afterwards during my pass again. we recite prayers in Arabic though relocating my lips since we wish to ease myself though we don’t wish to make her even some-more questionable of me.

When we do talk, however, we answer her questions in my crisp, clever Australian accent—the product of thirteen years of glorious Catholic propagandize preparation and 5 years of rival open speaking—and she relaxes a little. They—white folks—always do that when they hear me speak. The accent helps. The garments help. They lessen a outcome of a name, a skin color. They assistance a good lady behind a table omit a nose we hereditary from my father, a bony face we hereditary from my mother, a atmosphere of unsubstantial foreignness we hereditary from both.

She finally stops riffling by my papers and creates eye contact. we tell her I’m here to marry my fiancé and she indeed smiles and congratulates me. we send Allah a wordless ask of interjection for my second class teacher, who drummed into me a significance of frail diction and finished me pronounce a “wh” in “whom.” we ease my tremor hands and accept behind my passport, now noted with a compulsory stamp of approval. My heart is racing and we feel a tiny faint, though a distress is, during slightest for now, over. 

A integrate of years ago, a cousin of cave in Pakistan motionless that he wanted to do his MBA in America. After months of impotent appointments with consular officials and high commissioners, he was refused. He motionless not to interest a decision. 

“It wasn’t even a fact that we was refused that hurt,” he told me, “but a approach in that they refused me. Their function was rude. They treated us like slaves.”

My cousin speaks smooth English, has a veteran grade and has trafficked abroad before—but his skin is too brown, his accent too thick, his mannerisms too foreign. we can’t get over those difference of his: they treated us like slaves.

It is uncommonly treacherous to me that someone can be treated like skill and still be seen as a threat.

Part of a permanent residency focus routine is a array of interviews and biometrics appointments. The USCIS margin bureau in New Orleans is comparatively small, and a staff are a tiny some-more loose than they are in bigger offices. I’m authorised to keep my dungeon phone when we enter a building. My effects have to go by a confidence scanner usually twice.

In this partial of a country, many of my associate field are of Mexican or other Central American descent. Some of them have been here for years. Bear in mind that a settled estimate time for a immature label focus according to stream USCIS information is now 4 months. They are slogging their approach by reams of paperwork to get a (possible) pledge that they will not be dragged from their homes and divided from their families in a center of a night and taken to apprehension centers to be deported. Those ones are a tiny like me—they’ve schooled to censor their accents, to impersonate American mannerisms, to do all a tiny things brownish-red people do in a participation of antsy white folks to make them feel reduction threatened.

But some of them haven’t been here for really long. They pronounce damaged English or nothing during all. Some of them have come with support workers to interpret and disciple for them, though many of them have not been finished wakeful that this is an choice that is accessible to them, and so they are here alone. They are frightened since they know they will roughly positively be told—for a initial time or a fourth time or a fortieth—that whatever they’ve finished so distant isn’t good enough, that America isn’t prepared to accept them yet, that America competence never be prepared to accept them.

My name—or someone’s thought of my name, though I’m used to listening for variations—is called. we travel adult to a glass-shielded opposite holding my appointment notice with a boldface imitation opposite a top: THIS NOTICE DOES NOT GRANT ANY IMMIGRATION STATUS OR BENEFIT. 

This routine has already taken me months and cost me thousands of dollars and we am no closer to apropos a resident, to creation a home here with my husband.

A briskly fit lady wearing latex-free gloves (I had to ask for those—I’m allergic) takes my fingerprints and my signature. we lay in a chair and a light flashes in my eyes and another print of my brownish-red face is combined to a flourishing database of them. She asks me since we changed here. we tell her in my clever Australian accent about my new matrimony and she smiles and congratulates me. After roughly 6 months, we know how to damp people. This lady isn’t scarcely as irritable as a lady during a airfield was. But my hands are still trembling, so they have to take one of my sets of fingerprints twice.

“Spell your name for me?”

“Khan. K-H-A-N. My initial name is Aaminah. A-A-M-I-N-A-H.”


“Aaminah. There’s an M in there.”

(I am on a phone with USCIS patron use since my focus is holding longer than a settled normal estimate time. You, dear reader, competence pull whatever conclusions we like as to a reasons for a delay.)

“According to a information, a estimate time for this focus should be ninety days. Your focus has taken longer than a settled estimate time. we can contention a ask for serve information per your application.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” we contend in my clever Australian accent. “I conclude your help.”

“Thank we for job USCIS, and have a smashing day.”

I hang adult a phone. we demeanour down during a palm that binds it. It is still trembling. It is still too brown.

My practice are not unique. In fact, they have been on a whole rather reduction dire than they are for many of a thousands of unfamiliar immigrants who pierce to a United States each year. we have a advantage of being lifted in a Western nation by smooth English-speakers who, nonetheless they both have accents themselves, were means to send me to schools staffed by teachers who didn’t. we no longer wear a hijab. we use my married name on paperwork whenever we can these days. I’m able, to some extent, to make myself seem like reduction of a threat.

I’ve oral to people who have not been so lucky. N., a Bosnian newcomer journey genocide with her family who spoke to me underneath a condition of anonymity, associated to me her practice drifting behind to Bosnia to revisit her ill grandmother. N. and her mother, a hijabi woman, were pulled aside for a “random inspection” and asked questions about affiliations with militant groups. Their persons and effects were searched. Other passengers began to call out a common insults. One prime American male asked N.’s mother—the one wearing a hijab—if she was carrying a explosve underneath it. Customs officials, too bustling profiling these dual trusting women, did not consider to meddle and stop this harassment. 

More recently, after a three-week revisit to Istanbul and Sarajevo, N. was stopped during a airfield in Chicago, taken into a room and asked several questions. Why had she motionless to take that trip? Whom had she left to see? What did they pronounce about? Did she have ties to any domestic organizations in those countries?

N. was questioned for 3 hours and roughly missed her joining moody as a result. USCIS insisted a investigation was “random.” 

“It creates we feel unsafe,” she told me, “when people demeanour like they’re prepared to kill we usually since you’re during a airport.”

I feel like we need to be reminded again who accurately here is meant to be a threat—the trusting lady being patted down and asked about militant affiliations as other passengers yell insults during her, or a USCIS officials who make her feel like her life competence be in risk each time she needs to locate a flight?

On Nov 28, 2014, we distinguished 6 months of proxy residency in a United States by being incompetent to get a Social Security series and incompetent to get a driver’s license, things we should have been means to request for 3 months after entry. I’m told that a delays are wholly official in nature. we have finished some-more phone calls. we have spelled and respelled my name for call-center workers large times. we have complied with requests for some-more documentation. I’ll be told by mail when they strech a decision, I’m told. we check a mail daily, even on weekends and holidays.

When we talk, my cousin tells me jokingly that during slightest we was means to get in, even if we don’t know either or not I’ll be means to stay. My family members were innate in a wrong countries, though we was propitious adequate to be innate in one of a right ones. I, during least, have a chance—not during acceptance, never during that, though a possibility during avaricious tolerance: a possibility that one day, we competence be seen as reduction of a threat.

I urge in Arabic—silently, lips unmoving—and we check a mail again. 



Aaminah Khan (jaythenerdkid) is an Australian-born odd Muslim author and romantic now adjusting to life in a United States. When she’s not writing, tweeting, tumbl-ing, blogging, or arguing with conservatives on Facebook, Aaminah enjoys anticipation novels, video games, scholarship novella and prolonged rants about a miss of different illustration in all of a above.

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