Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Geography of the Heart

The Geography of the Heart
How US immigration law divides families
By Stephan Clark

One Sunday almost four years ago, Thomas Carson, a 50-year old electrical engineer with corporate commendations from Nabisco and General Electric, parked his KIA Sportsman near the US-Mexico border and waited.

It was after dark in Las Milpas, once the largest colonia – or border settlement – in South Texas. Since being absorbed by the City of Pharr to the north in the late-eighties, this community of low- and very low-income Hispanics had almost doubled in size, reaching a population of 17,000. It had also received the type of things most Americans believe lacking in only the third world: running water and electricity, sewer service and paved roads. With such improvements, the community no longer laid claim to the state’s highest incidence of tuberculosis, Hepatitis A and leprosy, and it had even attracted the development of a Jack in the Box.

But one thing about Las Milpas remained unchanged in July 2003: its close proximity to the border. It was that which brought people like Carson here, just as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) had brought business to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, then not quite ten years old.

Carson parked near the intersection of Highway 281 and East Dicker Road. Beside him in his SUV was his son, 11-month-old Thomas Alexander, secure in his baby-seat. Further south was the boy’s mother, Carson’s girlfriend of five years, one Lucia Ramirez Hernandez. This night, she wouldn’t be traveling over Pharr’s celebrated bridge.

Hernandez had attempted that crossing in Jan. 1999, just a few months before a fire at a maquiladora in Reynosa would send Carson south of the border on work. Her crime that day was simple: after being stopped in a car with Texas plates, she made a false claim of U.S. citizenship.

Since 1996, when Congress last overhauled immigration law, this act has drawn a punishment as severe – a lifetime ban on entering the United States – as it is permanent. Hernandez cannot appeal or seek a waiver. She is no different than the terrorists, communists and practicing polygamists also singled out by law. She has no means of appeal.

“It wouldn’t matter if someone had a pistol to your side and you drove up to the border crossing and said, ‘I’m a US citizen,’” said Carson. “That’s it. You’re inadmissible. You don’t have a case.”

And so that night four years ago, while Carson and Thomas Alexander waited in the dark, Hernandez stepped into the river that runs along the Texas border between the Gulf of Mexico and El Paso. It is a tributary President Bush knows well. Going back to his days as Governor of Texas, he has frequently said family values do not end at the Rio Grande.

After emerging on the other side, Hernandez got into a car and continued toward her family. Carson spotted her passing the little strip plaza where they’d agreed to meet. He followed her to an area home, where Hernandez changed clothes and got into Carson’s SUV. The three then drove north – father, son and mother – toward the secondary inspection point at Falfurrias.

Eight months previous, Carson, a US Navy veteran, had imagined a reunion of another sort, petitioning for an immigrant’s visa on behalf of Hernandez and her two children from a previous relationship. But the false claim of U.S. citizenship derailed that effort, and so the descendant of five American veterans of five different foreign wars had been left with only what he’d been taught in the military: if you are captured, you must try to escape.

“We were desperate,” he said. “I don’t know what else to tell you.“

Parts 2-8 of this story can be purchased at Amazon.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Immigration on YouTube

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Sovietization of American Media

Is coming to a city near you. Pravda.

The freedom of the press starts with freeing up the printing presses, no? Yet we keep on selling them off and bundling them up and giving them to one man, oftentimes a man in Australia.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Battle Continues

I was mistaken in my last post. Two people died, in separate incidents, owing to bombs planted or dropped during the Great Patriotic War.

The first death was July 29, a village woman burning trash in what had been a mine field. The second, cited below, happened on the evening of Aug. 4, behind the airport in Belgorod.

I would've expected this to be big news, the stuff of sad stories in national papers. But it seems it may be all too commonplace. Here's the brief write-up in the Belgorod paper (Russian).

The picture above is the soviet memorial of Prokhorovkoe Field, nearer to Kursk than Belgorod, where the largest tank battle took place during the Second World War. The newpaper headline references it, saying the battle continues.

The picture below is the Yelstin-era memorial, a few kilometers down the road from the Soviet structure.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

62 Years Later, WWII Finds Another Victim

I couldn't believe what I heard just yesterday, when my wife told me how a 25 year-old father -- and the friend of her girilfriend's husband -- died in the woods behind her parents' dacha. He was doing something so Russian -- cooking shashlik, skewered meat, over an open flame. Barbecuing, if you will. And in an area I've been before myself. But there was something else there, waiting for him since well before he was born, since before his father was born, most likely, a bomb that had been put there by the German some sixty-two years ago this day. It seems implausible, but this is what I'm told. He selected a spot that was charred, darkened by a fire already, but while building his flame, the heat of the soil ignited the bomb that was juch an inch or two below -- shrapnel cut his cheek, he was dead inside of ten minutes. So young, married, with a child. There's a reason Russia still celebrates Victory Day every year, and you see signs commemorating how many years it's been since the fascists were driven off their land. It's a war that's still killing.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vladimir's Mustache (and an electrocuted elephant)

Not much to report around here. Though I hope to be posting more frequently in the future, more than likely at a different url (can you believe someone's already bought StephanClark.com?), and probably in a more general way (though with continued interest shown to all things Former Soviet Union).

For the time being, I'll leave you -- if there is any "you" left, and not just the occasional passer-by from an obscure Google search -- with links to two stories of mine, both recently released.

The first, Vladimir's Mustache, tells the story of an actor during the run-up to the Great Patriotic War. Tired of playing peasants and factory workers -- the conventions of socialist realism -- this actor learns the dangers of Method Acting -- of following the teachings of Stanislavski rather than Stalin -- when he's cast as Hitler in a propaganda film.

The story, a companion piece to Kamkov the Astronomer, published in Vol 3.1 of The Cincinnati Review and excerpted in that magazine's archives, can be found in Ninth Letter, which mixes great design with a cast of contributors I'm more than happy to join. The publication was recently named best new literary magazine in these United States.

The second story, Topsy the Elephant, was published in this week's LA Weekly. Dushan Milic contributed some great artwork to the story, but you'll have to follow the link to see it because it apparently can't be downloaded to your hard-drive -- at least, I can't figure out how to do that.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New Feature

Check out the videos in the side-bar. I've currently got it configured to show a documentary shot in Odessa. It's a very well-done film, and especially interesting because it gets the female perspective as well. Not a polemic, more a mirror. Highly recommended.

If you'd like to see more from this Russian-speaking English filmmaker, check out his page of videos on You Tube. There's an entertaining two-minute video of his drinking chisty spirit with two pickle-juice drinking fisherman.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spam I am

If you've tried to visit here for any of the last several days, you probably weren't able to pull anything up. One day, you could only access the site at everybodyiloveyou5.blogspot.com. Another day, a 1 went where the 5 was. Both days, the true address, lacking any numbers, drew a blank. Code 404. Error.

Best I could figure it is that Blogger's automated "robots," things that scan Blogger's many blogs, found too many suspicious keywords here (Ukraine, women, girls girls girls!) and decided this was your run of the mill spam-blog, filled with links to Viagra and Cialis and only the occasional quote from Russian literature -- I am an angry, a bitter man -- to try to appear otherwise.

God, I'm not really helping my case, am I?

Anyways, the long and short of it is my blog was deleted. Again and again. With no warning, no due process. Such is life in post 9/11-America.

One thing it did do was inspire me to do the one thing I haven't been doing much of these last few weeks -- posting. What's up with that? I don't know.

Maybe I'll move to a new site, with a new address, just to shake things up, just to live with the promise of a more stable future.

We'll see.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mail-Order Integration

Seems marriage tours are "fueling an explosive growth in marriages to foreigners in South Korea, a country whose ethnic homogeneity lies at the core of its self-identity."

From the NY Times:

More and more South Korean men are finding wives outside of South Korea, where a surplus of bachelors, a lack of marriageable Korean partners and the rising social status of women have combined to shrink the domestic market for the marriage-minded male. Bachelors in China, India and other Asian nations, where the traditional preference for sons has created a disproportionate number of men now fighting over a smaller pool of women, are facing the same problem.

The article says that marriages to foreigners accounted for 4 percent of all South Korean marriages in 2000. In 2005, that figure was up to 14 percent.

Also interesting:

In South Korea, billboards advertising marriages to foreigners dot the countryside, and fliers are scattered on the Seoul subway. Many rural governments, faced with declining populations, subsidize the marriage tours, which typically cost $10,000.

The article also said gender-screening technology may play a part in all this, as it allows for a disproportionate number of male babies in a culture that values them over females.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Celebrities My Wife Doesn't Know

After about two months of living in here, my Russian wife still hadn't seen her first celebrity. "What are people going to think?" she said of her Russian friends. "I'm living in Los Angeles!"

I don't know if it was her desperation, or my eagerness to solve her problem, but in the next couple weeks we saw a rash of celebrities.

Unfortunately, they were celebrities she didn't know.

First came a guy passing us at the Sherman Oaks Whole Foods Market, a guy who inspired us to take a needless journey to the fancy cheese section so I could point him out crouching down in the frozen food aisle.

"What's he been in?" she asked, very skeptical. "I don't know him."

I tried to think of something. St. Elsewhere? Lots of television, I was sure. But movies? "Well, he's a very big environmentalist," I said. "Rides the bus. To meetings. A celebrity in LA does this. You know, I think I'm going to shake his hand."

That was well and good, but wife just reminded me we didn't need any cheese, and so the search continued. Who came next?

Kevin Kennedy. But while he stood in line behind us at the Circuit City in Warner Center, I couldn't even remember if he was the one who bored me to tears or was biased toward the St. Louis Cardinals. "I didn't even bother pointing him out," I said as we left. "But that guy in there, two places behind us, the one in the shiny sweatsuit with the word 'Fox' written all over it? Big baseball announcer. Definitely a celebrity."

My wife didn't even look at me as we walked to the car. "Baby," she said. "That doesn't count."

So that brought us to The Arclight Cinema in Hollywood this last Sunday, where I just sort of shrugged my shoulders when I saw some guy come schlepping up the stairs with a cohort only to be turned away by the usher and pointed back to one of the multi-plex's screens on the first floor.

"I'm sure you don't know him," I said. "The guy in the baseball hat? Adam Carolla. Some kind of funny man. Probably stoned. Look at him. I think he's gonna trip."

So the search continues, though in truth there does remain one sighting that's scored big, off the charts, in fact. It happened a few weeks ago now, and can be summed up with one word.


Problem is, it was at a Laker's game, we were in a luxury box, and after his smiling face appeared on the video screen hanging high over the court, I had to point to a small little dot of a man sitting in a chair court-side. "That's him," I said.


"To the left," I said. "That's Rob Reiner. Remember When Harry Met Sally? He directed that. Good actor in his own right."

It was celebrity overload. She was trying to focus on the one and only. "In the black?"

I nodded.

"Wow," she said. "Jack Nicholson. Wait till I tell everyone."


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bread Lines

I was in a very shee-shee part of Beverly Hills today, and across the street from the building where I had a meeting, I saw a line, stretching out the door of what appeared to be a bakery. A bread line, I thought. In the United States of America? But then, it didn't look right, certainly not soviet. The people standing in line all had on sunglasses and designer blue jeans.

They were waiting in line for cupcakes. The bakery sold only cupcakes, and people were waiting longer than an hour or more, standing out under the sun, in the harsh February heat of an indifferent Southern California winter.


I told the guy I was meeting, "I gotta my tell my Russian friends about this."

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Soviet Socialist Republic of Los Angeles

My wife got a job as an accounting assitant the other day, with some company that buys mortgages, or loans, or something, from our nation's banks. It is work that a writer cannot hope to understand, and work that finds her surrounded by tens of other people, at any number of cubicles, including many, many from the former Soviet Union.

She described the scene to me: rows of desks, five long, three across, this being one section, a single honeycomb in a greater hive. In her section alone -- fifteen people -- five are from the Former Soviet Union. She has met so many Russian speakers in her first two days, she's almost afraid to find a job in a more suitable corner of the banking industry, analyzing loans or what have you.

This is, I announce, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Los Angeles. But as we're so scattered, our city so fractured and fragmented, where will the Politburo stand when we celebrate on May Day? One on the Hollywood sign, looking down on the stars below? Another in the Valley, shaking his head over the forlorn concrete channel that is the LA River? A third on the Santa Monica Promenade, waving at the crowd walking by?

Oh, how times change.

Why do I long to be in Moldova?

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Sunday, January 28, 2007


Swink's long-anticipated third issue is now out, and as expected it's filled with work from a host of great writers: Karl Iagnemma, Daniel Alarcon, and Ron Currie, to name just a few. You'll also find an essay of mine in there, one that details my experiences teaching English literature -- and being gently censored for including too many sexual stories on my reading list -- at a Ukrainian university.

To read a short excerpt of "A Literary Purge," go here.

For those looking for more, there's also Pete Jensen's Unhooking the Secret, about the author's experiences applying for work at a Victoria's Secret. A fun read.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

What did you call her?

A 29-year-old man accused or murder in Maine (the eerily named Steven Clark) is claiming he shot his friend, Robert Wagner, in self-defense after Mr. Wagner threatened him with a knife (following a night out at the strip club). What could have made Mr. Wagner so angry? According to a report Thursday by WCSH Channel 6 in Portland, Maine:

On the witness stand, Clark said Wagner went into a rage after Clark called his russian-born wife a mail-order bride. He said Wagner put a knife to his head and demanded a ride home.

Clark says he pushed Wagner to the ground, grabbed a gun off a bookshlef and made the decision to shoot at Wagner.

In Friday's report, the incident is reported somewhat differently: "Clark told jurors Wagner went into a rage after he insulted his wife, and pulled a knife on him."

You can read more about the murder trial in the Boston Globe. And more about the risks of dropping a loose "mail-order bride" in this .

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Ukrainian Thanksgiving

Another former interview subject got in touch with me recently, saying he'd called off his engagement to a woman from Odessa after she'd asked that their wedding be in the Russian Orthodox Church -- a place she wanted to see him as well, and on a regular basis. As a devout Mormon, Mr. Utah Rising couldn't imagine doing this. "Believe me, it was tempting," he said, "but I would have been living a lie."

What I found most fascinating about our latest communication was that he confirmed a suspicion of mine, saying he was related to William Bradford, who I consider more of a founding father than even Mr. Washington.

"Every Thanksgiving I remember him too," Utah Rising said, "right before I eat a nice meal and watch a football game. :-)"

Who woulda thunk it? From Plymouth Plantation to Kharkov -- and emoticons -- in less than four-hundred years. And with just as much religious conviction, only shaken up and stirred a little bit.

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Under the new rules, I'd still be walking around like a single man

Got an email from Red October (pictured left with his wife), who readers of this blog may remember from this profile. His was the interview I conducted just hours before proposing to my wife, as it turns out, and perhaps the one that suggested the best possibility for happiness in the future -- he and his girlfriend seemed very close and intimate, in part because Red October spoke some Russian.

Turns out, their story won't be all happy, or at least not prompt. After returning to Kharkov with his daughter before the New Year, Red October set a wedding date with his girlfriend -- for tomorrow, in fact.

But today he got an email from the US Embassy in Kyiv saying their office, along withall other US Embassies, will no longer accept I-130 petitions from US Citizens -- the form that a US citizen must file in order for his foreign-national wife or relative to immigrate to the United States.

The email, included below, didn't say whether or not this includes petitions from US Citizens living permanently overseas, but if that's so, and this rule had gone into effect a year ago, I'd still be walking around like a single man, not just sputtering through a phone call with my mother-in-law, taking my "kto eto's?" and "Da-da-da's!" out of mothballs.

The alternative to what I did -- filing at the US Embassy in Moscow -- is what Red October now apparently faces: throwing his application into the mail and directing it toward a regional office -- for California, a suitably anonymous city named Laguna Niguel -- where it will join a tall and teetering pile of similar forms, and one man, as I imagine it, who has a rubber stamp, but walks around muttering all day, wondering where he left the ink.

I had a face in the window, a helpful hand showing me where to cross my t's and dot my i's. "Should we use her maiden name or new last name here?" Very nice. Red October, I fear, will get no such help, and so it seems he'll have to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.

Which is the awful thing about this. Another set of forms a US Citizen can only fill out, properly at least, and if he wants a prompt and appropriate response, if he agrees to show someone the money.

Here's the email that was forwarded to me:

Per Department of State instructions, effective immediately, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine and U.S. embassies worldwide are no longer authorized to accept or adjudicate I-130 petitions. American Citizens must file petitions for their relatives with the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office in the U.S. Petitioners can check here to find the appropriate office. Please visit this site for more general information about filing the petition.

Petitions that have already been approved at U.S. Embassy Kyiv but have not yet undergone visa adjudication must be forwarded to the USCIS office in Moscow, Russia. Embassy staff will forward all of these in the coming week.

We will post more information on this matter as soon as it becomes available to us.

As will I.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Matchmaker, Matchmaker - Los Angeles Edition

Last year, I spoke with two US Embassy officials who each day interview a slew of visa applicants from a certain Eastern European country. They were the first to tell me about the idea of "piggy-back immigration," through which one person, already admitted to the United States, goes back to his or her former country and brings another person over, either an immediate or close family member or a new spouse. I don't see anything wrong with the idea; on the contrary, it's a time-honored tradition to bring the Old World to the New, to have no limits placed on your life, to hold as many rights as the next man or woman in the Ten Items or Less line.

And now I'm here to play my part in this process. My wife has a friend, a beautiful young woman in the South of Russia, recently estranged from her long-term boyfriend. She's intelligent, a good cook, she cleans and sews, and she's very feminine, my wife says. What she isn't is actively looking for an American husband. But my wife believes she'd be willing to listen if the right man came calling.

Could she listen right now? Not entirely, not without some help or hesitation, maybe a good dictionary between the two of you, as her English language skills have slipped since leaving college and taking an administrative job with the gas company. "But it's not like she doesn't know it at all," my wife said. "She just forgot it. She had an 'A' in college."

And yes, before I go on too far, that is her in the picture, up there on the top left, the one that will be much larger if you click it. The photo is taken on the day of my wedding. The girl in the foreground is Anya. A friend of animals, especially cats, a petite twenty-six year-old who wants children and prizes the idea of having a family.

"I think she's the nicest person I've ever met," my wife said. "She's my nicest friend."

And that, dear reader, is why we're here today. My wife would like to see her friend in her life again, so if you're in California, preferably Southern California, and most especially Los Angeles, perhaps you'd like to make yourself known. Would others be considered? Perhaps. But if you're from Saskatchewan, you have to ask yourself: which is easier to get to from LAX? Moscow, or Saskatoon?

Interested? Then find a picture of yourself, write a few words about who you are, how you live, and if you're ready to make a lifetime commitment to borsch, and then send it all off to this email address. My wife will consider the responses, and we'll proceed appropriately from there.

A word of clarification. This isn't The Bachelor or Joe Millionaire. We won't be inviting fourteen of you to Russia, and then sending one of you home each week. Nor will we follow you around with a camera here, capturing the reactions of friends and family (to say nothing of a few awkward confessions). We're just trying to heed the call, however faint, that's been sent from a friend in Russia, a call you might have also heard in that film The Fiddler on the Roof:

Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match
Find me a find, catch me a catch
Matchmaker, matchmaker look through your book
And make me a perfect match

Or some such.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

'I wouldn't mind a bit of that'

He's a pensioner, living in Wales, who while in the Navy took part in the British H-Bomb tests in the Christmas Islands in 1958. She's a 44-year-old in China, awaiting her final immigration clearance, who speaks little English. Together, they're man and wife, bangers and mash.

'People have said to me that she's just after a visa. To which I say: "Yes, of course she wants a visa. Of course she wants a better life. And who can blame her?" But it works both ways - I get companionship, so I think it's a fair gamble.

'It's all very well everyone taking the moral high ground but as far as I'm concerned that's their own pettiness. This is my life and after all my years, I've earned the right to do as I please.'

So how does a man who's had both hips replaced, is awaiting knee and hernia surgery, and who lives in a village that is home only to those of pensionable age, find a Chinese wife?

... a friend in the nursing home told Mr Miller he had seen an advert in a local newspaper for a dating agency which specialised in matching British lonely hearts with Chinese brides. 'He had already made an appointment so I asked if I could accompany him to see what it was all about,' Mr Miller recalls.

'When we got there, the man who ran the agency was a very ordinary man, not particularly attractive at all, I must say, and he had this lovely, attentive Chinese wife. It got me thinking. I thought: "I wouldn't mind a bit of that."

If you want to read more about this man's search for a companion, including reference to the troubles that come with using hand-held translators ("One time when I typed in 'affection' it came up with 'love for an elephant' instead.") read the even-handed Daily Mail article here. It may be the best bride-hunter profile I've come across. Certainly the most well-written.

If you don't have time for that, I'll leave you with the last line: 'I'm conscious of it possibly going wrong, of course I am,' says Mr Miller. 'But look at it the other way. I've got five, maybe ten years left on the clock. Six months ago, mine was a very vacant life. Now it's full and happy.

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