When my father mentioned speaking to immigration Attorney Joel Cohen, I knew who he was. He had a popular immigration Question and Answer show on the Caribbean radio station WAVS 1170 AM, every Tuesday evening. He was always boasting about the clients he was able to assist to get their green card. He would give examples of cases where clients were accused of crimes or seem to have very little hope. He always seemed to find legal loop holes. He seemed very honest and ”told it like it is”. He did not “mince” words. He was good but with cases like mine there was no hope. In fact when someone called telling him they overstayed their visa and had no relatives to file for them he typically told them that their only hope was to fall in love and get married. He was very careful to not say business marriage. He would tell them to come see him once they get married and he would assist with the paper work. I listened every time I could as I needed some hope.
It sounds bad but sometimes hearing other people in a worse situation than mine made me feel a little better. I heard many cases where people had no social security number and could not work. I was grateful because I could work. There were situations where people were mistreated because an employer or another person knew they were illegal. I was not in that situation. There were always people who called the radio show for a “friend or relative” but they knew so much about the situation you knew they were talking about themselves.
I listened to his show weekly but never knew that one day I would be in his office meeting him. I was doing so per the instructions of me father. He had a friend who told him that Attorney Joel Cohen was the best and he would find a way for me to get a green card. I did not want to go because I had heard enough on the show to know I had no chance. My father and mother convinced me to go. They were concerned now that Sue was coming back to Jamaica that I needed to do something with my life.
I called Attorney Joel Cohen’s office for a ½ hour free consultation. I wanted the last appointment. This way I would avoid most of the people who visited him. I did not want anyone to recognize me.
I wore a hat that day to his office. The lobby was filled. I quickly took a seat away from most of the people in the lobby. There was an empty seat on my right and left. I grabbed a magazine to cover may face. I had an excuse I would use if I saw someone I knew. I would tell them that I was there because I needed help filing for US citizenship.
The people in the lobby were very quiet. It felt like everyone was waiting for something to happen. They were probably asking the same question I have in my mind. Would the lawyer give me the answer to my immigration problem? Would he provide hope?
There was an East Indian looking man who was speaking loudly. He had a Trinidadian accent.
He was talking about papers he had to fill out at the US immigration office and they still wanted more information. You could hear the frustration in his voice. He was talking to a lady who seemed like a girlfriend or wife.
A lady entered the lobby and sat beside me. She was about forty years old and was dressed like someone who worked in a corporate office. She seemed nervous and kept fidgeting in her bag. She looked over at me. I had the magazine close to my face.
“What country are you from?” she asked in an American accent.
I did not want to talk.
I responded under my breath trying to be quite so as not to have a prolonged conversation.
“Jamaica”, I responded.
Before the lady could respond a man sitting nearby heard my response and asked me a question.
“Which part ah Jamaica yuh come fram?”
I did not want to give him an answer but I had to. It would seem really rude if I did not.
“Kingston”, I responded. I kept my head in the magazine.
Then the lady beside me caught me off guard. She “broke out” into Jamaican patois.
“Mi come fram Highgate”
The gentleman then started to tell her he used to live in Port Maria. He asked her about people whom he knew that lived in Highgate. It was good as it kept me out the conversation. However, it was great listening to their conversation.
They knew a lot of the same people. By the time they were finished connecting people they realized they were long distance cousins. They then started to talk about how simple life was in Jamaica and how hard American life was. They joked about hardly working on Fridays because they spent the day in the bank.
They were having a great time reminiscing. I was enjoying it.
I watched people as they went into the attorney’s office. Some left smiling while some left looking unhappy.
It took almost an hour before I got into the attorneys office.
I opened the door slowly. I did not know what the person behind the voice I heard on the radio would look like.
I was greeted with a strong hand shake by attorney Cohen.
He was a tall, well tanned white man, with white “slicked” hair. He seemed to be in his mid 50’s. His smile was warm and welcoming. When he spoke it was with authority and assurance. I felt like I was in the presence of a celebrity.
“You have a strong handshake there young man. How are you doing today?” He asked.
In the first 5 minutes he asked a few questions about me and my family. I think he was trying to break the ice. Then he asked me to explain my situation.
I told how I had overstayed my visa and was living here over 10 years. I told him I was working and going to school. I did not tell him about my episode in the Bahamas (http://www.jamaicans.com/culture/illegal/illegalalien29.shtml) . I told him I had an Uncle who was filing for my father.
He looked me in the eyes from across his desk.
“You don’t have a very good case because you overstayed you visa and it will take over 15 years before your father would get a green card through your Uncle’s filing. You have 3 options here”, he stated.
There was a pause. I think he was waiting for me to ask what the options were.
“What are my options”, I asked.
“Option 1 is easy. You can go back to Jamaica. But I am sure you do not want to hear that.”
I shuck my head agreeing with him.
“The next option is you could also get married. I could introduce you to a friend who has a “dating” service that can help you find a lady who eventually you can marry. Once you are married you could come see me and I will tell you what you need to do to get your status adjusted.
The look on his face convinced me that this was a business marriage and he was somehow involved. He did not want to implicate himself so his friend was the proxy.
I think he saw the look on my face when he mentioned it. I cringed. I was not interested in doing a business marriage. I had heard about too that nightmares in these arrangements.
The third option he described shocked and offended me.
“Option 2 is not bad. You are not a bad looking chap and I don’t know your sexual orientation but if you were gay there are some provisions in the immigration law that we could look at. You would have to have evidence that you are gay and have your friends collaborate your lifestyle. We would file a case saying your life is in danger because you are gay in Jamaica.”
Did he think I was gay because of my body language when he told me about the option of getting married to get my green card?
I had to say something. I did not think I gave him any reason to think I was gay.
“I am not gay”
“I don’t care about your sexuality. I know how it is in Jamaica where people hide being gay because they could get beaten up. I am just providing you with options” he replied.
My denial did not seem to faze him. He still thought I was gay.
Then I said, “Let me think about the marriage option you mentioned. Can you give me the number for the man you mentioned?”
I was trying to convince him I was not gay.
He stood up and he gave me a business card. He shook my hand and showed me the door.
“It was nice meeting you. Hope to see you again”.
For the next few days the “gay” option he presented bothered me. I would never do it. Why did he think I was gay? I was not dressed differently than any other man. I replayed the visit to his office over and over in my head. I picked up the card of his associate who arranged dates with women looking for marriage.
I stared at the card and the answer finally came to me. It was a ploy. Attorney Cohen was questioning my sexuality to make me call his associate and get into a business marriage. He probably gets a big cut of whatever arrangement is made plus the fees he will charge when the couple comes to him to file the paper work for a green card. I was not falling for it. I tore up the card and I stopped listening to Attorney Cohen’s radio show.
It was her. It was Angela. (http://www.jamaicans.com/culture/illegal/illegalalien27.shtml) She was going into the Publix supermarket on Hallandale Beach Blvd. I was with Elena on my way to the beach. I quickly tried to get off the street to go back to the supermarket. There was a car in front of me that seemed to be sightseeing. It took a while before I could get to the next street to turn back.
“What are you doing?” Elena asked.
“I need a Pepsi and I saw the Publix”, I replied.
“But you can get one at the beach” she stated.
“It’s cheaper in Publix” I replied “Wait here, I will be quick”
I got a parking spot close to the front of the supermarket. I jumped out the car and rushed in to the Publix supermarket. My heart was beating very fast from the excitement of getting to see Angela. I started to walk around. I scanned every isle. She was nowhere to be found.
“Sir, do you need help”, one of the stock boys asked.
“No” I replied.
I continued looking fanatically around the supermarket for Angela.
“What are you looking for sir? Maybe I can assist”, another Publix clerk asked.
I appreciate their courtesy but it was annoying me. They were slowing me down and I wanted to find Angela.
After about 20 minutes looking I was still not convinced she was gone. I had even lingered around the rest room to be sure she was not in there.
Elena walked out the ladies rest room. I was startled.
“Where have you been? You took so long I had to use the restroom”
“Oooh. I had to use the men’s bathroom. My stomach was hurting me”, it was a quick reply but the perfect lie.
“Pick up the Pepsi and let’s go” she sounded irritated.
I purchased a six pack of Pepsi while still scanning the store.
I got back in the car disappointed.
For the next few weeks I purposely drove out of my way to shop at this Publix. I was hoping to see Angela. She never came.
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