The Phantom Syndrome and the Illegal Ghanaian Immigrant

Sun, 6 Jul 2008 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Life in the Western world can be a tapestry of confusion, absurdity, cacophony and epiphany. Usually an arriviste, or distinguished person, in his old world but a nonentity in the new, the transition and social “transmogrification” a new migrant in the West must endure can be both terrifying and exhilarating. With nothing to lose, at least the preceding being the mindset of the émigré, he begins to explore his new territory, quickly learning the ropes of survival, which, sadly, can be confusing because of the mordant pieces of advice he receives from a downright frustrated, blasé and disconsolate group of “tenured” fellow immigrants, the latter a group that has learned to survive the despondency, ignominy and mental etiolation some immigrants resign themselves to after many years.

That the skin color, foreign-sounding names and “torpid” accents of African immigrants have, forlornly, been contributing factors to their lack of pecuniary success, even as these émigrés collectively press on in a bid to escape the harsh realities of the glass ceiling and racial discrimination in their host nations, cannot be overemphasized. The preceding aside, many Africans who immigrate to the West suffer quietly because of Western scholars’ subreption of the facts about the socio-politico-cultural dimensions of African societies. For example, people of African ancestry (especially those who grew up in Africa) who reside in the U.S., have at one point or another, attracted curious questions from native-born citizens about life in the former’s homelands: These questions may range from the downright stupid to the egregiously disrespectful ? such as whether most men had four wives or more; or if Africans lived in trees; or if Africa was one large nature reserve, suitable only for a safari!

The aforesaid difficulties not helping matters, most illegal Ghanaian émigrés in the U.S., not unlike their Latin American counterparts, tend to become phantoms as these aliens’ collective hope for U.S. citizenship gets more mired with each passing day, even as native-born Americans continue to bemoan their government’s ambivalence towards the social behemoth of illegal immigration, as well as a lack of a general crackdown on illegal immigrants. As I once wrote, it is very easy to demonize others as an escape from reality, so undocumented foreigners in the U.S. have become the target of xenophobic and intolerant nationalists who garner support for their dangerous and nihilistic ideology by blaming these foreigners for the current economic woes of the U.S.

Many of our Ghanaian brothers and sisters in the West are, tragically, embroiled in the sad truth of the phantom phenomenon, especially when one realizes that a typical illegal Ghanaian immigrant may have as many as three names! Typically, there is the legal name (found in the person’s passport); then there is a different name for the workplace (I will not go into details as to how this scenario plays out!); and then there is a third name that may be associated with the person in social gatherings, such as funerals and church services.

Thus, a Mr. Kwame Kedjebi may be known at work as Kobla Alegeli or at funerals as Kojo Yewonyamensem (the aforementioned names do not depict any real person)! The preceding is a heartbreaking but unavoidable burden to carry around on a daily basis, even as these folks continue to endure the harsh realities of their predicaments! Some would argue that these people have a choice, as they could simply return to Ghana. But is it a feasible strategy, considering the fact that many of these Ghanaian arrivistes sold their prized possessions to pay “connections men” to obtain the necessary tourist visas, and would therefore want to work hard to re-establish themselves later in life? Does anyone ever want to become a sojourner-nonentity in the land of the white man, unless he hopes to eventually reap the fruits of his labor and hard work?

The Western system may be antagonistic to these illegal immigrants who are trying to survive by “metamorphosing” every few months, or even years, but these sojourners are not stupid: many usually have well-crafted and detailed plans regarding their time overseas, carefully detailing a budget that consists of expected income, expenditure, savings for projects in Ghana, and the occasional remittances to relatives domiciled in Ghana. The goal is usually simple: Since they cannot prognosticate what fate has in store for them, these immigrants tend to be shrewd and sagacious in their overall approach ? spending, saving, giving, et cetera ? to life overseas, avoiding the profligacy that has doomed many unwise foreigners.

These days, a common traffic violation in some parts of the U.S. could result in the eventual deportation of an illegal immigrant, even as counties and states rev up their involvement in the illegal immigration brouhaha ? the federal government is generally responsible for handling the volatile issue of immigration ? a trend that will only continue to pit the “nationalists” against those who believe that illegal immigrants strengthen the U.S. economy by accepting jobs native-born Americans would otherwise avoid. For example, Prince William County, Virginia, recently passed an ordinance that gives local police the authority to check the legal status of traffic violators. But for the budget shortfalls that have crippled many municipalities in the nation, primarily because of the recent sub-prime mortgage disaster, with the U.S economy teetering on the verge of a recession, these immigration crackdowns would have intensified nationwide.

Because the phantom quandary is unlikely to effervesce in the near future, illegal immigrants in the U.S. must understand the intricacies of immigration law, particularly those ordinances being passed by municipalities where these émigrés reside, for knowledge, presumably, is power. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on certain landmarks in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established and given broad powers to intercept, interdict and arrest criminals, especially those who pose a threat to national security. Suddenly, people in the U.S. without legal status also became a focus of the DHS, even as a coordinated effort to root out terrorists and criminals had begun in earnest.

Seizing the opportunity presented by the gory events of September 11, 2001, many counties passed tougher immigration regulations, giving the federal government the support it so badly needed to deal with illegal immigration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a unit within DHS, was created to remove people who were seen as a threat to national security and public safety as a whole. ICE was also tasked with the removal of asylum seekers who were denied a permanent stay in the U.S., fugitives, immigrants convicted of violent crimes, and ex-convicts. But as is the case with most government agencies, ICE does not receive enough funding for its gatekeeping role, so it is unable to accept and house all the felonious illegal immigrants picked up and referred to it by local authorities, as the agency only has about 31,000 beds in all of its facilities nationwide. This lack of logistics thus appears to be blessing in disguise for many illegal immigrants with criminal records.

I sincerely sympathize with those presently experiencing the phantom phenomenon, and I wish that the general amnesty granted in 1986 by former U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, to about 1.7 million illegal immigrants, will be introduced, once again, to “mollify” these folks for their complicated and arduous sojourn in this great country. With the current upsurge in oil prices and the concomitant slump in the living conditions of most Americans, however, the xenophobes and narcissists may well be pandered to by both John McCain and Barack Obama, even as either candidate attempts to consolidate his voting bloc prior to Election 2008, a move unlikely to result in legislation favorable to the struggling illegal immigrant.

Without coming across as copiously pessimistic, I will urge those Ghanaians who have not won the Diversity Lottery Visa, or who will not be receiving lawful permanent residence of another kind, but are simply intending to prolong their stay indefinitely by violating the terms of their tourist visas, to rethink their decisions, as the situation on the ground has become very antagonistic to the new émigré, especially one unlikely to become a permanent resident from the outset, or in the near future.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.