It just entered my mind that I hadn't seen my green card in a while, when I sat down to board my flight Singapore-bound. It's not something that I carry on me at all times since it's only needed to re-enter the US, and I felt it'd be safer if it was tucked away somewhere. Having just left half of my belongings in a storage at KIX (in order to avoid Air Asia's stingy carry-on weight limit), I figured that I left the card in there.
I could have taken some sort of action at this moment, but in hindsight, that wouldn't have really made a difference.
After a week in Singapore, back at KIX, I looked through the half of my luggage in the said storage but no luck. Checked into a small, Buddhist-theme hotel near Shin-Sekai, looked through every pocket on my bag and clothing, but still no card in sight. Where could I have possibly left it? Called up KIX, Pudong, mom in Toyama but no record or sign of my most important form of identification. Slowly coming to terms with the chance that I have lost it, I started my research as to what to do, but the hotel had a dismal wifi and I had no data roaming on my phone.
One of the toughest nights to fall asleep.
The morning comes, I check out and find the nearest coffee shop for faster wifi and a caffeine kick. I call the US consulate general in Osaka which is 20min subway ride away, the robot makes me push a few numbers before I get to a person who, in a very thick Japanese-accented English tells me that they do NOT deal with green card issues. I switch to my mother tongue and ask for clarification, but she remains uncooperative. I call the Embassy in Tokyo, some white dude answers and basically says the same thing, seemingly annoyed just to speak to me, and suggests that I call USCIS. It's 6pm PDT, They JUST CLOSED. Ticked off and helpless, I start to dig in online. Turns out that I need to file the ONLY USCIS form ("boarding foil") that needs to be submitted physically in person to a US Embassy, and it takes at least 14 business days to process. My face couldn't have sunk deeper into my palms, sitting outside Tully's with countless cherry trees in full bloom.
I had to miss my return flight to LAX, and retreat to Toyama. Sort things out. Our place is a mess, maybe our dog Madoka had hidden it. So I hopped on a train back to where I was not even two weeks prior.
Upon arriving home, I started flipping everything in sight while being on hold with USCIS and, to much of my dismay, couldn't get any himan on the phone at any of the US offices. Upon deciding to file this goddamn form, I called back US Embassy and Consulate General to make an appointment to submit, then got shut down by the same persons on the phone earlier, with the same "We don't deal with USCIS matters. There is NO USCIS office in Japan" lines. Are you telling me that I'm gonna have to bring this one piece of paper all the way to Seoul, or Beijing? The form itself costs me half a grand, then the flight to either of the USCIS offices in Asia, a hotel? With the minimum of 2 weeks wait? For misplacing one card?
Why is my identity, well-being and rights so contingent on this one piece of plastic? Why do we let these plastics own our lives?
I did find one piece of info on multiple official sources that, in general if you have even an expired green card that has been valid for 10 years, CBP would let you in. Upon discussing this with a few immigration lawyers, while it seems to be valid option it's ultimately at a CBP officer's discretion whether I get in or not (even with the aforementioned boarding foil that I was gonna have to fly to Beijing/Seoul for). I had to give this a shot, or else I'd be stuck here for weeks or longer, much further in red financially. I found a reasonably-priced one way flight from Toyama to LA via Incheon, taking a risk that I might eventually get rejected.
A week pass, and I fly to Seoul for the transit to Cali. The first incident arises at the transfer desk in Incheon, due to of my lack of proper document which I had notified the airline in advance, and to ease the confusion of the clerk who had difficulty explaining the situation to "the government," I got on the phone with who I assumed was the US Embassy in Seoul. She unenthusiastically agreed to let me on board, then the airline clerk from earlier, now confused and pissed off, throws a boarding pass on the desk without o word. She didn't even look at me when I thanked her. I was not anticipating this much push back even before the touchdown, so who knows what the CBP would do?
Now at LAX. The immigration gates seem a bit chaotic; way more traffic than I had expected. After a lengthy wait I present myself to one of the kiosks, the officer sees my expired green card and without hearing much of my speech, sends me to a separate room. Customs and Border Protection, here I come.
The Admissibility Review room I was taken to reminded me of a DMV; out of 7 windows only 2 were manned, all the exhausted travelers seated uncomfortably, one guard kept threatening to take cellphones out of whoever was using it. Some names get called and they are let go, some are interrogated further. The officers were chatting and goofing around with each other, some more friendly to the travelers than others. It just seemed like another example of inefficient bureaucracy that we have to live with.
I waited about 2 hours before my name was called. Upon seating in front of a plexiglass with a hole, the officer asked me (for the third time) if I was aware that my green card was expired. I calmly started to explain the ordeal from the moment that I left the country with the renewed GC, but once again he didn't even let me finish and asked if I had applied for a replacement. I said yes, then he went "Yea I see that you did (in our database)."
THEN WHY DO YOU EVEN ASK ME?
He handed me my document and said "have a good day."
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. New EP "Six Songs from Insomnia" is out on all major streaming platforms.