To An INS Officer By Nina Judith Katz

To An INS Officer

For L.

You blather gall at ghastly decibel
to call
honesty false and decency deceit.

How dare you decide
why others seek these shores?
How dare you assume the reasons are trivial,

mere economics
not survival
or love?

You fashion versions of us
more like yourself
to fit the foul and fetid notions

of your fearful mind,
by its own fictions.

Would your world end
if you showed respect?
Would your world end

if a few more
lived next door?

Our honesty is native
while yours
petitions yet
for naturalization.

By Nina Judith Katz


I have been writing poetry for about three decades, but publish only occasionally. The current attacks on immigration led me to go looking through my files for the poem I wrote after the interview my husband and I had with an INS officer. I couldn’t find it, so reconstructed what I could from memory, and then worked on revisions.

The night before, we had memorized our bathroom, because usually the INS separates the members of a couple to ask about what shampoos, soaps, tampons, shaving products, and other bathroom articles you use. Our officer didn’t ask about this, but instead jumped up and down yelling at us, accused my husband of trying to deceive the US government because he hadn’t mentioned that he might get married when applying for his visa to come visit me, and accused me of acting like a tricky lawyer when I pointed out that 1) he hadn’t yet known we might get married, and 2) the application didn’t ask. My husband finally had enough and got up, ready to give up on the possibility of remaining in this country rather than submit to any more of the insults this man was mouthing, and I pulled him back down, because I really didn’t feel like moving to Russia. At that point, the INS officer got up, grabbed my husband’s papers, and marched off. He came back in a moment with a stamp, pounded it onto one of the papers, and handed it to my husband. We were sure it would show an extradition date, but instead, it approved him for temporary permanent residence. The whole scene had been a psychological game.

I haven’t shared this story publicly before, but in the current context, it feels important to name the disrespect

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