Friday, March 30, 2007

Arrested — Handcuffed — Shackled

Half a dozen years ago—though it seems like decades—the phrase “anything is possible in America” referred to opportunities. Under the regime of George W. Bush, the phrase has taken a different turn. Consider the case of Nyok Mei Wong (pictured above), as described by her in a document I have seen, and in messages from her allies.

Mei Wong is a first-year MFA student in the New Genres department at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her specialty is performance and time-based art. Until recently she lived in Chicago, and an interview in Chicago City Arts Review captured her there. She is a citizen of Malaysia.

On February 15th, she visited the San Francisco office of the USCIS (formerly INS) to check the status of her long-standing application for a permanent resident visa. As a result of that visit, she was arrested, handcuffed, shackled, and sent to the remote Yuba County Jail, where she remained in immigration detention for five days until bail money could be gathered and paid.

During that fateful visit, the USCIS claimed that her application for permanent status had been denied back in 2003. She had never received any notice to this effect, and she says that the USCIS computer system contained no record of the denial.

Mei Wong has been in the U.S. since entering on a student visa in 2002. In the 2003 Diversity Lottery carried out by the USCIS, she was declared eligible for a Diversity Visa, which enables the applicant to work and live permanently in the U.S. She immediately filed the appropriate form (I-485, Adjustment of Status) to complete the visa process. She was issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as a result. Her EAD has been renewed annually. Meanwhile, at each visit to the USCIS, including one last fall, she was told that her permanent visa was still pending.

Now, apparently because of bureaucratic errors at the USCIS, she faces a court hearing in San Francisco on April 5th. There may be additional court appearances. Deportation is a possibility, but exoneration and permanent resident status are also possible.

Friends and supporters have organized a fund-raising campaign to cover legal costs, with a goal of raising $10,000. There is an art auction tomorrow night (Saturday) at The Garage, an experimental art venue in an upscale part of town. Also, donations to the cause can be made by check or through Paypal. Further information is available on the website for The Garage. I am acquainted with several people involved in this effort, and I can vouch for their integrity.

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