On my bad days, I think consular work is being a clerk, and if I wanted to be a clerk I could have worked at the Post Office.
On my good days, I think this.
The Consular Section of an Embassy is America’s front door to the world. A recent article stated that 95 percent of all the people who come to an American Embassy, worldwide, come to the consular section.
One group of people who come to the front door is other Americans. We’re there for the good things — recording births, helping with voting, renewing passports. We’re also there for the not so good things — when you’re a victim of a crime, or accused of a crime, or need to be evacuated in an emergency. And for those who fall in between — paying your taxes. We see the best and worst of Americans. We see the ones who are trying to cheat the locals, to play the system, to use their citizenship as a source of money which they haven’t earned. We also see the ones who are spending their lives teaching, preventing disease, or as doctors, or in development.
The other place where we’re the front door is for people who are not citizens who want to come to the United States. Some are coming as tourists. Some as students. Some are coming as businesspeople. Some are coming as immigrants.
Some say they are coming as tourists or students but really plan to be immigrants. Some get the opportunity to apply to immigrate and use it to try to sneak in other people who don’t have that opportunity. Some run “businesses” whose who job is to sneak people into the United States through fake marriages or children. That can make you very cynical. That can make you very angry. It makes you want to shut down the consular section and tell everyone to stay out. But that’s not our job.
To overuse a metaphor — our job is to look through the peephole and decide whether to open the door. We have a limited view, and with it we need to make our decision. We’re the first line of defense. But not the last. Standing behind the door (but still on the other side of the screen door) are the folks from USCIS at the borders. All a visa does is give you permission to ask them to let you in. They make the decision whether or not you can come into our house.
The question of legal and illegal immigration is a complex one that goes far beyond the folks sneaking across the Mexican border. And consular officers face it every day.