The flat screens over the immigration stalls looped a "Welcome to the United States" video. "Propaganda," I observed to myself, looking at the images of healthy, happy, well assimilated people of color, images of African-American girls skipping rope in a sunlit park, and smiling, well dressed Central or South American Immigrants. I have learned to differentiate the fake PR face of the United States from the hard, street reality I witnessed firsthand while living in the country as a professional class visa holder on and off for the last 10 years. The flyover views of Manhattan, the mandatory inclusion of the Statue of Liberty, lest anyone forget what America professes to be, did not mix in images of homelessness, rampant obesity among the low income population, perennial theft and street vandalism, violent youth crime, prison overcrowding, and extreme poverty in hallmark cities such as San Francisco for example, where I used to live.It was my turn to step up to the booth and face the immigration official. The usual questions followed: why am I coming to the United States, how long and where will I stay. Being a poor strategist and arriving with genuine, lawful intentions, I didn't think twice about telling it like it was: I was coming to stay with my boyfriend whom I have not seen in a long time. I was going to live with him and hoped to stay for several months. Tired after a long flight and unsuspecting, I spoke in casual, conversational manner. In retrospect I ought to have stuck to dry facts, for it soon became apparent that the job the immigration officials at the airport take upon themselves is to nail and indict and not to fairly adjudicate.I was escorted to the back room for further questioning. I sat down, not yet excessively worried, and took a look around. There were others whose fate was swinging in the balance, while they waited too. I noted right away a young black woman on the bench in front of me, her back hunched, arms resting on her thighs, head hanging low. Three hours later, when I was set free, she still maintained her posture, as if immobilized by the weight of her predicament. During that entire time, her name was never called, not a single immigration official had approached her, and she never gave away a clue as to what her story might have been.Out of Vancouver, when the dust has finally settled, I investigated what went wrong for me that night. Not a hint of explanation was given to me during or after the interrogation to assure the office of US Immigration had a one-sided, overwhelming position of power. I wasn't informed of the bureaucratic inconsistency my case presented. As a Canadian citizen I'd made the mistake of attempting to enter the United States on a visa waiver, whereas I should have applied for an entry visa after all due to my expectation to stay longer than the 90 days accounted for by the program. I was suspected of having a dual intent without accompanying, appropriate visa or in lay terms, intending to immigrate into the US illegally."What is it that you want?" asked the first female officer with an all-knowing smirk, leaning back in her chair and cocking her head. I looked at her apprehensively, sensing that I was presumed guilty before my personal situation was duly examined. "I don't think you are asking the right question, it isn't up to me to say what I want, it is up to you to tell me what I can or cannot do." I was scolded for getting smart and forcefully led on with the expected line of inquiry. "Do you want to work?" I collected myself and delivered a vague explanation of being "in transition," and how I expected to take the time of my stay in the US following a difficult apartment renovation project in Warsaw to reconnect with my boyfriend and decide on a direction in which I was going to take my life. So no, I did not intend to work, at least not right away and certainly not illegally. I proceeded to remind her what should have been glaringly obvious had she payed even the slightest attention to my immigration history as opposed to the stereotype she saw me as — that of an Eastern European woman with a marked accent coming to stay with her "boyfriend who has a job and will provide," perhaps a case of a Russian Bride.I lived and worked in the States for seven years this time around while enjoying the H1B status twice, having had ample time to legally pursue a green card. I had made no such attempt. I consciously rejected the chance of becoming an American permanent resident. I simply did not want, or need to, having both a well respected Canadian citizenship and an EU passport. It wouldn't make any sense, given my history, to pursue the illegal alien route to US immigration. That irony was lost on my overzealous inquisitor. I couldn't point it out to her as I was rarely allowed to complete a sentence even in a direct attempt to answer questions.It was time to get back to the benches, along with the others, and wait. A Latin American family with kids was brought in, then another. None of the families spoke among themselves, but remained reserved, knowing full well their lower hand. Routine, random checks it seemed, since they were processed and handed back their passports without a word before my second round of interrogation came up. A Russian woman in her mid-30s, wearing tall white boots, flowery knit stockings, elaborate coat, and too much makeup arrived and sat down. She was confident. Perhaps she, like I in the past — armed with a thick stack of corporate documents and visa processing approvals — was yet unaware of the precarious, fine line she was walking. I overheard the officers speak among themselves within her ears' reach, knowing she would not understand, that she had all the necessary invitations by the Russian Foundation. To their poorly disguised surprise, they had no grounds to detain her. An old man with a hearing aid, whom I had seen lost and confused earlier when he was being helped by an airport worker also turned up and nervously tried to explain in his limited English that his son lived and worked here and he came to visit his son. He bowed repeatedly on exit when handed back his passport, thankful, shaken, and teary-eyed. There was Mrs. Ferrera or Ferreira, a Spaniard or a South American, whose brother, husband or companion — an airline pilot — peeked in and asked: "You're still here?" to which she just shrugged and nodded, as if immigration detentions were something she has come to expect.My name was called again. This time I was facing the first female officer and her supervisor, also a woman. The US border control watchdog was springing heads. The lights seemed to glow brighter, the entire experience started to take on a surreal quality. I realized that my words would make the difference between an allowed discretionary entry and a deportation. I repeated my story as I have recounted it previously. The supervisor kept interrupting. Questioning became personal, my relationship to my boyfriend quizzed, private arrangements and money matters combed through in embarrassing detail. I maintained that my stay would be a visit — not a migration. I was not listened to, believed or otherwise my story did not compute. The supervising officer summed it up: "You are not a bonified tourist," I was told, likely intending to convey that I did not deserve a special consideration. Sadly, that is precisely who I was. I arrived bona fide, never intending to break the law. While on a work visa in the past, I dutifully payed taxes, having had all the responsibilities of a resident but none of the privileges. With a squeaky clean immigration record, never having overstayed my visas, arriving as a tourist for the first time in a decade, my good faith was being violently questioned without justification. I was ordered to get back to the benches, once again.I was summoned back, for the third time, sometime later. The US immigration personified this time by a three-headed, all female, bloodthirsty chimera — Cerberus— guarded the gates of Hades. The newly arrived third officer turned the interrogation up yet another notch. I was yelled at and heard myself say: "Please don't raise your voice, why are you trying to intimidate me?"