A Legal Alien

Edited by Julia Rios

January 2018

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on our nook of suburban Houston, we knew one of us would be taken—we were all brown. They drove up in packs, as if they had been uncaged to fulfill their destiny.

At first, we put on our best American accents and got neat haircuts. We stopped speeding and started weeding, our exemplary flowerbeds proving the model citizens we were.

Still, one of us had to go. Over beer and BBQ (pork sausages), we mulled over Mustafa as our best bet. A new student from Pakistan, he was renting a room from the Ayubs. In fact, it was Ayub who offered him up. The boy hadn’t yet discovered the grey areas that made non-halal meat permissible. Nor had any of our daughters shown any interest in his acne-ridden profile. Someone inquired whether he was intelligent, but Ayub couldn’t be sure. Our bellies full of pig, our heads sloshing with alcohol, we concluded that he was the least fit among us to be American.

Problem was, he had a perfectly valid passport with an F-1 student visa neatly stamped into it. (Ayub had snuck home and brought the passport back to pass around.) Then someone pointed out that determining his status wasn’t our job; we just had to bring him to their attention.

Next time the ICE-men cruised by, Ayub sauntered out with his hedge clippers and nodded at their passing van. Sensing a summons, they pulled over and approached him, all jeans and Kevlar vests. Ayub paused by his well-tamed Confederate jasmine vine and mentioned that he had a new international student staying with him. From Pakistan, he clarified, without being asked.

“Is he in?” they inquired.

“Not sure,” Ayub said. “He’s so quiet—spends a lot of time on his laptop.”

So, they requested to search his room. Ayub, being the homeowner, gave them permission and didn’t even ask them about a warrant, despite the warnings splashed all over Facebook by pro bono immigration lawyers.

They walked away with the boy’s laptop that day, and they walked away with the boy the next. They haven’t returned to the neighborhood since then.

Over celebratory sweet lassi and BBQ (extra-spicy tandoori chicken thighs), we agreed that Mustafa would be fine. He was, after all, young enough to start his life anew, if they released him and sent him back to Pakistan.

© 2018 Maya Kanwal

About the author

Maya Kanwal

Maya Kanwal’s short prose appears in Juxtaprose, Quarterly West, The Nervous Breakdown, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review 2015 Nonfiction Anthology, Crab Fat Magazine and other journals. In November 2016, Maya Kanwal’s creative nonfiction essay, “Pruned Branches,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Maya has a middle grade novel forthcoming. She can be can be found on twitter @mayakanwal.