One evening, while waiting for Cindy, Jende gets a call from Bubakar. It’s been a week since they last spoke. Bubakar explains that the Immigration courts are extremely backlogged because there are so many people the government wants to deport and not enough judges who are eager to deport them. He tells Jende that he may not stand before a judge for another six months, maybe even a year.
Bubakar reports this as good news, but it also reveals the ineptitude of the American immigration system, which puts a lot of pressure and work on immigration judges and does nothing to address the lives that are left in limbo due to ineffectual laws and an unwillingness to offer a viable path to citizenship.
Jende feels better, as though released from under a great weight. Bubakar says that his situation is better than most because he has a wife who has a job, despite her not having a work permit. Jende wonders about his own work permit. Bubakar asks if Clark asked to see Jende’s work permit when he hired him. Jende says no, and Bubakar says this is good and that Jende should stay with him. Jende then wonders if he could get in trouble with the police if he’s stopped on the road with an expired work permit. Bubakar says that, with Immigration, there’s a gray area consisting of many illegal things that the government doesn’t want to worry about. However, it’s important that Jende avoid the police. This is advice that Bubakar gives all black men in the U.S. The police, he insists, only exist “for the protection of white people.”
Jende feels relieved because the postponement buys him time. However, he must live in a kind of secrecy. Bubakar’s advice to avoid the police in general reveals how the systemic racism in police departments contrasts with the American Dream of everyone having equal chances at liberty and opportunity. His comment also foreshadows Cindy’s later threat against Neni to call the police if she doesn’t leave the Edwardses’ apartment.
Bubakar encourages Jende not to give up hope. If Obama or Hillary becomes president, he says, “they’ll give everyone papers.” He says that Hillary “likes immigrant people,” and that Obama must know some Kenyans without papers whom he’d like to help. Jende wonders if such a thing could happen. Bubakar says that it did once, in 1983. Until then, however, Immigration will be in pursuit of Jende “every single day,” and he’ll need money to fight them. Then, one day, Jende will become a citizen, and he and his family will finally be able to relax and enjoy their lives in America.
Bubakar is referring to the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which wasn’t actually passed until 1986. The act gave illegal immigrants the opportunity to apply for and gain legal status if they had been in the U.S. continuously for four years (and could prove it), had a clean criminal record, and had some knowledge of U.S. history and the English language.