There’s a wooden crucifix hanging above the door. Gesù Cristo’s carved head is tilted downward, his forlorn gaze in line with the police officers’ desks. To the right of the doorframe is a large poster of St. Michael the Archangel holding a massive sword.
In the New Testament, according to Wikipedia (my Sunday school and confirmation classes never got through all the stories, because I kept interrupting with questions like, “Why does this verse say it’s forbidden for women to braid their hair?” Shhh, girl, shhh), it is written that Michael led God’s armies against Satan’s forces, which they defeated during a war in heaven. Do these immigration officers see themselves represented in this epic story? Did someone’s nonna hang it there after seeing how bare her nipote’s office walls were? Did I just dig deeper into John Travolta’s character in the movie Michael?
In the waiting room outside, there’s another work of art (below). Are these the people who will greet me on the other side of the door? Why are they aiming their guns in different directions? Is there a migrant caravan closing in from all sides? Benvenuti.
I’m getting the sense that these ninja Spider-Man cops are trying to make me think twice about continuing my battle for an Italian residence permit. It’s working.
If you recall, we left off with Sergeant Sourpuss telling me that I had been waiting in the wrong police station for two hours and that I should come back again in two months. Do not pass Go. Do not collect your carta di soggiorno.
Now, a couple months later, Alberto and I are standing in line out in the rain, waiting to pass through security to enter the building. There’s an announcement board along the sidewalk filled with overlapping pieces of paper curled up on themselves. One of the flyers I can decipher lists the specific time windows when you’re allowed to ask for asylum.
As I pass through the metal detector, I see a basket full of confiscated items: a spoon, fork, perfume, car keys, a comb. The silverware strikes me the most — was someone carrying all their belongings when they entered this building? I also think fondly of my grandpa who has started stashing other people’s cutlery in his pockets, for a reason that makes sense in his sweet mind. “Sure, Pop, you can have that spoon.”
We walk through an overflowing waiting area, fingers crossed that we won’t have to join their crew. “Permesso, scusate, permesso, scusate,” I say as I squeeze through the crowd to the correct sportello. We emerge in another area with just one man waiting — is this the light at the end of the bureaucratic tunnel?!
We’re called into the Archangel office full of mostly young men with Polizia emblazoned on their shirts and just one immigrant with Americana etched into her furrowed brow. My assigned officer is a huge step up from Sergeant Pepperoncino as he does not humiliate me even once — although, I do have a native Italian speaker at my side this time. I answer some basic questions, hand him my subway station photo booth pics, and then I am instructed to go downstairs to get my finger/palm prints.
I swim through the crowd again to reach another waiting room below. Take a number, the woman says. I look to my left and see a wall of men who are silently sitting, staring, waiting. To my right are several families. A baby wails its lungs out. A boy walks around the room asking for vending machine change. I gotta go to the bathroom.
I enter the women’s restroom. No toilet paper or toilet, but there is a porcelain hole in the floor and some ridges where you’re supposed to put your feet (Holla at my mamma who in 1997 held me by the front of my winter jacket so I could pee in one of these contraptions with ski boots on).
I should’ve been more prepared after my last police station visit, I know, but I never did finish my Girl Scout training (during a brief stint with an English-speaking troop in Germany, they ordered us to hail the Queen of England and as an eight-year-old Yankee, it just didn’t feel right). I go into the men’s restroom. No paper. I go into the accessible bathroom. No paper — but at least there was an above-ground toilet; #Progress. Sweet bambino Gesù, call my number, call my number.
57. 57. 57! I zoom to the door and am greeted by a friendly Italian man. “Ah, you speak Italian!” he says with surprise. “Usually Americans have trouble with the language, but — HEY, YOU, GO WAIT OUTSIDE! No, NO,” he shouts. “I called 56 and you didn’t come. No, go out.”
The foreign man who has just opened the door tries to explain that he didn’t understand, that he was confused by something — “I told you to wait outside!” the officer says before turning back to me. “So, signora,” he smiles, “do you have German origins? Place your palm there. And now your left hand. Mhmm, mhmm. Ok, we’re done!”
I exit and go back upstairs to wade through the same sea of exhausted faces and then return to ninja headquarters. The officer does some final tippy taps and hands me a piece of paper, my carta di soggiorno. I stare at it intently, noticing that my picture is cut crooked and part of the headshot is pasted outside of the frame. Wait, let me just show you:
While I’m mentally critiquing his fine motor skills, the officer is staring at me silently. Eventually I sense his gaze, so I look back up and then around the room. “Oh, we’re done? That’s it?” I gasp, realizing he would like me to leave his desk. “Yes? Ok. Ok! Thank you! Do I have to come back here?” Surely I must have to come back here. “In five years,” he replies. I hear the bells of St. Michael, if Mike rings bells.
For the fourth and final time, we cross back through the waiting area (may the archangel bless your applications, amici), retrieve our umbrella and spoons at security, and breathe a sigh of relief over a cappuccino and croissant.
“I didn’t even look closely to see if my name and birth date were correct this time,” I murmur.
“Pff, screw it,” Alberto advises. “Also, you have chocolate on your nose.”
Italian Residence Permit Stats
(Or An Attempt To Paint a Possibly Outdated Waiting Room Picture)
- On Jan. 1, 2017, there were 3,714,137 non-EU foreigners with a residence permit, with most originating from Morocco (454,817), Albania (441,838), China (318,975), Ukraine (234,066) and Philippines (162,469).
- Permits for asylum and other humanitarian reasons represented 34% of new inflows in 2016 compared to 28.2% in 2015 and 19.3% in 2014.
- In 2016, Nigeria, Pakistan and Gambia were the top three countries of origin for permits issued for asylum and other humanitarian reasons.