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A visa for Magda

An exemplary woman is going to miss her son's graduation because she is Paraguayan

Before going out she looked in the mirror. She had been to the hairdresser, wore a freshly ironed suit and gold earrings, and her shoes were brilliantly shined. The only untoward detail was her trembling hands. To calm herself, she shut her eyes and mentally reviewed the content of the folder she was tightly grasping.

A letter of invitation from Colby-Sawyer College to attend, on May 15, 2013, the graduation of her son José Carlos, a medical student who had been there for the last four years. A working-life certificate accrediting her registration in the Spanish Social Security system since 2006. A letter from her employer certifying her stable job in Madrid for the last seven years. A bank statement in her name showing her monthly wage. A summons from the Interior Ministry to receive Spanish nationality at a ceremony set for May 20. She also carried $120, which the future doctor had sent from New Hampshire to cover the costs of getting a visa. What could go wrong? A lawyer friend had told her that nothing might more effectively prove her intention to go on living in Spain. With all the red tape, he said, that you have had to go through to obtain double nationality — who would ever imagine you would not come back in time to receive your Spanish ID? Magda saw the reasoning, but still her hands trembled a little.

Paraguayan, 53, married with five children, she has long been working in domestic service, first in Buenos Aires and now in Madrid, living on the minimum possible, sending most of her wage home month after month for 15 years. A life like hers doesn't fit in a folder. Abnegation, willpower, sacrifice, solitude, years of effort — this is not easily explained. But at the US Consulate they just told her to put the documents in an envelope, and the envelope in a slot. Then, when her turn came, she was received by a young lady who asked her just four questions. The answers were all in the documents — which, it seemed, had not been read.

You have not been able to demonstrate your intention to leave the United States after the visit"

I'm sorry, but we can't give you a visa. You see, things are so bad in Spain that lots of Latin American immigrants are trying to get into the United States, and...

She tried to bring out the documents, but the polite girl did not wish to see the contents of the envelope. What she did give her was a letter saying she was being denied a visa because "unfortunately, you have not been able to demonstrate [...] your intention to leave the United States after the visit," because "the consular official must be convinced [...] of your economic or social stability in the country of habitual residence."

Magdalena Ortiz de Diarte, who speaks the wonderful Spanish of Paraguay, reads these phrases with no difficulty, but cannot understand them. I, with the letter here as I write, read them just as well, and understand them just as little. I do understand the perplexity and bitterness of this exemplary woman, who is going to be unable to attend her son's graduation because she is not yet Spanish, because she is not Swedish or Belgian, only because she is Paraguayan. And I remember the day I met her, what her arrival meant for my brother Manuel, when he had just been left a widower with three young children, how she helped to bring them up, how they call her a second mother. I think of all the people here who love her and would go out of their way to help her. So I write this article, which is a story of love and a last-minute call for help.

Somebody please help Magda. If the United States is the land of opportunity, give her the chance to be with her son at this important time. You don't know her, but I assure you that such work, such effort, such love, are the best of guarantees. And you don't have to take my word for it. Take another look at her papers.

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