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i'm a statistic
what lurks in a name?
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)
12.22.06
general

Lately, I've come to a realization. Perhaps it isn't a realization, but more like a thought and belief I've kept on the back burner and ignored for a long time, because it would be all too disturbing to have sunk in. Well, it has sunk in, and I am disturbed.

I'm an unemployed college grad and I preside on the long list of skilled and experienced people out there looking for a mediocre to good job, somewhat related to my field of study. I'm not asking for much. Just a job where I work 9-5, Monday thru Friday, and get national holidays off along with the rest of the world. I say this, because getting a job in retail is easy (but not really nowadays) but I think my choice to go to college kinda', sorta' indirectly entitles me to be picky and want something a little better than retail. But I digress.

Since January, I've had a very small handful of interviews. One of those interviews obviously didn't end with the reward of a job, but it is an interview that began to paint a clearer picture of my fears.

I met the interviewer, the owner of a media publishing company at a coffee shop for my interview. We had coffee, talked about my work experience, the position I was applying for and a few informal topics. I was really beginning to like this interviewer. He was fun, funny and spoke frankly with me. So frank, he opened my eyes to something I had been squinting at and ignoring for quite some time.

"Let me ask you this, Reem. Why do you think you're having such trouble finding a job?" he asked.

After a brief silence, I let the worst of my fears out. "Well, I believe there are two reasons."

"And they are?" he waited for an answer.

"Well, one is that I have gaps in my resume. I'm sure that it doesn't look good that I have these big gaps between jobs, but without an interview I can't really explain that I've left my previous jobs solely because I keep ending up with companies that have to downsize," he nodded in understanding, and waited for the other reason. "And the other reason, I think, is my name."

He nodded, and it scared me. "Absolutely," he said. "I have to be honest with you and say that those two things did concern me about your resume. Your name certainly did raise a red flag for me."

The worst of my fears, that I hoped would be just my imagination, became a reality right then and there. My ethnic name was preventing me from even landing an interview. How scary is that? Was I becoming a statistic of prejudice? That interviewer was nice enough to schedule an interview with me and get the lowdown on why I had all these gaps on my resume (I made sure to send him a thank you note the following day for interviewing me). But how many others had let my name instead of the gaps on my resume stop them from taking the next step? By the number of resumes I've sent out since January, I'd say quite a bit.

And this brings me to my realization, or epiphany, really. Every company is required by law to say it is and be "an equal opportunity employer", and "not discriminate", blah blah blah. But does that actually hold up all the time?

I think not.

And to prove that I'm not delusional, let's talk about the latest influx of lawsuits being filed by citizenship applicants against the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Applicants, who had had their interviews and passed their citizenship tests, yet are still without citizenships up to five years later. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services answer any inquiries by these applicants with a vague "Your application is pending FBI security checks, which is required by The Department of Homeland Security. As soon as these checks are completed then we can move forward with your case."

A recent article in The Denver Post bringing this growing problem into the spotlight states that "Federal law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must be granted citizenship in 120 days." In fact, the day that the story appeared in the paper, my friend called me and told me about a co-worker of hers, whose cousin was granted citizenship within eight months from turning in her application for citizenship. The law is abided when the applicant is Mexican, as in this co-worker's cousin's case. But what if the applicant is Reem ******* such as me?

I turned in an application for citizenship in August 2004; I had my interview and passed my citizenship that November. 2006 is on its way out, and my case is still pending FBI background checks.

According to the article in The Denver Post, most of the lawsuits are filed by Muslim immigrants nationwide, some class-action lawsuits. My name is Reem *******. I'm Muslim AND an Arab. I see now that I did not need a front page story to tell me that my citizenship is being delayed because of who I am and where I come from. But it is comforting (in a sick and warped way, of course) to know that I am not alone in a society where tolerance, acceptance and everything between are only practiced when it's convenient.

I understand the need to screen and re-screen. We live in a scary world, and I can appreciate the need to make sure and double-make-sure that you're not letting terrorists into a country. But if I have to wait for the FBI background check for an indefinite amount of time, along with other Muslims and Arabs, then so should every other applicant, no matter where they come from or what religion they practice. Because bad guys exist in every country, culture and religious order.

In the meantime, Reem ******* must wait indefinitely for an interview, a job and her citizenship.



ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI

Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari

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COMMENTS

sandra thompson
12.22.06 @ 9:00a

Prejudice, for whatever reason --- racism, sexism, religious beliefs, fear of the unknown --- is always a terrible thing to both sides of the equation. This country which spouts about the level playing field certainly is not living up to its ideals, and never has done so. I wish I were not retired so I could hire you for something, even though I'm sure you'd be "overqualified" for whatever I might have to offer. Whenever I've had to hire somebody to fill a position which required the applicant to be smart, that's been the only aspect of them I really considered. I'd hire you, Reem, because you're obviously smart. It's too bad the people interviewing you aren't as smart as we are. What can I say? Welcome to my stupid, prejudiced country? That just about breaks my bleeding little heart.

reem al-omari
12.22.06 @ 2:13p

Thanks Sandra.

sandra thompson
12.26.06 @ 10:45a

You're most welcome. I hope you'll keep us updated on the job hunt and the citizenship progress.

adam kraemer
1.3.07 @ 5:57p

Ironic that the name changes 100 years ago at Ellis Island might actually have been beneficial to the immigrants. I never really thought of that before.



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