Photo from wikipedia under GNU Free Documentation License
She tried to make them feel comfortable and relaxed so she could get them to follow her fingerprint instruction as quickly as possible, but it was unavoidably hard to calm them when all they could think about was that visa interview. If you know anything about consular work, you know that most of the clients were nervous wrecks by the time they get to the window, any window for that matter. They’d placed their palm on the scanner, or they’d put their thumb on the edge or their pinkie on the side of the scanner. They’d place their folder, or hat, or handbag on top of it, too. You name it; she had seen just about every which way they thought their finger (and possessions) could get scanned. And she had only been working there for several months.
She smiled and told the lady once more to put her left index finger on the red light. The lady looked at her with a slight confusion on her face then proceeded to take off her eyeglasses and placed it on top of the scanner. “No, señora,” she said even more gently. “I need you to put your left index finger on the red light,” in as clear a Spanish as she could muster. The woman smiled widely, hesitated momentarily then took off her false teeth and placed it on top of the red light.
False teeth on her scanner – imagine. But she never freak out. Not even when a mommy whip out a booby to calm a screaming baby right when she had to capture those fingerprints. Not even when a bulky gentleman made a pass at her and tried mightily to collect her phone number. Not even when she was presented with an extra digit from each hand. Cool as a cucumber could not even begin to describe her.
She realized that you’ve got to have a straight face in this business or you’d ruin it for everyone else the rest of the day. She and the old lady had a good laugh afterwards after all the brouhahas died down and the scanner had been cleaned. They had no hard feelings, and they both had fun stories to tell – everybody knew that you could make the same mistake easily with these new technologies (she could already imagine the scenes if they ever go into ear or retina scan).
All part of the day’s adventure she thought as she looked out into her line that snaked through the doorway and into the waiting area under the fine tropical weather.
Since the office where she worked was a “test” post for the fingerprint program, they became kind of a showcase. And as the “it” person doing the fingerprinting, she sort of became a showcase, too. One day they had a visit from Mr. Big Politician whose name has been thrown about in the veepstakes. He also came from the same border state where she was registered to vote.
The Consul General introduced her to the entourage as the sole biometrics person at post, as if somehow that is a laudable distinction in someone’s so called career.
“Thank you for the great job you’re doing,” said the visiting politician. She realized she should not be offended but she has always been taught not to say things you don’t mean.
“Caught any terrorist lately?” the politician asked. She thought, this guy must be joking, but he looked absolutely full and serious. Before she could stop herself, the response was out, “Unfortunately not. I do have to report that I snagged the teeth of the little old lady from Chamachenga last week. Who knows what else is out there?”
The politician let out a bellyful of laughter and the whole room burst into laughter with him, of course. So she went on and told him the story about the old lady who left her teeth on her fingerprint scanner.
“How many applicants do you fingerprint every day?” the politician queried after the laughter died down.
“Between 400 and 500,” she replied.
“We issue that many visas in one day from here?” the politician inquired with alarm.
“No, that’s the average number of visa applicants we get, the number we issue are significantly lower than that,” explained the Consul General quickly.
“Then why don’t you just take the fingerprints from those that you will issue visas to, instead of everyone?” the politician inquired helpfully.
“EBSA,” she piped up aware that the Consul General was giving her a look. But she was not sure if the look was encouraging or career ending, not that she really had any career to speak of.
“What’s that?” Mr. Big Politician asked.
“Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act which you helped passed in 2002,” she replied without batting an eyelash. “Which also dictate that I must take the prints of all visa applicants unless they are below 14 or over 79,” she added helpfully.
“Is that so?” Mr. Politician answered without blinking an eye. “Interesting.”
“You know of course, that the bad guys are not going to line up here to have their fingerprints scanned, right?” she asked her elected official before she could stop herself.
“How’s that?” Mr. Politician replied swiftly.
“Well, there’s this big hole up north as large as a dinosaur and over here, they hire “coyotes” to take them through that hole,” she added for effect, referring to the human smugglers popular in Central America. “Sometimes their services go “on sale” and the $5K fee gets a price reduction.”
“Is that so?” he replied. “Well, best do your job, best do your job well honey, and I’ll do my best to worry about this,” her honorable politician promised as he walked away leaving a wafting smell of the brewery in his wake.