Tick Tock, Your Time Is Up

Foreign students at the Glassell School of Art get a stipend, studio space and three years to make it really big. They've had a huge impact on Houston's art scene. But if the INS isn't impressed, they've got to go.

Checking on a case is no simple task -- people can't just call in. Even if an immigrant shows up in person to ask about status, INS workers may not have an answer.

"I've gone through the line and asked one thing and come back through the line and asked the same thing and gotten a different response," Sikander says. "So basically I'm always nervous about what to do."

Sikander has good reason to feel nervous: Any small mistake can lead to great repercussions. Those waiting for green cards receive an employment authorization card that needs to be renewed in person yearly. To work without a valid card for even one day is illegal. In 1999 the Smithsonian showed Sikander's work, but she had to forgo the honorarium because she had renewed her card a little late.

Sculptor Joseph Havel, head of the Core program, has seen many good artists leave the country because of immigration limitations.
Deron Neblett
Sculptor Joseph Havel, head of the Core program, has seen many good artists leave the country because of immigration limitations.

Earlier this year Sikander attended a six-week residency at ArtPace in San Antonio. She was driving to Marfa when she was detained at a checkpoint for failing to carry her card with her. The Border Patrol chastised her -- it is the most important form of identification for someone waiting on a green card, even more so than a passport or driver's license -- and let her go hours later, only after someone went to her apartment to find the card and fax a copy over.

Sikander now splits her time between Texas and New York. Trying not to complicate matters, she kept her green card case in Texas. But the last time she checked on it in person, she learned that it had been moved to New York. Yet neither she nor her lawyer had requested the change. Even so, the INS requires her to continue getting her employment authorization from Houston.

INS spokesperson Bill Strassberger says it is highly unusual, though not impossible, for the INS to move a case.

"At the end of the day, I'm still waiting," Sikander says. "In the end it does not matter if you're successful or not, if you've had more shows or less, or how much money you're making. That doesn't matter. It's really luck and it's very random or you need the topmost lawyer. And I think that matters.

"I've been here for eight years, and I don't know any other place to operate from. I'm not willing to drop everything and leave the country."

At least she has found a way, though temporary, to work and stay in the country. Others have not been so lucky.


Duncan Ganley drives a little red car that has rusted so much that acid rain couldn't make it worse. The front bumper is held on by a piece of wire. He acquired this vehicle from Maggie Hills, who got it from Francesca Fuchs. And maybe when he leaves, he will pass it on to some other impoverished Core fellow.

Ganley finished his residency at Core this spring, where at the Core exhibition he blurred the line between fiction and reality. He presented digitally altered photographs, some taken inside stately Houston hotels, that served as artifacts for a fictional director and his movie. Ganley makes myths.

When Ganley talks, his whole body talks with him, a lively enunciation of words and body movement. He is humorous and good-natured, but the thought of the INS tests his good spirits. He too was stopped by the Border Patrol in West Texas. Although he carried his passport, the Border Patrol demanded to see the arrival-departure record that a person receives upon arrival at the airport. No one ever told him he was supposed to carry it. Even INS spokesperson Strassberger says he does not know if one is required to have it at all times.

"I'm not a tourist. I live here," Ganley says. "This whole thing about being stopped in the country at a checkpoint…We haven't even left the state!"

When practical training ends next year, Ganley will return to Britain. He doesn't have a choice. Though he was offered a teaching job, he couldn't take it -- not that it would be illegal, but because it required too much hassle, paperwork and money. He'll jump through certain hoops, but he isn't willing to plunk down thousands of dollars for an immigration attorney. (Legal fees for H-1B or O-1 visas run from $1,000 to $3,000 and from $4,000 to $8,000 for green cards.) And all for no guarantee.

"You always feel a little like a second-class citizen," he says. "I don't know what my status was, and then I found out it was called nonresident alien. How welcoming is that?"

This fall a new crop of Core fellows arrives. Among them are three international students, including Aiko Hachisuka, a Japanese citizen. Hachisuka came to study in the States when she was 17 and has lived here for ten years.

"One of the primary reasons of going to Core is to stay in the United States," she says. Already she has run into problems with immigration.

When Hachisuka finished graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts, she tried to get an H-1B visa during her practical training year. Like Braun, she looked for a job with an arts organization. But every time an employer agreed to sponsor her, it reneged when it discovered how much money and work was involved.

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