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Estimated number of illegal immigrants in California: 2,209,000

Estimated number of illegals eligible for President Bush's proposed temporary worker initiative: 8 million

Number of immigrants deported in 2002: 149,985

Number of immigrants deported in 2000: 185,731, a five-year high


Russkie Go Home: Konstantin Kourakov has threatened to commit crimes to be deported.

Deport This Man

A discontented, penniless immigrant beseeches the government for a one-way trip to Russia. But the feds say they're no travel agents.

By Allie Gottlieb

KONSTANTIN KOURAKOV, who looks like Robert Redford cast as the Marlboro man, is an ungrateful foreigner. In fact, just as the U.S. government unveils its terrorist alert system, complicating the travels of non-European visitors, this 36-year-old, scruffy, blond, white Russian begs for a one-way ticket home.

He wants to leave, because America, he says, treats the poor poorly. With a cigarette clenched between his flat, wide, dirty fingertips, his complaints flow. Health care costs too much, and doctors rely too heavily on mind-dulling medications. Emergency shelters are dank, overcrowded, unsafe and demand a childlike obedience to the rules. Strangers call him names like "idiot" or "stupid," he says, because he looks unkempt.

For him, this treatment reflects a larger picture that a capitalistic country is based not on democracy but on a hierarchical, hypocritical shallowness. Russia, he maintains, doesn't define people in financial terms. When Kourakov had money, everything was great, he says. Now he's a have-not. He lives out of a dirty, black backpack in San Jose or wherever the shelters and buses take him. His last residence was a 1991 Oldsmobile, which authorities impounded on Dec. 6 because it overstayed its overnight welcome while parked on Monterey Highway, and Kourakov has no driver's license, insurance or registration.

"I need to get out of the country," he demands pitifully in throaty, accent-coated English. "I need help to go out."

Crime Pays

To elicit aid, Kourakov called the federal agency formerly known as the INS. "They told me that I had to have a felony [to get deported]," he reports. "I called the nonemergency police number and said, 'Look, I'm ready to commit a felony.'"

In Kourakov's account, an officer came out in person to talk to him about committing a felony. The policeman met Kourakov on the sidewalk in front of San Jose's immigration office for a 20-minute chat. Kourakov says the officer warned him that a felony would be more trouble than it's worth. No arrest was made. San Jose Police don't even have a record of Kourakov in their system, according to a spokesperson.

Ultimately, says Kourakov, he'd rather avoid jail time and a criminal record if he can return home another way. He contacted this newspaper in the hope that the public will sympathize with his plight and donate the $1,100 he needs to get back to Russia.

So far, no better escape method has surfaced. The Department of Homeland Security won't extradite him because he has a valid green card, good through November 2005. Various groups, local and national, help immigrants fleeing a warring homeland or who simply want to resettle here. But agencies such as the Asian Law Alliance, the International Rescue Committee and Jewish Family Service of Silicon Valley won't help someone like Kourakov.

He's not a refugee, he doesn't want U.S. citizenship, he's not Jewish or a Christian Iranian, he's not a criminal and so on.

"I don't think the government has ever really stopped to think about it," says Lynette Parker, an attorney who teaches immigration law at Santa Clara University. "I don't think the government is really set up to deal with people who don't want to be here. It's sort of like the concept of feeding people or giving shelter to people who haven't committed a crime. If you've committed a crime, it's very easy to get a place and food; whereas if you haven't committed a crime, it's not as easy."

Fuzzy Wrath

As one would imagine, immigration officials feel neither sorry nor responsible for Kourakov. He made the choice to come here. He came to this country in 1993 with his then-wife, Anna Maria Kourakova, who was from North Carolina but married him in Moscow and took the feminine version of his name. He's remained primarily in the United States since then.

Kourakov says he used to live comfortably, renting two-bedroom apartments in Stockton, Modesto, San Ramon and later San Jose. Remnants of a wealthier existence--a cell phone whose charge ran out the week of Christmas, the warm, puffy, red jacket he wears, his straight teeth--buttress his story of a decline from a wealthier place.

During the boom years of his life, he supported himself by traveling to Russia several times a year, often reselling U.S. merchandise like JCPenney clothing, and he worked as a tree trimmer in California for $350 per palm. But ever since a tree fall fractured his spine and caused his money-making muscles to atrophy, his life here sucks. He can't afford the $1,100 it would cost to return to Russia.

According to anecdotal information from immigrant advocates, Kourakov is an anomaly. Most people who want to go home can afford to or have friends or family help pay. But according to the government, no one wants to leave America.

"An immigration benefit in this country is a privilege, and there are people who wait in line," says Russ Knocke, press secretary for the new federal Citizenship and Immigration Service Department. "I would presume that a majority of people are here because they want to be here."

Knocke offers a figure that tends to surprise alarmists who complained about a xenophobic backlash to 9/11. The rate at which foreigners are becoming naturalized citizens has increased since 2001, he reports, by roughly 5 percent each year. Last year about 640,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens.

Reborn in the USA

Interestingly, watchdog groups also seem baffled that Kourakov wants to leave the United States. Their data shows he's by far in the minority. The American Civil Liberties Union points out the feds initiated deportation proceedings last year on more than 13,000 immigrant Arabs and Arab look-alikes, captured through a new special registry program. Presumably, those 13,000 detainees wanted to stay in the country.

Immigrant advocates agree that much of their collective caseload stems from people who want to enter the United States or came and don't want to leave. But the naturalized citizenship data that CIS spokesperson Knocke raves about doesn't necessarily translate into a carefree melting pot. In fact, one can extract an antithetical explanation.

"I think there are a lot of people who felt that because of the restrictions post-9/11, there was a good reason to become a citizen," says Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance. "It became very clear that there was a growing distinction between being a citizen and a noncitizen. They felt very vulnerable as noncitizens."

When pressed for his reasons for wanting to escape the United States, Kourakov makes seemingly unrelated announcements, non sequiturs, as if he's being interviewed on the topic of existentialism.

"There is no such thing as God," he offers. Humans are "not supposed to be here. We're a genetic mutation." He blames the country's greedy capitalistic sensibility for rendering him dependent on the unreliable kindness of strangers. Charity, the staunch atheist seethes, usually comes attached with religious strings.

While he complains he only knows 250 English words, an incomplete vocabulary isn't the only thing making him difficult to understand. In general, it's hard to decipher which parts of Kourakov's tirades are actual experiences and which come from the more confused channels of his brain. It's uncertain whether a religious-themed emergency shelter did indeed kick him out because he refused to attend Bible worship. It's also unproven whether he received death threats from people at shelters. And Kourakov, who admits he's very uncomfortable with homosexuality, makes the bizarre proposal that gay people should be euthanized as part of a population-thinning program.

But more than anything, after staying awake for 72 rainy hours straight, the Moscow native simply has no patience for America. "I really want to puke over your country," he concludes.

Readers who want to help get rid of Kourakov can reach him at 408.887.1925.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the January 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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