When Chippy Nonstop landed at LAX last week after a brief run of shows in Asia, she was greeted not by her boyfriend, but by a customs agent. She was taken to a prison-like room, told she was being deported, and given three options: she could return to Japan, the last stop on her tour; she could go India, where her parents are originally from; or she could go to Canada, where she holds a passport. Vancouver was the cheapest and closest option, so Chippy lives in Canada now.
"I feel American, even though I'm not allowed in America right now," says Chippy. After her family made several moves around the globe, they moved to the United States when she was 11, where she has lived legally under her parents' visas, a student visa, and a temporary visa since. She was in the middle of applying for an artist's visa when the unmissable opportunity to tour in Thailand and Japan came up.
As she describes it, the process of applying for an artist's visa is lengthy and often opaque, and requires a substantiation of success that can be prohibitive for fledgling or independent artists. "I can't just work in America. I have to excel insanely at what I do to be able to work there," she says. "What am I supposed to do, give up my passion? Give up what I care about because the laws in the system won't help underground artists?"
Chippy, resilient and lively as ever, took a break from searching for an apartment, job, and lawyer (as well as tweeting) in Vancouver to give FADER the rundown on her deportation experience. Read that below, and when you're done, consider signing this petition to the White House that asks for her swift return.
People are talking shit like, "Oh, you deserved to be deported because you left when you didn't have the proper visa." And I'll admit that I did make a mistake by leaving. I knew that this might be an issue—but also, the system is fucked.
I was born in Dubai and then I moved to Zambia—my dad worked for Lipton and got transferred every three years to a new place. I lived in Toronto, and then we moved to America when I was 11 years old. My parents are in the U.S. on a work permit that they can keep renewing as long as they're paying enough money to the government, so I was sponsored by them until I was 21. Then I was in college on a student visa until I left for another tour with Kreayshawn—then I had to get an [E-2 Investors Visa]. Once I turned 21, my visa expired, so I got another temporary visa.
I had started applying for an artist's visa, but the process is insanely long. You have to have a package of all the venues you've played at, all the flyers, any press you've gotten, how many YouTube plays you've had—just as much content as you can collect to give them to say you're a successful person and eligible to be on the [O1 Individuals With Extraordinary Ability Or Achievement Visa]. But before you can even start that process, you have to apply to be a part of the Artist's Confederation. I was approved to be in that before I left for Asia, but even that took a long time because I didn't have a lot of Canadian paperwork either—I left Canada when I was really young and all my Canadian paperwork was what kids get. So I had to apply to Canadian things first and then wait for my Canadian papers, which would take forever.
The process costs a lot of money. I have an artist lawyer and she was helping me go through the process, but it's really complicated, and I can't afford to keep paying a lawyer to help me with stuff. You can't pay to make the process faster, either, so I was just in a fucked up situation.
For Canadian citizens, getting through customs is usually pretty easy. They ask you one or two questions, I tell them I'm visiting family or friends or whatever—it's not a big deal. But this time I showed [the customs agent] my passport and he was like, "Wait here." I'm waiting, nervous and shaking, and three cops show up to take me into another room. At this point I know I'm fucked, because my visa's expired.
There were three other people in [the next room]: an older Asian man that barely spoke any English, a German-looking dude, and an Italian man. So I'm waiting in that room, and while I'm waiting I realize I had just gotten my period. I was freaking out and trying to tell someone, but no one was listening to me.
Finally, I got called up for questioning. [The agent]'s asking me like, "You've been living in America?" I tell him, yeah—I've been living there since I was 11. My parents live there, my boyfriend lives there, everyone I know lives there. He was like, "Well, you know you're not allowed to live there." So I explained that I went to college there and I lived there my whole life and I'm in the process of applying for a new visa, but the process was taking a long time and I just left. He was like, "You know you're not going to be able to enter." And I was like "Uh, okay."
At this point, I'm crying and still waiting in the room, so I was like, "Is there anyway someone could bring my luggage? I just started my period and I'm bleeding." And they're all huddled up cracking up, like, "Hahaha, she said she was bleeding out of her pants." They were laughing at me. It was really fucked up.
Even though I told them my real name, for some reason they just kept calling me Chippy—they must have Googled me, I don't know how else they would know. They were reading my Twitter, watching my videos, and asking some weird-ass questions. I explained that my Twitter is my persona, and everything is more exaggerated than it is in real life. He wrote "online persona, not realistic" down on my papers that they gave me. It also said: "Living in America, actually an illegal alien; goes by the name Chippy Nonstop, making money without paying taxes."
I think their biggest concern was that I was living in America without paying taxes. Most of my shit I get paid under the table, and all my iTunes and all my money for that, so I don't pay taxes. I've made money in America, but it's not a shitload of money. My parents live in America and they pay an insane amount of taxes. My brother lives there—he's in advertising, so he got sponsored by a company to work there—and pays taxes.
So I'm waiting in this room for a while, and finally the security guard comes out and says, "You're gonna have to go in the back room and you're gonna have to be searched. These two ladies pat me down and literally touch my vagina—they're searching me everywhere, patting me down really uncomfortably. I have to take all my shoelaces off, give them my hair-ties, the three necklaces and other jewelry I was wearing. They had my phone, they looked through my laptop.
After I got searched, I got put into another room which is kind of like a jail cell: just an empty white room with blankets and Styrofoam pillows, and all they have to eat is soup and oranges and water. There was one other kid there—he had come for a hockey tournament from Germany and he overstayed for one day. His English was not very good, but he said he'd been there for 2 days and I was like, "What the fuck?!"
This entire time, I haven't eaten and I just started my period, so I'm insanely dizzy and had cramps and just felt sick. When I asked for Advil, they were like, "No, we can't give you any of that." I was so terrified, because I was never told anything that was going on—I couldn't ask any questions, and I didn't even know for sure where I was going on, or why, or what was wrong. The officer didn't clarify that I was definitely leaving, he was just fucking with me. I'm like, "You're using these scare tactics but I'm just a young girl that is trying to get home. You can at least explain to me what's going on?" I understood that I was about to get kicked out, but the way they were treating me was insane.
Hours later, [the agent] told me, "You could either go back to Japan"—which I didn't really want to do—"or you could go somewhere in Canada, or to India. Either way you have to pay for your ticket, so figure it out. You have 2 minutes." He was like, I'll let you call your dad. So I called my dad at work and I'm like, "I have to leave the country and I have two minutes to decide where to go." My dad's like, "Uhhhh, it's up to you!" I'm not trying to go to hella cold weather right now—India would've been fun, but it's not really a place I can go to get a job and do a bunch of shit. I can work in Canada, I can figure shit out there, and a ticket to Vancouver only costs $300 and it's only two hours away.
When I landed in Vancouver, I thought I'd be able to slide through security. I thought that [the American agents] would have informed someone in Vancouver that I was coming, but obviously not. I get there and I tell the first guy at security my story. He puts a huge X on my landing certificate. And I'm like, "Oh my god, I just went through so much shit." They take me to another empty room. These 2 dudes come in and I tell them my story. They're like, "Whoa, this is fucked up, I'm sorry. American government is weird." They were being really nice. If you're going to deal with humans, you should treat them like humans!
I have a few options. Now that I'm in Canada, it'll be easier for me to get ahold of all my Canadian paperwork and apply for a SIM number and citizenship and shit like that. I can tour in Canada and build my portfolio to reapply for an O-1 Visa, which is an artist visa. An American company could sponsor me to work for them, if they can prove that no other person in America is capable of the same job. I've hit up people, but I understand that it's a really hard long process and it takes money. I could get married, but I don't want to put that pressure on my boyfriend.
I've only done a few things since I've been here. I've been to the American consulate, I have to fill out more paperwork, I still have to meet with a few lawyers—my current lawyer's not specific to artist immigration, and everything is so specific. You need specialized artists immigration lawyers. I've been sending my resume out—I applied for a job to do social media stuff for an advertisement agency—because I have to do stuff while I'm here, and I don't want to travel too much and not be able to figure out my shit. I have to make money, I have to focus and figure my shit out. I don't want to anything illegal. I don't want to fuck around. I just need to get my shit on fleek.
It's hard because, if you're an independent artist, you don't want to work for someone who could sponsor you and you don't make a lot of money in the beginning of your career. I can't just work in America—I have to excel insanely at what I do to be able to work there. At this point, I might have to make some compromises.