You can’t work with your student visa, and work-study is rubbish, it pays nothing, and you have to be able to cover your rent and the balance of your tuition.

Aunty Uju makes this comment to Ifemelu in Chapter 9, when she explains why Ifemelu will need to use false documents to get a job. Even though Ifemelu is in the US legally and nominally has a legal way to make money, the bureaucracy around immigration does not realistically allow for Ifemelu to continue establishing herself legally. Under a student visa, she is limited to low-paying campus jobs. The discrepancy between what Ifemelu can legally do to make a living and what she must do to remain in America highlights how only people with money can immigrate without compromising themselves.

How can you be sending me money from Nigeria? It should be the other way around.

Ifemelu makes this comment to Obinze in Chapter 15 when he offers to wire her money for rent as she details her struggles to find work. The accepted paradigm for immigration is that people come from countries in the “third world” like Nigeria to countries in the “first world” like the US in order to send money home. However, Ifemelu’s immigration has only diminished her finances because she cannot legally earn money while incurring new, non-trivial expenses like tuition and rent.

Only after she hung up did she begin to feel the stain of a burgeoning shame spreading all over her, for thanking him, for crafting his words “You sound American” into a garland that she hung around her own neck. Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American?

This quotation comes from Chapter 17 when Ifemelu fools a telemarketer into thinking she’s American. Although she initially starts learning how to speak with an American accent in response to disrespect from college administrators, achieving this respect only makes her feel hollow. Ifemelu doesn’t feel comfortable with how success in America means treating her old life and way of being as inherently inferior or less educated.

You can work, you are legal, you are visible, and you don’t even know how fortunate you are.

Obinze has these thoughts in Chapter 23 as he watches people walk by a tube station in London. Because he immigrates to the UK illegally, he finds himself living a life where he is practically invisible or subhuman. That he has this thought about random people he sees highlights the humanity of illegal immigrants because it implies that the illegality and invisibility he faces is situational, not inherent to him as a person. These legal, visible people are not inherently so, just merely lucky.

He was going to tick on a form that his client was willing to be removed. “Removed.” That word made Obinze feel inanimate. A thing to be removed. A thing without breath and mind. A thing.

This quotation appears in Chapter 30 when Obinze tells his lawyer he consents to deportation. Throughout Obinze’s immigrant journey, he overhears and sees dehumanizing and condescending rhetoric about illegal immigrants with those around him not realizing he is one. This moment emphasizes the complete dehumanization inherent in the systems surrounding illegal immigration. This dehumanization runs so deep that the word “removed,” which Obinze notes is a word used for objects, is written into the documentation of the deportation process.