Immigration ‘Reform’ on the Horizon but at What Cost?
By Deepa Iyer

For immigrants in America, the need for changes in the immigration system as it exists today is clear. We can all tell stories of family, friends, and community members who have struggled with various aspects of the immigration system – from applying for and receiving benefits such as visas or green cards, to understanding the regulations governing asylum or citizenship, to worrying about whether we will be targeted for immigration violations, however minor they may be.
As an organization that works in the US South Asian community, we have been documenting the experiences of South Asian immigrants with a range of immigration statuses. Below are some examples of how the immigration system has negatively affected South Asian immigrants:
Sumathi of Massachusetts is a young software engineer from Hyderabad who moved to the United States in 1999 on an H-1B visa and became a legal permanent resident. She fell in love with and married Jeevan in India in August 2002. Jeevan is a physician who is working on a project to eradicate polio in India for the World Health Organization. Sumathi applied to bring Jeevan over to America to join her. Although the application was submitted over three years ago, Jeevan is still in India, and it is likely to take two more years for the application to be approved. In the meantime, Jeevan has not been able to enter the country and cannot even get a tourist visa to come see her.
The Signal Corporation, a corporation that does oil drilling work on the Gulf Coast, brought 300 Indian nationals on temporary H-2B work visas from Dubai and Saudi Arabia to Mississippi and Texas to work as pipe fitters and welders. After being told by the recruiter, Global Resources, to pay as much as $20,000 - their life savings for some - for their visas, they were promised refunds, wages, and green cards once they arrived. However, once they got here, they allege their wages were drastically cut, they had to pay daily labor camp fees, and they were forced to stay in overcrowded windowless trailers that lacked sufficient facilities. The workers in Mississippi began organizing to get their money back and protest their working conditions - but once discovered, the company began to retaliate against them. The company started terminating their jobs and sending them back to India. Armed security guards at the company even raided the barracks, imprisoned the fired workers in a room, and threatened them with deportation. Workers now are unable to return home due to debt and are unable to find new jobs due to visa restrictions.
Terwinder, a Sikh mother of two American-born children, was deported from Brown Deer, Wisconsin after police found out she was living in the United States illegally. Police officers were assisting her with a flat tire on Nov. 4, 2004, when they found out she had an outstanding deportation order and immediately arrested her. Terwinder lived in the United States for 12 years she was deported along with her two children who have not lived in India before.before
For the past two years, immigration reform has been the rallying cry for advocates, immigrants and policymakers. The principles behind reform include, among others, the elimination of family and employment backlogs; a meaningful path to entry and citizenship for all workers; and legalization of undocumented immigrants in the country.
The US Senate is considering a sweeping immigration bill that contains provisions that will dramatically alter the immigration system as we know it. Unfortunately, the proposal does not meet many of the goals of immigration reform as outlined above.
The Senate proposal (S. 1639) addresses a range of issues. It includes a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and students, but the workability of the program – from returns to one’s country of origin to high penalties and long waits – is questionable. The immigration bill also eliminates several family preference categories that many have used to reunite their families.
The Senate bill also creates a new, untested merit-based point system that determines who receives green cards. Points would be allocated based primarily on the attainment of education, English language ability, and employment. This system could create an underclass of immigrants who may be unable to obtain permanent status under this new system. Finally, the proposal would appropriate over $4 billion to intensify immigration enforcement in the interior and at the border, and increases penalties for immigration violations – including a 10-year bar from returning to the United States for overstaying a visa for even just a day.
As the Senate considers the immigration bill this week, advocates are monitoring the possibility of improving the proposal. The Senate Republicans and Democrats have agreed to a limited number of amendments that will be considered as potential add-ons. However, whether the amendments – even the “good” ones – will fundamentally change the flaws of the proposal is unclear at this point.
While immigration reform will benefit South Asians and other immigrants, it cannot be obtained at the cost of an enforcement-heavy system that does not value family unity and the contributions of workers to America. Unfortunately, the proposal before the Senate at this stage is taking a direction that is contrary to what immigrants demanded at the 2006 rallies around the country.
The time is now for us to contact the Senate to express our concerns with the Senate immigration bill and to call for fair and humane immigration reform.
- New America Media


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