Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Will Biden’s Immigrant Plan Save Ravi Ragbir?

Ravi Ragbir’s Story  

Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition,  is a Trinidadian immigrant with a criminal conviction who has been fighting his own deportation since 2006. He says the existing immigration policy with its origins in the Chinese Exclusionary Act is extremely racist, and should be totally repealed.

Ragbir claims that even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.

Under Trump says Ragbir, ICE terrorized immigrant communities and families to force them to ‘self deport’. Many immigrants who lost Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were forced to flee to Canada. Ragbir himself was publicly bound by ICE agents and detained for deportation, to make an example of him. Though he won his challenge, ICE continues to surveil him and target over thousand immigration leaders and advocates in a ‘campaign of terror.’

You can listen their stories via this link – https://www.immigrantrightsvoices.org/

Ragbir shared his story at an ethnic media briefing on January 29, in which immigration experts reviewed President Biden’s Immigration Bill, which was sent to Congress on January 20.

After four years of cruelty and chaos, said Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, during which the Trump administration weaponized an already dysfunctional immigration system, the country now has a President and slight majority in Congress that is pro-immigrant.

So realistically, what we can expect from this progressive, pro-immigrant movement, said Sharry, is a plan for an immigration system that is fair, humane and functional. It’s goal will be to undo the cruelty inflicted on immigrants and refugees in recent years, and to pass transformative legislation that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

The Biden Immigration Proposal

According to Sharry, the Biden administration hit the road running on immigration.

In his first week, Biden signed six executive orders, issued two DHS memos to change immigration policy ,and introduced a sweeping legislative proposal.

The Bill ended the Muslim and African bans, ordered the reinstatement of DACA, stopped border wall construction, and imposed a 100-day moratorium on most deportations (though a judge in Texas  has issued a temporary restraining order to thwart one of Biden’s key immigration priorities).

The proposed agenda winds down the MPP program which left thousands stranded in Mexico after being denied the right to apply for asylum, extended DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) for about 4000 Liberians, and offers guidelines to restrict the number of people at priority for arrest under immigration law.

It also has ended efforts by the Trump administration to remove undocumented immigrants from the Census count, for its use in determining congressional seats.

However, warned Sharry, Biden’s immigration bill faces a difficult path in Senate. It’s unlikely that a sweeping immigration bill will find bi-partisan support, but he pointed out that bills processed under budget reconciliation could pass through Congress by a simple majority of 51 votes.

The Biden administration is pushing the immigration issue said Sharry, because the pro-immigrant movement in the country has shifted the debate over immigration, due to activists who have reimagined how the rules around immigration – on deportation for example – need to be enforced.

“We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years,” he noted, because advocates of the immigrant rights movement have “shifted the center of the debate and made what once seemed a little radical seem common sense. “

“The public is way out in front of the politicians on this one, remarked Sharry, adding that “How this plays out politically, is that the wind is at the backs of the Biden administration.”

Public opinion has shifted in favor of immigrants, even though “Trump demonized immigrants and made it his signature issue,” stated Sharry.

It forced the public to think about immigration when friends and community members were subjected to deportation, families were being separated, and toddlers were ripped away from moms and dads at the border. The wedge issue of immigration began losing its edge.

Instead, Trump’s nativism backfired with the majority of Americans, remarked Sharry.

His view was echoed by John Yang of AAJC,  a DC-based civil rights organization, who added that the American public believes in a more inclusive America. He urged the need to find ways to engage with the small segment that fears the browning of America. Ragbir added that regular citizens living amidst the trauma of job loss and the pandemic, now realize how challenging life is for non-citizens.

The  US Citizenship Act of 2021

“It really is a racial justice bill,” said John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), referring to Biden’s US Citizenship Act.  The new bill is important to Asian Americans, because their story “isn’t quite part of the narrative” on immigration but legislation will affect Asian Americans in a very significant way

According to AAJC, current immigration patterns show that close to 40%of all immigrants come from Asia. It’s predicted that by 2055 the largest group of immigrants will be Asian American. So the pathways to citizenship offered by the US Citizenship Act is an “exciting” drive toward ‘racial equity’ said Yang, likening it to the 1965  Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which was part of a whole civil rights legislation.

The 11 million undocumented includes almost 1.7 million Asians,  about 120 thousand of whom are eligible for DACA and 15 thousand (specifically Nepalese), who qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

It also includes the Reuniting Families Act which focuses on family immigration, explained Yang. Its inclusion is a victory for Asian American advocates who have fought to protect families, a cornerstone issue of Asian American immigration.

Approximately 70% immigrate to the US via this provision while only a small minority come to the US on H-1B, high tech or STEM work visas, Yang clarified. The majority of Asian Americans, like immigrants before them, he added, have come here to make better lives because they believe in American values, and want to contribute to society.

What the US Citizenship Act does for families

The US Citizenship Act adds green cards to clear the long backlog (almost 20 years for certain countries) and reunite families. It also reduces the backlog for employment based visas like the H-1B and H-4 for families stuck on temporary status, and protects children who fall out of status when they turn 21. (Read about the H-4EAD visa here)

Families on temporary status are allowed to remain in the US while they await permanent residency and  family unity waivers are provided so families can sponsor their family members. The bill also promotes diversity, covering LGBTQ equality, orphans, and foreign veterans who fought alongside Americans, among other provisions.

Significantly, the bill includes legislation that will make it harder for a future president to reinstate these bans by a simple executive order.

Immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta explained that the current immigration law is ‘woefully inadequate’ with respect to legal immigration and skilled immigrants.  Not enough green cards are allotted to employment based categories and investor categories based on country of birth, he said. It will take an Indian H1-B visa holder several decades before they can receive green cards, while employers have to wait years  for a skilled worker to get permanent residency.

The bill attempts he said, to recapture visas that haven’t been used, in order to help reduce backlogs.  Employment and business reforms also include a 60-day freeze on artificial wage increases for H-1B visas that impact employers sponsoring highly skilled workers.

The Public Charge Rule  

One of most contentious immigration issues under the Trump administration was the  Public Charge Rule which was implemented in a way to slow the demographic shift in the country. It administered an immigrant wealth test and assessed the use of public benefits such as healthcare, housing or nutrition, to deny people their green card.

It meant that In the middle of a pandemic, people were afraid to get healthcare, tests or vaccines, for fear of falling foul of the system.

According to Mariaelena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, the Biden administration will begin the process of undoing the Public Charge rule, but would need to launch a robust community outreach and education program to regain the trust of immigrant families and encourage them to seek the help they need.

Immigrants need to be fully included in the Biden administration’s agenda, added Hincapié, to ensure that inclusion and equity are at the core in every federal department. Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Covid Task Force, for example, should closely look “at how their policies impact immigrants in this country.”

Given what immigrants and the country have been through, said Hincapie, the last four years have felt nothing less than a war on immigrant families. But from day one, the Biden/Harris administration has shown a strong commitment to unequivocally centering immigrants in the narrative and to undoing the harm of the past.

“Today we are so hopeful,” said Hincapié, that the new administration will collectively build a twenty first century immigration system “that is truly grounded in racial, economic and gender justice.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Trump’s War On Immigrants

The Trump presidency has made more than 400 changes to US immigration policy since it took office, waging what immigration advocates are calling ‘Trump’s war on immigrants.’

The Trump administration went on the offensive in January 2017, accelerating changes to immigration policy in a series of rapidfire executive actions. A report released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) in July catalogs more than 400 revisions which have swiftly and ‘dramatically reshaped the U.S. immigration system’ in the last four years.

The sweeping changes impact “everything from border and interior enforcement, to refugee resettlement and the asylum system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration courts, and vetting and visa processes,” states the report, and places tough restrictions on potential tourists, foreign workers and international students.

Sarah Pierce, Migration Policy Institute

“Many of the changes reflect the administrations’ really strong knowledge of immigration law,” confirmed Sarah Pierce, a policy expert who co-authored the report, at a briefing on immigration system changes hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 7.

The new regulations reflect the administration’s willingness to enforce technicalities “that have been on books for years,” said Pierce, but have rarely been implemented. Those penalties and restrictions are now being used to restrict immigration into the country, reflecting emerging trends in the administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

What Laws have Changed?

The consensus among immigration experts at the briefing was that the Trump administration has used the current national crises to further their political agenda with executive orders that significantly reduce the flow of legal immigrants into the country.

Ignazia Rodrigues, NILC

Ignazia Rodrigues, immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) described the push to add a citizenship question to the census as an example of the administration’s anti-immigrant policy.

Most of the changes have been implemented by executive fiat without going through Congress, explained Pierce. Acting on the rhetoric that immigration poses a threat to the nation’s security and economy, the administration has doubled down on reducing immigration into the country, driving reform through ‘layered changes’ on a series of regulations, policy and programs.

For example, under a new revision, ICE can enforce a1996 law to levy exorbitant fines of $799 a day on unauthorized  immigrants who remain in the country in violation of a removal order.

In another draconian example, the Trump administration has expanded the definition of who fits the Public Charge rule, which bars foreign nationals who receive or are deemed likely to receive public benefits from becoming legal permanent residents. The rule uses the totality of the circumstances test to evaluate a broad set of metrics such as education, English proficiency, income, jobs, health and family size to deny entry to applicants.

As a result, a large number of green card holders are at risk of denial MPI reports, because at least 69% of recent green-card recipients have at least one of the negative factors that could be weighted against them under the regulation. The ruling will disfavor women, the elderly and children, as well as nationals from Central America and Mexico. Findings from MPI also show that immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America are less likely to be favored under the new Public Charge rule, said Pierce.

Though these changes may seem like minor technicalities, taken altogether they will have a monumental impact in dismantling and reconstructing the immigration system in the long term, and significantly change the face of U.S. immigration.

The MPI report finds that these critical changes will result in closing off humanitarian benefits, sealing the southern border, creating hurdles for both legal and unauthorized immigrants already in country and reducing legal immigration into the country.

However, the advent of the coronavirus has fueled the administration’s immigration offensive.

“The pandemic has only accelerated the pace of changes this administration has made,” said Pierce, identifying three major changes enforced since the COVID-19 crisis began, and the implication for prospective immigrants.

The administration invoked a 1944 public health law that allows the Surgeon General to restrict the entry of individuals deemed a public health threat, and block people at the US-Mexico border. The order, issued directly from the CDC director Robert Redfield, allows border security to bypass established protocols and expel children and asylum seekers from countries with communicable diseases, effectively ending asylum at the southern border. Human Rights First condemned the CDC order for “ending refugee and child protections at the border indefinitely, endangering rather than saving lives.”

Then, on April 22, President Trump signed a proclamation restricting permanent immigration in order to protect American workers and their jobs. The proclamation and the follow up June 22 proclamation restricting temporary workers, limits the entry of foreign workers (on H1B visas for example) and prospective immigrants applying for employment-based green cards from abroad. It also restricts ‘chain migration’ by temporarily suspending entry for many prospective citizens applying for family-based green cards from other countries. Effectively, citizens and green card holders are prevented from sponsoring family members – parents, siblings, spouses and children – to join them in the US.

Kalpana Peddibhotla, Immigration Attorney

Losing skilled foreign workers would negatively impact innovation and job growth especially in the high tech sector said immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, as several studies show that “foreign workers in STEM fields are critical to the innovation in the growth of patents,” and “immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses than US born natives.”

However, the restrictions continue unabated.  Travel bans still exist for foreign nationals traveling from 31 different countries, said Pierce, and the President recently signed an executive order restricting the ability of federal contractors to hire foreign nationals; the new order also referenced further restrictions proposed in the future for the H1B program.

These orders achieve what the administration has been working towards long before the pandemic began, remarked Pierce. “It’s hard to imagine them walking back any of these restrictions, even after the pandemic is no longer a prevalent issue.”

It’s uncertain whether future administrations would have the time, resources and willingness to reverse the restrictions said Pierce, adding that some reversals would require careful consideration; for example, if restrictions were lifted at the southern border it could result in a surge of unauthorized arrivals.

As the country begins the slow process of recovery from multiple crises – a pandemic, an economic slowdown and racial injustice uprisings, “It’s hard for me to picture a future administration investing this much in immigration,” said Pierce.

However, she pointed out that a future president could easily reverse the original 2017 travel ban which is still in place and expanded in 2020, because it would send “a visible strong signal that the US is changing its tone on immigration.”

It’s important to note that every one of these executive actions have been contested by lawsuits filed against the administration said Peddibhotla. “This is definitely not a great way for us to be governing and managing our immigration process. But it’s incredibly important that the lawsuits continue in order to hold the administration accountable.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash