Tag Archives: immigration

An Immigrant Story

India Currents publisher, Vandana Kumar, was a guest on Bolly 92.3FM from 10-11am on The Power Hour with Yogi Chugh and Dharminder Dewan this weekend.

As a new immigrant, Vandana Kumar co-founded India Currents magazine in 1987 and published an award-winning print magazine for 32 years. She has stewarded India Currents to flourishing readership over decades, winning multiple awards for her cultural and business leadership.

Her immigrant story is an inspiring one and it was a great dialogue about her own story and the origin of India Currents and its successes over the years.

It was broadcast live on www.bolly923FM.com

East Bay cities embrace diversity as Asian populations soar

For anyone seeking proof that there has been a dramatic demographic shift in the Tri Valley, just look at the race for San Ramon City Council: Four of the six candidates are of South Asian descent.

The race offers a clear example of what residents here have been witnessing over the past decade: Asians – including Indians and Chinese – have been flocking to this Contra Costa County suburb for its well-regarded schools, abundance of housing and proximity to high-paying jobs.

The trend is backed by census numbers. San Ramon’s population was 53.6 percent white in 2010 and 47.6 percent in 2017. The number of Asians, on the other hand, grew from 36.6 percent of city’s population in 2010 to 42.3 percent in 2017.

In Dublin, where the South Asian population is concentrated in the newly-developed eastern edge of the city, a visit to a local park tells the story: Brown kids outnumber white ones, teams of adult men play cricket and sandal-clad grandfathers take their evening strolls as they would in Delhi.

Census data also supports the shift here. White residents comprised 51.3 percent of the population in Dublin in 2010 but only 48 percent in 2017. In 2010, the population was 26.8 percent Asian but jumped to 36.6 percent in 2017.

In both cities, longtime incumbent mayors are facing Indian challengers. In San Ramon, it is political newcomer Sanat Sethy against Bill Clarkson, who is seeking his fourth term. In Dublin, Councilmember Arun Goel is taking on David Haubert.

Clarkson said his city has embraced diversity with open arms.

“The cultural acceptance was led by residents,” Clarkson said. Witnessing the changing face of San Ramon, Clarkson said he approached some residents to develop a broader base of cultural events that reflect the demographics.

Those conversations led to San Ramon launching a Culture in the Community event in 2017. It took place again last month with 26 nationalities reflected in art performance, activities and food booths.

“It isn’t just about St. Patrick’s Day and other historical stuff anymore,” Clarkson said. “We are now beginning to incorporate all the various ethnic cultural festivals.”

Clarkson said San Ramon’s high ranking schools and housing stock are attracting professionals from the South Bay, where the cost of homes is much higher.

That’s exactly what drew Sethy to the Tri Valley 21 years ago, first to Dublin and then San Ramon.

“The people who are on the City Council are good people but they are not representative of the community,” Sethy said. The five-member council is comprised of all white males.

Sethy said he entered politics not to push a race-based agenda but because he loves his city and wants to ensure sustainable growth and quality of life.

The Tri Valley has proven to be an accepting place, Sethy said, pointing out that San Ramon helps promote Diwali with a festival at Dougherty Valley High School and by lighting up City Hall.

“It is beautiful,” he said.


Simar Khanna is a contributing editor at India Currents magazine.

This Diwali, Remember to Vote

Next month’s mid-term elections represent a special challenge for Indian American groups trying to get their constituents to the polls: Election Day falls in the middle of Diwali celebrations.

With this in mind, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) unveiled its #DharmaVotes campaign recently.

“The aim is to raise awareness in the Hindu American community about voter registration deadlines and to hopefully ensure robust voter participation,” said Samir Kalra, HAF’s managing director.

The print, television and social media effort’s goal is non-partisan “with the primary aim to increase voter turnout and democratic participation in its broadest sense,” said Kalra.

Indeed, the elections present an important opportunity for Indian Americans to encourage members to make their voices heard on a variety of issues.

“We’re not just a one-issue community,” said Aseem Chipalkatti, board president of South Asian Americans Together for (the state of) Washington (SAATWA). “Solving our nation’s healthcare and immigration dilemmas are important, but we also are worried about the increase of gun violence in our schools and women’s access to justice and reproductive care. SAATWA will endorse and support candidates – South Asian or not – who stand with our community on these issues.”

To that end, SAATWA recently held its first town hall style candidate’s forum in Issaquah, WA. While only 35 people showed up in person, Chipalkatti reports that 471 people tuned in to watch the action live on Facebook and over a 1,000 viewed replays of the debate online. In all, 3751 people have viewed all or part of the program.

Candidates answered questions on sustainable economic development, education, healthcare and immigration. SAATWA will use the candidates answers as the basis for making endorsements later this month.

Chipalkatti sees the turnout for the event, especially online, as clear evidence that “South Asian Americans in Washington State are ready to get engaged in the political process.”

Ankit Patel, SAATWA’s director of public policy and legislative affairs, said he hopes the town halls will make candidates realize that “people are paying attention and their participation in these events has wide ranging visibility beyond these forums — whether it’s the audience watching online or the conversations these attendees go on to have in the community.”

On a national level, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) has developed a voter guide detailing the policy positions of candidates in the 20 Congressional districts with the highest number of South East Asians in them. It also includes breakdowns on two additional races that feature a South Asian American candidate and a Congressperson who is a leader in the House of Representatives.

The race breakdowns show the Democratic and Republican candidates’ positions on immigration, civil rights, hate crimes, and the 2020 U.S. census. “These issues have been at the core of SAALT’s policy and advocacy strategy and have greatly impacted the South Asian American community both historically and in the last two years,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, SAALT’s Director of National Policy and Advocacy.

On SAALT’s online voter guide each of the four “big issues” facing the South Asian American community is broken down into bite-sized nuggets.

On immigration, SAALT reports, “With over 5 million South Asians in the United States, immigrant justice is a top priority. The community includes undocumented immigrants, family members and temporary workers on various visas, refugees and asylum-seekers, lawful permanent residents, and United States citizens. There are over 450,000 undocumented Indian-Americans alone.”

As for the upcoming 2020 US Census, SAALT warns that anything that threatens an accurate count of all people in the country “such as the proposed citizenship question on the forthcoming 2020 Census, must be avoided at all costs. Unnecessarily asking every household and every person in the country about their citizenship status in the current political environment will cause fear and a significant undercount of our communities.”

In regard to hate crimes, SAALT reports it “has documented a precipitous rise in hate violence. In the year following the Presidential election, SAALT catalogued 213 incidents of hate violence aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab American communities — a 45 percent increase from the 2015-2016 pre-election period. It is increasingly clear we need to protect our communities from hate.”

The final hot-button issue for SAALT is civil rights, especially as they relate to Southeast Asian communities in the post 9-11 era. SAALT reports that since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the “communities have been unjustly targeted by government racial and religious profiling policies. More recently, government policies underscoring racial and religious profiling and surveillance have increasingly been aimed at our communities since the 2016 presidential election.”

Given the wide range of issues that face Indian-Americans in the current political climate, this Diwali season, make sure to VOTE!

Paul Kilduff is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California. He has written for the East Bay Times, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Monthly and many other publications. He has also worked in radio as a reporter, host and producer and even finds time to draw cartoons.

Why EB-5 is the Best Solution for Your H-1B Woes

In the United States, workers from India comprise the largest number of H-1B professionals.

But, in the wake of US policy changes on immigration, Indians have been hit the hardest, putting their eligibility and professional dreams at severe risk.

In a recent report from the National Foundation for American Policy it was shown that in 2017 72% of the H-1B petitions denied were for professionals from India. What’s larger, however, is the emotional hardships families have had to bear from these denials. Ashish Kumar, a software engineer from Indore, has a particularly apt story. In 2014, Ashish and his family moved to upstate New York from India for work. Four years later, his family had completely acclimatized to America, with hopes of permanent residency. His son, who upon arrival, barely spoke English, now spoke indistinguishably from other American children. Even more, his wife, six months pregnant, had the hope of raising another child in America. In early September, Ashish and his family received the shocking news that their H-1B had not been renewed. They were given two weeks to pack all their belongings and relocate back to India.

Ashish’s plight is shared with many other families. These families become completely immersed in American culture. Some even have American born children. For them, America is home.  

While some professionals may be eligible for employment based green cards (EB-2 and EB-3), these visas can be restrictive. Wait times are severely backlogged from 10 to 15 years. To make matters worse, employer sponsorship does not assure green card approval and prevents the candidate from moving cities.

With such massive uncertainty, is there a better solution?

The EB-5 Investor Visa is one such opportunity, giving Indian citizens the chance to earn permanent residency through capital investment. Unlike EB-2 and EB-3, there is no severe backlog. Even more, EB-5 does not:

  • Require employer sponsorship
  • Depend on a lottery system
  • Have long wait times for family sponsorship

Instead, it gives Indian citizens a chance to build a future by working and living anywhere in the US, with the added opportunity to earn US citizenship.

On, November 9th at 2PM EST US Freedom Capital will be hosting a webinar to discuss the ins and outs of the EB-5 Investor Visa. CIO, David Gunderson, will discuss the process, timelines, and successes of our own H-1B clients who have received their green cards in as little as 14 months. In addition, we will have a Q&A session after the webinar to discuss any specific questions/comments from the audience.

To register please click here https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/8199200439262243339

 

About US Freedom Capital

US Freedom Capital is a global investment firm committed to the long-term growth and security of its investors’ assets. Our investment projects are thoughtfully designed for the EB-5 Program and to create diversified, high-yield returns.
The US Freedom Capital team combines decades of experience in commercial US real estate, immigration, and investment management. Our industry experts have over $3 billion in commercial real estate experience, and include the three former highest-ranking officials at US Immigration (USCIS).

What’s next in the battle over immigration reform?

SPEAKERS

Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice

Fsharry@americasvoice.org

202-871-8210

Joshua Rosenthal, Senior Attorney, National Immigration Law Center

rosenthal@nilc.org

(213) 639-3900

Sally Kinoshita, Deputy Director, Immigrant Legal Resource Center

sally@ilrc.org

(415) 255-9499

Hector Salvidar, Southern California field coordinator, California Labor Federation

HSaldivar@calaborfed.org

(213) 276-3376

H-1Bs—The Best and the Brightest?

H-1Bs—The Best and the Brightest?

A relevant piece from our archives, on a topic that is still a hot-button issue. First published on March 14, 2017.

What is this notion of the best and brightest? For one, it is the most conflicted banality of the moment. The term is generously used by liberal politicians and business leaders to make the case for H-1B immigrants, but the phrase has a long history of ideological righteousness much reviled by conservative politicians.

The Wall Street Journal reported that IITs were ranked fourth behind Stanford, Harvard, and University of California for incubating the most number of students who formed billion dollar startups in America.

In 1972, David Halberstam, a Pulitzer prize winning New York Times journalist, wrote a seminal book questioning President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy decisions during the Vietnam war. He called it The Best and the Brightest. The book debunked the foreign policy credentials of the best and the brightest in Kennedy’s administration. Halberstam wrote about how this group of academics and intellectuals, “all of whom had seemed so dazzling when they had first taken office,” ended up becoming the architects of one of the worst disasters of American history.

It was just a few weeks ago that Stephen K. Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist, was spotted in an airport carrying a copy of The Best and the Brightest. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Marc Tracy writes about Bannon’s respect for the book and quotes him as saying: “It’s great for seeing how little mistakes early on can lead to big ones later.”

In the book, Halberstam describes an incident between a “dazzled” Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his mentor, Sam Rayburn, after the Vice President’s first Cabinet meeting, when Lyndon Johnson exclaims enthusiastically to Rayburn: “how extraordinary they were, each brighter than the next,” referring to the intellectually attuned Cabinet staff. To which, Rayburn responds “you may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.” That story, according to Halberstam goes to show “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract facility and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.”

Hobbled by this narrative, it is no wonder that when the same term came to be applied to those poor, unsuspecting foreign nationals who came to America armed with H-1B visas to connect the wires of innovation in the Silicon Valley, it became baggage that they either had to live up to or confront.

As the number of H-1Bs increased, the labor bottleneck eased somewhat, and those who began to lose jobs because of incompetence, lack of knowledge, incomplete education, insufficient application or a combination of these factors found a bogeyman they could easily identify. Today, “the best and the brightest” is used as both an invective as well as an invocation. It depends on one’s political bent.

As a reader recently commented in response to one of my immigration columns: “The education system [in] India [is] far worse, but they are able to infest the United States with mediocre engineers, disguised as the best and brightest engineers. The problem is the dumping of inferior tech workers from India displacing American workers.”

The commenter is only partially wrong. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that India’s Indian Institute of Technology schools were ranked fourth behind Stanford, Harvard, and University of California for incubating the most number of students who went on to form billion dollar startups in America. But not all engineers who are hired in the H-1B program are from the IITs or from top notch institutions. And not all engineers hired from top notch schools are necessarily the best or brightest.

The issue is about volume and displacement, stupid! Elementary science terms have become yardsticks of aggravation.

People who enter the pool tend to displace others from the same pool and the more this happens, the more there is a pervading sense of affliction. In 2016, there were 236,000 H-1B applications received, an increase of 3,000 from the previous year.

We may argue that these jobs that H-1Bs are hired for are not always replacements, but merely the right fit for the right job at the right price. Even so, grievance is a perceptive state and given voice to even by those who are not really good fits for those same jobs.

Many folks I talk to tend to provide anecdotal evidence of at least one H-1B engineer they know, or they’ve heard of, who performed sub-par at his/her job—who had poor communication skills, did not speak up at meetings, was behind schedule, delivered an inadequately thought-through product, required more training, or had deplorable personal hygiene habits. It’s about the impact of numbers. The pervasiveness of an idea begins to take hold, if enough people have enough anecdotal evidence.

It’s a time of crisis for H-1B visa holders and applicants. This cannot be about working longer and harder anymore. That alone, unfortunately, may not be sufficient to stave off the perils of imminent White House policies.

Writing about Robert Kennedy, Halberstam recounts how “toughness fascinated him; he was not at ease with an America which had flabby waistlines.” That frame of reference has not changed much since Kennedy’s time. As America’s H-1B policy heads to the chopping block, it is time to cinch those smart belts. America has no patience for even a hint of slackness.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.

A Mother Loses Her Child: Fact and Fiction Coalesce

LUCKY BOY by Shanthi Sekaran. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, New York. 472 pages. Hardcover. $27.00

A Mother Loses Her Child: Fact and Fiction Coalesce
A Mother Loses Her Child: Fact and Fiction Coalesce

With Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran performs a literary cantata that is as dazzling as it is soul-searing. Two disparate threads converge unluckily in Lucky Boy. One spools together the story of Kavya and Rishi in a reasonably stable marriage. Kavya is a graduate of UC Berkeley and works as a sorority chef, while Rishi works for a tech company. They lead a somewhat stereotypical Indian American life, balancing their bike-to-work Berkeley lifestyle with an India imported sensitivity to cultural expectations. The other has eighteen-year old Solimar Castro Valdez, an undocumented immigrant from fictional Santa Clara Popocalco, looking for the kind of stability that Kavya takes for granted. Lucky Boy traces Soli’s journey from naive optimist to gritty survivor and elevates the book by shining a light on the deeply contested issue of undocumented immigration.

“It all started in 2010,” said author Sekaran, “I heard about this case on NPR about a Guatemalan woman who was fighting for custody for her child. She had been picked up in a factory raid, she was in detention, and her son was being adopted away from her,” Sekaran summarized. The case was that of Encarnacion Bail Romero who lost her child to the Mosers, a couple she had never met, all while she was in detention.

As fact meets fiction in Soli’s story, the writing is deft and centered. Soli makes her way to the border by throwing in her lot with a ragtag group of young boys and men, one of whom she falls in love with. But by the time she makes it to America, Soli has “met and loved and lost her man in a matter of seven days.” Carrying the memory of her love, Soli arrives in Berkeley, and discovers she is pregnant. She procures a fake social security number and begins to work as a nanny/housekeeper for the Cassidys, who demarcate the line between privilege and poverty.

Soli gives birth to a son, Ignacio El Viento Castro Valdez, and the turbulent inner landscape of Soli’s feelings for her son is described with seamless fluency. “He was smallest at night, when shadows lapped at his edges.” Later, through a streak of poor timing, Soli is apprehended and put in detention and Ignacio ends up in state custody.

The set-up prepares the reader to face the collision between Kavya and Soli. Even so, it creates a resounding impact.

Kavya meets baby Ignacio at an overburdened foster home and Sekaran’s prose engages sentiment with blazing eloquence. “Kavya and Ignacio weren’t born in that room on that evening. An outline of her desire had been building for years now; it was clearly delineated and multidimensional and lacked the one thing, the real thing, the child at its center. Ignacio climbed quietly into that outline, and Kavya knew she was his.”

I was completely taken with Soli and Checo (her love) and felt that my reaction as a reader was Sekaran’s inflexion as a writer. “That’s interesting because I felt further from them when I started,” Sekaran remarked. “You know, of course, I can basically extract my life and make Kavya. Kavya comes from me. Soli, I had to really build from the bottom up. So maybe I made myself understand her fully because I had greater distance from her myself.”

The details of Soli’s life in detention were brutally honest and shaped itself into an editorial on America’s inhumane immigration incarceration policies while marking the disconnect between family courts, immigration detention and child welfare processes. On the morning of the adoption hearings when it was imperative that Soli make contact with the court, she was told that there was a facility shut-down with no access to phones allowed. “Senora, they are taking my son away from me. I need to call the court. I will lose him,” she pleaded with the guard desperately, but was sternly told to get back to her cell.

As immigrant genre novels go, there typically is a sentimentality, a yearning if you will, that inhabits the first-generation Indian American story and a jaded cynicism that pervades the second generation one. Sekaran manages to get beyond both tropes. Perhaps because she is not telling the Indian American story in isolation to other stories.

“That’s something that I was a little bit hesitant about; whether I have the right to tell the story that was not of my community, not of my experience. I was basically taking someone else’s experience and making a story out of it. I was very aware that I was doing that and that it was a privilege to do that, to be able to sit at my nice desk and write this, while other people were living this. And I stuck with it, because I felt like it was an important story to tell, and it was one that I really cared about,” said SekaranSekaran’s use of fiction to tell a dramatic story has left me feeling awed by the powerful role that writers play in our society. Thank you, Shanthi Sekaran for calling out a case that remains an eyesore in America’s judicial system.

A Mother Loses Her Child: How It Unraveled
The fictional novel, Lucky Boy, is based on the actual case of a Guatemalan immigrant Encarnacion Bail Romero. The following account of this case is based on facts using research into legal briefs. Unless stated, the quotes are from legal briefs and court documents.
                                                                                                          ******
Encarnacion Bail Romero, a woman from Guatemala, crossed the border into the United States and gave birth to a son, Carlos, in Missouri. She obtained false documents to gain employment, and on May 22, 2007, after an immigration raid at the poultry processing plant where she worked, she was rounded up and taken into custody. Instead of deporting Romero, Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecuted Romero for aggravated theft identity. She pled guilty and was sentenced to two years of imprisonment.

Immediately upon being detained, Romero arranged for her sister Maria and brother-in-law, Geronimo, to take in her six-month old baby, Carlos. The couple struggled with looking after Carlos along with their other commitments. Laura Davenport, a “Parents as Teachers” educator, who became aware of Maria’s situation, suggested that she use the help of Jennifer and Oswaldo Velazco, a clergy couple who had assisted another mother with her child while she was in prison. Maria accepted the offer of “free childcare” and started by dropping Carlos off in the mornings and picking him up in the evenings, but soon the Velazcos began keeping the child during the week.

The situation unraveled rapidly after that. On September 19, 2007, Davenport visited Romero at the Osceola jail and attempted to convince her to allow the Velazcos to adopt Carlos. Romero “steadfastly refused and professed her love for Child.” A few days later, on September 25, 2007, the Velazcos introduced Carlos to Seth and Melinda Moser of Carthage, Missouri. “By October 7, 2007, the Mosers began caring for Carlos full time,” without any involvement of child welfare services.
Two weeks later, there was a transfer of custody hearing by the Missouri Juvenile court, with only one day’s notice, and without informing Romero. The hearing “lasted 106 minutes.” Later, on October 9, 2008, the Missouri Juvenile court granted the adoption of Carlos, terminating Romero’s parental rights.

The Verdicts
The court found that the mother had “abandoned” the child because she had not made adequate arrangements for the child when she was in prison; that she had not established any contact or communication with her infant while she was in jail; that there were only two letters on file to indicate that she was against the adoption; that she was unable to submit proof of her capability to take care of her child in Guatemala; that since she had a pattern of illegally entering the United States, she would be unable to provide any stability for a child. “A child cannot be educated in this way, always in hiding or on the run.” Thus, Encarnacion Bail Romero lost the first court battle. It was to be a portent of things to come.

One of the two letters on file from Romero read: I have suffered too much by knowing nothing about my little one, asking God to take care of him for me and let me be reunited with him soon. Please, Mr. Dominguez, [lawyer] look for the means to send my son [Child] with my family in Guatemala. This is the telephone number of my sister in Guatemala, I spoke to her and she will welcome him in my country.

Anita Ortiz Maddali, Associate Professor at Northern Illinois University’s College of Law, wrote an article for the Spring 2014 issue of the Indiana Law Journal, in which she declared that in numerous instances the “courts terminated the parental rights of undocumented parents because of biases about the parents’ immigration status, language, race, culture, and the belief that life in the United States is better for children than returning with a parent to a poorer country, such as Mexico or Guatemala.”

On July 21, 2010, the Missouri Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the Juvenile court decision stating that “[i]t is clear from the record that Mother did not consent to the adoption and did not give anyone authority to place Child for adoption.” Seven reasons were given for their reversal.

. The Velazcos had no legal authority as adoption intermediaries
.  Romero was not sent any notice on the transfer of custody hearing
Romero did not have counsel appointed till after the transfer of custody hearing
.  No investigation was done into Romero’s abilities to care for the child
. There was no evidence that the Mosers were licensed foster parents
. There was no report on Carlos’s relationship to his mother
. The transfer of custody of Carlos to the Mosers occurred prior to a court order granting the transfer

The case was then transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court. On January 25, 2011, the court upheld the Missouri Court of Appeals decision. Every member of the [Missouri Supreme] Court agree[ed] that this case is a travesty in its egregious procedural errors, its long duration, and its impact on Mother, Adoptive Parents, and, most importantly, Child.” However, since the seven justices were “split on the remedy,” they called for a new trial back to the Juvenile court.

“The case continues to haunt me a little bit,” said R. Omar Riojas, one of the lawyers who worked pro bono on the Romero case. “What we were arguing was for a complete and outright returning of the adoption that would then allow us to have Carlitos (an affectional appellation) back to Encarnacion. We missed that by one vote.” It was a 4-3 split.

It is likely that the court’s decision hinged on the fact that Carlos had been with his adoptive parents for two to three years by then.

Painfully for Romero, the initial decision to grant the adoption was upheld by the Juvenile Court on July 18, 2012, and affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals on October 7, 2013.

Unfortunately, this case is not unique. Race Forward published a report titled “Shattered Families,” authored by Seth Freed Wessler, estimating that in 2011 there were at least 5,100 children in foster care, whose parents were either detained or deported, and that if things continued as they were, that number would balloon to 15,000 additional children by 2016.

Undocumented parents nationwide are losing their parental rights, with immigration status playing an inconsistent role in adjudications by state courts. And, as the Missouri Supreme Court observed in a 2004 case involving K.A.W. twins, “[t]he termination of parental rights has been characterized as tantamount to a ‘civil death penalty.’”

In Maddali’s opinion, “Crossing the border unlawfully and living in the United States as an undocumented person can be precarious for children and parents, but characterizing this as parental unfitness ignores the complicated choices parents face and the limited options available to provide for their children … In Bail Romero’s situation, though she was convicted of a felony for using fraudulent documents, she used these identity documents to work and provide for her children.”

It’s hard for some of us to really get the full scope of an undocumented person’s life. Davenport testified that Carlos was weak because Romero gave him whole milk instead of 2%. When Romero explained that she did not have a ride to the city to pick up free formula, Davenport expressed skepticism, because Romero did get a ride to go to the city to work every day, to which Bail Romero replied that undocumented people are afraid to drive.

Then there’s the accusation of not calling her family often enough. Initially Romero did not call her family because she did not have access to a phone, and when she did call, her family members did not accept her collect calls. Yet, she was penalized for this.

Encarnacion Bail Romero lost her child because she was undocumented, because she was poor, because she was incarcerated, and because she did not have a working knowledge of English or Spanish.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.

Partial list of records used to report on this case:

1.      Writ of certiorari to the Missouri Court of Appeals. No 13

2.      IN the Supreme Court of Missouri. Re: THE ADOPTION OF C.M.B.R., Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jasper County APPELLANT’S SUBSTITUTE OPENING BRIEF. NO. SC91141

3.      IN the Supreme Court of Missouri. RE THE ADOPTION OF C.M.B.R., Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jasper County APPELLANT’S SUBSTITUTE REPLY BRIEF. NO. SC91141

4.      Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District Division 2 2010 WL 2841486 re adoption of C.M.B.R.

5.      Case brief in re K.A.W., Supreme Court of Missouri, 133 S.W.3d 1 (2004)

6.      Supreme Court of Nebraska 277 Neb. 984, 767 N. W.2d 74 Westlaw document brief

7.      Appeal from the Juvenile Court of Hall County, Nebraska, Apellant’s Opening Brief

8.      Amicus Brief of Legal Momentum in Support of Apellant, Supreme Court of Nebraska, CASE NO. A-08-000919

9.      Indiana Law Journal, Spring 2014, THE IMMIGRANT “OTHER”: RACIALIZED IDENTITY AND THE DEVALUATION OF IMMIGRANT FAMILY RELATIONS by Anita Maddal

10.   Applied Research Center renamed Race Forward: Shattered Families by Seth Freed Wessler, November 2011

 

 

 

The Forgotten Tale of Shikhandi

Eating Spaghetti With Your Hands

When Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, visited America in September 2016, he made a point of remarking that he believes in “integration” and not “assimilation.” “People shouldn’t have to drop their cultures and traditions when they arrive in our cities and countries,” he stated.

Before I disagree with him, let me explain what exactly the difference is between these two ideas.

Assimilation is an immersive experience, where the immigrant’s culture is submerged within the dominant one. There is a full absorption of the host country’s culture and carries the implication of homogeneity. Integration, on the other hand, occurs when a society accepts the differences in its census and makes room for those differences. Analogically, integration is a floor of unique and separate tiles—a mosaic; assimilation is a floor of oak strips, subtly different, and remarkably uniform.

It seems pretty easy to agree, therefore, with Khan that integration is what we should base our public policies on as a society. It feels essentially abhorrent to force immigrants to conform to the cultural mores of a majority.

What is America’s culture, you ask? Not Stephen Curry or Steve Jobs, but what they embody. In big-scape it is independence, individualism, respect for the rule of law, freedom of choice, public cleanliness and a solid work ethic.

In other words, we immigrants should be allowed to practice our religions, to speak our languages, uphold our traditions, eat our foods, celebrate our festivals, wear our clothes, and watch our movies. Wearing a sari to a public place should be as accepted as wearing a pantsuit. And, too, wearing a hijab should be as accommodated as wearing a habit or a yamaka.

But I believe that there must be limits on integration. Otherwise, society can devolve from fellowship, progress, and cooperation to conflict and conspiracy. The beginnings of which we are seeing with the rise in hate rhetoric against our communities.

E pluribus unum is the motto of America—out of many, one. Assimilation is more likely to fit the American motto. Integration can result in out of many, many.

In physics when systems are left alone, they tend to move to a state of greater entropy. Society, in that sense, is just another system. Groups of people, when not regulated, tend towards extremes, not because they are evil, but because they are inclined to think in narrow ways.

That’s why folks live in America for decades and disdain the idea of citizenship. These eligible green card holders believe that life in America is “temporary” even when temporary runs into years and generations. They continue to harbor a primary allegiance to their country of origin. In the meantime, these same people fashion a decent life in suburbia and do not hesitate to take advantage of America’s public schools, libraries, parks and community centers. The argument you hear is that “but we pay taxes” and it goes towards maintaining these same public facilities. True, but it’s like having a paying guest who pays the rent and gets dinner every night for years on end, but doesn’t deign to clear the dishes ever. It is not required therefore it is never done.

Here’s a statistic to take home with you: Only 56.2% of adults of Indian origin, residing in America, were citizens in 2012.

For sure, a multicultural society is a more tolerant society. But extreme multiculturalism creates chaos. If we all spoke in different languages in the same room, it would be cacophonous and hard to understand. At some level, we must, as residents and citizens of America, speak or learn to speak the language of our country, literally and figuratively. We must uphold the traditions of America as well as we do that of the countries we left behind.

A Pew Research Study published in February 2017, found that 84% of Americans believe that for a person to be truly American, it is very important or somewhat important “that he or she share American customs and traditions.” Only 15% believe that embracing America culturally is not that important.

What is America’s culture, you ask? Not Stephen Curry or Steve Jobs, but what they embody. In big-scape it is independence, individualism, respect for the rule of law, freedom of choice, public cleanliness and a solid work ethic. In small-scape, America’s culture is knowing not to eat spaghetti bolognese with your hands at an Italian eatery, yet comfortably using your digits to dip that roti into a bowl of dal at Amber Cafe.

True, there’s also stress, loneliness and the collapse of the family unit in American society, but America is no different from other countries in this way. What America provides in spades is the possibility for success. The Indian-American community, in particular, is comfortably aware of this.

Peter D. Salins in his book Assimilation, American Style refers to how residents and native born residents of New York in the early 20th century endorsed three norms for integration. Accepting English as the national language; believing in liberal democratic and egalitarian principles; and having a strong work ethic and moral values.

I believe the norms for integration are the ability to speak in English as the language of economic necessity; becoming citizens and exercising the right to vote; and giving back to America.

I do agree that people shouldn’t have to “drop their cultures” when they arrive in America, as Khan mentioned. Additionally, too, they must absorb the culture of where they live. Accommodation must be both ways. If America can accommodate the cultures we bring with us, we must accommodate America, the country we have chosen, and its culture.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.

For Here Or to Go? An Apt Movie for Today

For Here Or to Go? An Apt Movie for Today

For Here or To Go?

When the movie The Martian first came out, my interest in seeing it was piqued when I realized that the writer Andy Weir, was a software engineer. He ended up self-publishing the book, because no publisher wanted to touch it. After it became popular on Kindle, Crown Publishing decided to publish it under their banner. When the book was finally made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott, it became a “must see.”

My interest in For Here or To Go was similarly piqued when I read that both the writer and director are Silicon Valley engineers. The movie itself came to fruition following the trajectory of a typical start-up. Instead of Powerpoint presentations, the writer Rishi Bhilawadikar and director Rucha Humnabadkar pitched to investors with the script and costing spreadsheets. When I asked Jayan Ramankutty why he decided to invest in this movie, he felt that the storyline had universal appeal. For the viewers in India who may think that America is purely a land flowing with milk and honey, this movie will serve a dose of reality. They get to see the struggles that South Asians go through as they try to earn a living and assimilate. For viewers in America (especially for those living in Silicon Valley), they can truly identify with the issues that the protagonist faces.

The movie is set in the backdrop of the 2008 recession. The movie centers on the work struggles of Vivek Pandit, played by Ali Fazal. He is poised to become a key hire at a promising healthcare startup. However, when they realize that his work visa has validity for less than a year, the offer disappears.  Vivek draws upon his own ingenuity, struggles with flaws in the “its just paperwork” mentality and battles with forces beyond his control to get his visa extended. You find yourself rooting for Vivek to succeed not for some contrived reason (of being deemed a success in the eyes of his doting, forlorn mother in India), but because you want his courage, hope and doggedness to succeed.

The most appealing aspect of the movie to me was that it told multiple, believable stories of the diaspora as they face their own individual tussles- a daughter dealing with a father that is not available to her; an uncle trying to protect his hoodwinked nephew; an investor trying to convince his partner to give up on his idea of going back to India. The plot line draws on various characters to paint a mosaic of the immigrant experience. Omi Vaidya, who played Chatur Ramalingam in Three Idiots and Amitosh Nagpal provide the humorous interludes in the movie. The humor is not “forced” and is woven well into the script. In fact, the title of the movie comes from when Amit is asked the question “For here or to go?” by the clerk at a 7-11 store.

Just when Vivek is getting ready to give up and head back to India, he meets Shveta (played by Melanie Kannokada, former Miss India America). This motivates Vivek to fight the inane immigration system even harder. Rajit Kapur, known for his National Award-winning portrayal of The Making of the Mahatma plays the role of Vishwanath Prabhu, Shveta’s father. Vishwanath has just published a book that urges Indians in America to go back to India and help India succeed. He is passionate in delivering his message and steadfast in his strong views even when presented with an opposite point of view.

The movie has several breathtaking aerial views of Silicon Valley, including a beautiful aerial shot of the Golden Gate bridge. It also shows several familiar locations which residents of Silicon Valley will recognize.

For Here or To Go succeeds with wit and humanity. It is incredibly enjoyable and totally worth watching!

Legal Advice for Traveling Back to the US

In a major shift to U.S. visa policy, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States by Foreign Nationals” on January 27, 2017.  The order went into effect immediately. Numerous lawsuits were filed and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has currently banned the implementation of the order. Because the situation remains fluid, I thought that it is critical that when traveling, you are aware of your rights.

1. U.S. Citizens
U.S. citizens have the right to enter the United States, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) is required to allow U.S. citizens entry. U.S. citizens should always travel with a valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens also have the right to have an attorney present for any questioning.

2. Non-U.S. Citizens
The U.S. government clearly has the authority to determine whether a non-U.S. citizen is “admissible” under the applicable regulations. Non-U.S. citizens generally do not have the right to an attorney after arriving at an airport or port of entry while being questioned by CBP. However, there is a limited right to legal counsel if the CBP’s questions do not relate to immigration status.

3. Searches
CBP can search (www.cbp.gov/travel/cbp-search-authority) all persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the United States. CBP can also examine computers and cellphones, to obtain information about prior travel, eligibility for visa category, and/or evaluate admissibility. However, there is no requirement to unlock an electronic device, or to provide CBP access to social media accounts or passwords to mobile applications.

Real Voter Stories: Campaign Melodies and Verbatim Verse

More than anything, this election and the fact that it’s happening during violent times, has made everybody nationwide and all around the world sit up and look into who America is made up of. The Clinton base (and non-base, for that matter), is understandable; she inspires people as much as she incites them to hate her. It is the Sanders and Trump campaigns that are shining a light into sections of the population that have been, it would seem, glossed over or not ever accounted for. Chief among these are the whites who feel threatened by a growing loss of ethnicity, immigrants—legal or otherwise, and millennials who have been accused of being political on social media to the exclusion of actual action.

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The music world, too wants to make sense of these new bases. We will look first at the ongoing effort by Rock The Vote, a non-profit agency that has been instrumental in motivating and guiding young, first-time voters since the 1990s. The second project we will look into has Michael Friedman, a music composer who sets out to interview voters and sets their own words and stories to melody, verbatim.

Rock The Vote plays an activist’s role, in that they strive to reach the young in their own space (online, events), using their own language (“Voting Is the party”), and getting their own icons to talk to them (John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, and the like). It is non-partisan and as a banner on its website suggests, helps the 12,000 individuals who turn 18 every day, get registered to vote. The website is simple to navigate, audience-appropriately skewed for a mobile experience and with well-chosen menu titles, such as “Find your Elected Officials,” which gives you your federal and state officials by asking you to fill out a street address.

One music video has rock/rap artists grooving to “Turn Out for What”—each celebrity announces why they’ll be voting: education, reproductive rights, gay rights, marriage inequality, and so on. The song is a re-recording of the hit (120M views on YouTube) “Turn Down For What” by Li’l Jon and DJ Snake. Rock the Vote’s version has Jon on the phone with actress Whoopi Goldberg en route to his local voting station. There he meets and sings along with more artists such as television producer Lena Dunham and multi-artist Devendra Banhart. (Incidentally, Banhart’s not desi, his Venezuelan mother and American father were followers of an Indian guru when he was born.)

Rock the Vote was founded as a response to the 1980’s censorship campaign by “parents, politicians, and police” against artists’ use of explicit language. Such a mixture of art, organization, and activism could only have been the brainchild of somebody with that specific background. Indeed, the founder Jeff Ayeroff worked to market artists such as Madonna, Dire Straits and Prince, and then later, helped launch the Virgin US label. Rock The Vote’s first campaign in the early 1990s showed Madonna wrapped in an American flag.

Moving on from activism to music documentaries: In February this year, The New Yorker Radio Hour aired Friedman’s “Mock Caucus.” The lyrics include:

I moved here when I was 10
Now  I am 18
We started a Mock Caucus at school
To hear different opinions
That guy Andy listens to his father,
Who listens to Rush Limbaugh a lot
Sure, we’re in Iowa
Our school is 97% white.

Mock Caucus goes on to describe how when somebody greeted “Merry Christmas,” the response was “We’re Muslim.” After an account of few more such instances, the voter thought that being politically correct has encouraged people to not have strong opinions. This, according to this voter, had led to frustration and violence.

Ballad of a Trump Supporter” aired in April, and has Friedman mouthing a South Carolina man’s words. The voter is in his sixties, talking about a youth spent hunting, being brought up by a black nanny, using the N word, glad that the confederate flag was brought down at the State Capitol grounds but confesses that he has it at home for nostalgia sake. He is happy that Trump has upset the “apple-cart.”

Listening to the lyrics is  a surprising experience. The melody is barely one, and musically, it’s not even worth a review. But the power is in that the lyrics hit home. Turns out, it’s easier to understand a voter’s psyche by listening to a verbatim account sung by a third party, rather than say, through a television interview.

Friedman’s music serves as a record of how this time was lived by voters from various strata. The irony of the policy on illegal immigrants—the making of it, its enforcers, and the people who live it, is best summed up in a few lines taken from Friedman’s “Undocumented” which aired in March:

Born in Mexico, grew up in United States
Separated from my mother for 21 years, she stayed back…
When I was 18, my dad got deported
At 18, my first job, got fired at 20
At 22 I got fired again
My documents didn’t match up,
In Arizona, the cop asked for my ID,
All I had was my Mexican passport
Which you never show a policeman
In my wallet, I found a Sam’s (Club)
card and showed it to him
He said “Okay, yeah,
If you buy in bulk,
you must be an American.”

Check out the online version of this article for digital extras, including podcasts of voters’ verse.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music, and avidly tracks inbtersecting points

Undocumented, Unapologetic, Unafraid

I walked into the San Francisco Immigration Court for my initial deportation hearing right before Christmas 2011. The courtroom was packed with immigrants mostly from India and Mexico, awaiting their deportation to countries they had left behind years ago. One by one, they stepped up; someone entered a plea for asylum, someone asked for more time, and many others accepted their fate: imminent separation from their family members. When they came to my name on the docket, I took a seat next to my attorney, fully prepared to hear and battle the charges against me.

WESTWOOD, CA - MAY 18, 2010: Students and supporters including Andrea Ortega, right, Prerna Lal, center, and Mayra (would not give her last name), left, hold signs during a press conference calling for passage of the DREAM Act, on a corner outside of the Westwood Federal Building. The DREAM Act would assist illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 years old, a path to citizenship and make it easier for them to receive college degrees. (Katie Falkenberg / For The Times)
WESTWOOD, CA – MAY 18, 2010: Students and supporters including Andrea Ortega, right, Prerna Lal, center, and Mayra (would not give her last name), left, hold signs during a press conference calling for passage of the DREAM Act, on a corner outside of the Westwood Federal Building. The DREAM Act would assist illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 years old, a path to citizenship and make it easier for them to receive college degrees. (Katie Falkenberg / For The Times)

To the average desi, illegal immigration is a “Hispanic” problem. Indeed, from the rhetoric that swirls around this issue, one gets the sense that every undocumented immigrant has skulked across the Mexican border at night, desperate to milk the American welfare state and steal good old American jobs (an argument whose efficacy seems to be uncorrelated with its inconsistency!) But the undocumented have many stories to tell—of escaping persecution in their homeland, of arriving as employees and staying on past their visa expiry dates because of their ties to this country, of unscrupulous employers and terrible immigration attorneys mishandling their cases. Or, as in my case, arriving as a child and “aging out” before I could petition to change my status. And yes, Indians cross the border from Mexico too. After Latin Americans, Indians are the largest group of immigrants caught at the Southwest border. And we’ve been doing this since the late 1800s—entering the United States without inspection through Mexico and Canada.

The Notice to Appear (NTA) document read, “She entered the country around November 13, 1999 and was authorized to stay till November 10, 1999.”

The Honorable judge smiled. “Well, obviously that is wrong. Would you like to suggest a friendly amendment?”

The government lawyer shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m not clear. It says in my files that she entered at or around May 2000. Is that not true?”

The attorney assigned to represent me looked sideways at me with her eyebrow raised. I returned the raised eyebrow and shook my head.

“That’s not true,” she countered.

“In that case, I don’t know what the facts are,” the government attorney declared in apparent frustration.

I don’t blame him. A lot has happened in the past 13 years that his job as a prosecutor would never allow him to consider beyond arrival and departure dates.

From what I can recall, I was around 14 when my father decided to pack our belongings and move us to the San Francisco Bay Area all the way from the islands of Fiji. He said he was running away from years of ethnic violence against Indians in Fiji. The rest of us did not have his sense of urgency but he wanted out and it didn’t matter if anyone else understood. I’ve often wondered about his reasons but no longer think the question holds any relevance.

The 2010 March For America. Photo by Judy G. Rolfe
The 2010 March For America. Photo by Judy G. Rolfe

 

Cold dreary weather gave me a warm welcome to the United States. We came to live with one of my uncles in Hayward, CA. I was enrolled in a public high school and expected to pick up right where I had left off, as if nothing had changed. My grandmother—a U.S. citizen—filed papers for us and I was told not to worry about immigration matters. My older sister had been studying here on an F-1 student visa and there was no reason to believe that I couldn’t do the same upon graduation from high school, and then eventually adjust my status to a green-card holder.

In hindsight, South Asians would ask me why I wasn’t smart enough to just stay on a student visa. It’s actually illegal to attend a public high school in the United States on an F-1 visa without compensating the school, and I couldn’t afford that. Besides, I was a dependent on my father’s visa and attended high school legally. I ended up graduating near the top of my class with admission to attend several reputable schools but discovered that I was unable to accept any of the offers because the newly formed United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied my application for a student visa.

Apparently, the visa petition filed by my grandmother when I was brought here was evidence of immigrant intent. In order to be an F-1 international student, I had to prove ties to my former country. USCIS emphatically declared in their denial letter that I was unable to prove any ties to Fiji and that the visa petition filed for my parents by my grandmother meant that I intended to live here. The irony in all of this is that had they allowed me to study here in legal status, I would have probably left the country after college. However, because I started to accrue “unlawful presence” due to the visa rejection, leaving the country triggered a senseless 10-year ban. I became someone who could neither live here nor leave here. I became undocumented.

That is how a lot of South Asian immigrants live in America. We make up a significant  number of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States but we are also conditioned to stay silent and remain fearful about our status. For a long time, I lived in fear of my life. Afraid to go to hospital when I broke my hand, afraid to talk about the abuse I underwent at home, afraid to ask for help if I was involved in an accident, afraid to tell teachers and friends in college that I was undocumented and needed financial support, afraid to apply for jobs or seek scholarships out of fear that someone would find out and report me to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

My mother constantly told me not to worry about my immigration status. According to her, all I had to do was work hard and go to school, and things would eventually sort themselves out. With the little money she had saved up from cleaning hotel rooms and working a fast-food job, she bought a small cleaning business. She enrolled me in a local community college. The college was more than happy to take me even without the proper immigration paperwork.

I would go to school in the day and work for the cleaning business till the crack of dawn. I didn’t have work authorization. I was paying out of state tuition for school with no access to student loans. I could not drive so I would bike and take public transportation up to six hours daily to get to college. I had no identification besides a passport with a photo that no longer resembled me, so I could not travel. For a long time, I dealt with these barriers by compartmentalizing them and throwing myself into my studies.

I worked hard and somehow graduated from college and graduate school before I was 22.

By then, I had spent my entire adult life looking over my shoulder, waiting for the axe to come down on the life we were leading in this country. Fortunately, my parents finally became eligible for a green card and we went to a lawyer’s office to file for adjustment of status.

Protests in front of the White House
Protests in front of the White House

 

Then a new wrinkle appeared.

“What do you mean, she aged out?” my mom asked the lawyer, perplexed.

“She is too old now to qualify for a green card with you. You would need to file for her again separately, after getting your green card. She will have to wait in line again. Alternatively, there’s always the DREAM Act (a piece of proposed legislation that would give certain undocumented youth brought to the United States before the age of 16 a pathway to legal residency).”

“How many more years does she have to wait? She has already waited 8 years for her green card.”

“7-8 more years. There is no way to tell. Maybe she should consider getting married.”

“I keep telling her to find a boy,” my mother said, agreeing with the lawyer.

“She has plenty of time. Just make sure he is a U.S. citizen.”

It hurt. Up to that point in time, I had kept quiet about the fact that I was gay. I’m sure my parents knew but they refused to acknowledge it. Depressed, lonely, and frustrated with living multiple lies, I tried to kill myself on several occasions. When my mother and sister started to look for prospective husbands for me, I decided that the only way to put an end to it was to be as out as possible. The best way to protect myself was to break through the barrier of invisibility. And that was the first step to breaking my chains.

The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a proposal that was first introduced in the U.S. Senate on August 1, 2001. This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented youth of good moral character who graduated from U.S. high schools or gain a GED, arrived in the United States before the age of 16, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six year period.

The legislation went nowhere for several years and was later tied to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) as low-hanging fruit. With the failure of “comprehensive reform” legislation, Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chief proponent of the DREAM Act in the Senate, made its passage a priority for his office.

In October 2007, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act once yet again, I met other undocumented youth like me on an online portal, who were willing to do more than just sit around in fear and live in the shadows. There was Mohammad Abdollahi, brought here from Iran at the age of three, whose attorney had filed the wrong fee for his dad’s work visa and then failed to appeal the adverse decision, which made the entire family undocumented; Kemi Bello, brought here at the age of six from Nigeria by her mom because her severely handicapped sister could only get medical treatment in this country. I found and created family in these students. Little did I know that the family I was created through email, GChat, Facebook, and phone conversations would evolve into an entire network of fierce and envied immigrant rights activists in just a few short months.

With the little cash I had from doing odd jobs, I bought a web domain—DreamActivist.org—and started working on building a website to act as both a resource and action center for undocumented youth. The Internet allows users to be anonymous, so it was a safe way to gather and share our stories while protecting our identities, meet other undocumented youth in the same state and forge friendships as well as alliances. I traveled to dozens of states, teaching undocumented youth across the country how to use the web and social media to share their stories. Immigrant rights organizations started noticing our growing network and reached out to us to speak at events and conferences across the country. After all, we were building the very base that they purport to fight for and support with their money. Currently, we have more than 13,000 followers on Twitter, 80,000 on Facebook, and over 100,000 members on the mailing list and growing—a network that even multi-million dollar immigration reform campaigns have been unable to match.

With the support of an entire community behind me, I was no longer afraid to take on the system. So when the largest newspaper in the country, USA Today, decided to brand us as “illegal students,” I wasn’t going to allow them to get away with it. The label “illegal” has a way of dehumanizing the person involved, and from there it is a quick step to creating an unknown and amorphous bogey man who is responsible for all the ills befalling citizens.
I directed thousands of emails and calls to the newspaper asking them to change their discourse. A retraction was printed within days and the reporter quit her job a little later.

Inspired by the small campaign, Colorlines, a news site focusing on issues of racial justice, launched their “Drop the I-word” campaign, asking media professionals to stop using the word.

Through my work, I found other undocumented South Asian students in various parts of the country. One such student was Taha, who was brought here at the age of two and lived in New Jersey for 16 years. He was being deported back to Bangladesh in less than a week. But due to the shame and stigma of being undocumented, his family wanted no media exposure. We had to launch a behind-the-scenes campaign, urging his Senators to stop his impending deportation and directing a few thousand faxes to the Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Robert Menendez wrote to the Department of Homeland Security on Taha’s behalf, requesting that they defer action on Taha’s deportation because “our nation benefits more by his presence than by his absence.” Indeed, one recent UCLA study estimates that between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion in taxable income would be generated for the economy over a 40-year period by DREAM Act beneficiaries successfully obtaining resident status through the legislation.

A week later, at a June 2009 United We Dream governance convening, I learned that Taha and his family had been granted deferred action—a stay of removal that authorizes a person to live and work in the United States.
That amazing realization that we could now stop any deportation holds mostly true to this day.

Since then, immigrant rights organizers and attorneys across the country have banded together to halt deportations in similar cases. Every week, friends, families and organizers gather to fax, email, call, and arrange meetings with officials in the Obama Administration.

Some of this momentum has led to the formation of new organizations with numerous local alliances, such as the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) in Chicago. Undocumented students have started to realize that their growing numbers and visibility actually help their cause. Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic is the new mantra of the movement.

As part of this movement we attend City Council hearings, organize educational workshops for community members, hold rallies, and lobby legislators to support the DREAM Act.

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The more courageous ones partake in civil disobedience actions—from hunger strikes to shutting down streets to occupying Congressional offices to placing themselves in detention to gather evidence of ICE abuses against detainees.

Out in the open, nothing seems to be impossible. We have stopped hundreds of deportations. We have found ways to get undocumented youth employed by creating limited liability companies. We have created Undocuhealth.org to battle the shame, stigma, and stress of being an undocumented youth. And I have embarked in my own form of civil disobedience—placing myself in deportation proceedings while attending law school in the nation’s capital.

Given the current immigration court backlogs in San Francisco and the pending litigation with regards to my case, I probably won’t be scheduled for an individual deportation hearing till 2015. By that time, I should actually be able to get a green card through my mother. Till then, I am “an alien authorized to work” in the United States.

I did pay a heavy price. My mother was hospitalized upon hearing about my impending deportation and she is now suffering from depression. My father does not speak to me because I am openly gay. As a poster child for the DREAM Act, I have a tougher time gaining and keeping employment because people assume that my undocumented status means that I don’t have work authorization or clearance, which is a classic case of job discrimination.

I’m not writing this to garner widespread sympathy or empathy regarding my deportation. I am writing this story to ask everyone to live their lives as honestly and openly as possible because living in the shadows and hiding our problems doesn’t do anything for us as a community. My experience has clearly shown me that finding people in the same situation as me and working together to fight the system has been tremendously successful.

Some would deride my personal journey and battle as a sense of entitlement. Some would extoll the courage and conviction I have displayed in the face of adversity. I’d peg it down spending half my life figuring out how to keep my family together by making a broken immigration system work for us. I sometimes question whether the struggle has been worth it but my dream is to sit on the beaches of Fiji sipping coconut water with a green-card in my wallet.

Prerna Lal is a law student at The George Washington University Law School and the co-founder of DreamActivist.org. She can be reached at Prerna@dreamactivist.org