Tag Archives: undocumented

The American Dream May Be Quenched For All Immigrants By the 2021 Dreamers Act

The Dreamers Act is a bill passed in 2021 by the House of Representatives in a vote of 298-197.

“The bill would provide conditional permanent resident status for ten years to dreamers, deferred enforced departure (DED), temporary protected status (TPS), and children of non-immigrant visa holders who may age out of status,” says Brent Renison, an immigration attorney in Portland, Oregon. This means that the Bill not only gives dreamers the security of legal citizenship in the US, it also extends that courtesy to immigrants that have come here on employment-based visas such as the popular H1B visa.

“It has affected…employment categories, mostly, people born in India or China,” says Renison.

Over the past decade or so, a lot of families have moved here from India on TPS or temporary protected status-based visas. However, their priority dates for permanent residency have moved excruciatingly slowly. Parents who brought their kids when they were in elementary school, started aging out (above 21), and the kids were forced to either go back to India or apply for an F1 or student visa, which posed its own restrictions and challenges.

The 2021 Dreamers Act or HR6, helps such families that came here on H1B, LR, or E visa from the green card backlog and puts them on the path for citizenship. If a family comes into the States with a child that is 18 years or younger and applies for an LPR then, they are on the right track to gain the security of becoming a legal citizen. 

The HR6 dream and promise act provides a safety net for such families and gives them a direct path to citizenship. This is not only beneficial for individuals and families but will also have a positive impact on the economy says, Joseph Villela, director of policy and advocacy for CHIRLA: “Based on a survey, 78% of them indicated that they got their first job because of the change of status, 45% reported an increase in earnings.” 50% of the DACA beneficiaries who were surveyed also opened a bank account and 23% received their first credit card. This survey shows the various significantly positive effects change in status has on the American economy and boosting its GDP. 

While DACA provided temporary relief to a lot of young adults, the 2021 Dream and Promise Act is especially comforting to the millions of undocumented citizens who lost their status or risked it during the Trump administration. “This bill gives time,” says Patrice Lawrence, the Co-Director for the UndocuBlack Network. The bill provides the temporary security of time (three years) for TPS and DED holders, and for dreamers and undocumented citizens, to adjust their status. 

During this time of hoping and fighting for the rights of dreamers, undocumented citizens, TPS, and DED holders, it is important that the media focus on humanizing individual stories rather than confining people to survey numbers or certain categories. The speakers at the EMS briefing on April 9th all stated the importance of showing stories that humanize and show the realities of immigrants in the media whilst also understanding the positive contributions they make to American society.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, Bipartisan Policy Center’s Managing Director of Immigration and Cross-border Policy, stated that public opinion is especially important in local districts and states as Congress members will look specifically at those pollings. It is most effective to advocate for the rights of these individuals through constituent calls, local papers, hearsay, etc. in each district. It’s important to broaden advocacy to every state and location. 

José Alonso Munoz, the National Communications Manager for United We Dream highlighted the importance to recognise and separate the political aspect and from the humanity of people that are fighting for their rights every day. All the speakers agreed that humanizing individual stories and highlighting their realities as a media platform, actively participating, and standing up for such individuals, are both extremely effective ways in which public opinion matters and will always matter in this fight. 

“We need to overhaul the system” concludes  Joseph Villela, director of policy and advocacy for CHIRLA.

Helpful links:

CHIRLA 

https://www.chirla.org

United We dream

https://unitedwedream.org

UndocuBlack Network  

https://undocublack.org

Other helpful links: 

“House Passes American Dream and Promise Act, Providing Pathway to Citizenship for Children of H-1B Workers”- India West 

American Immigration Council: Dream Act Overview 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and an aspiring creative writer  


 

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

Policies of Exclusion

“If they’re illegal, they don’t deserve to stay.” 

My mouth dropped as I heard these words from one of my relatives, an immigrant himself. 

My family emigrated to the United States from India about 30 years ago. They were fortunate enough to have been able to stay. 

Over the past couple of weeks, the fault lines in the American immigration system have begun to show themselves. The Trump administration’s fickle policies have been of concern to international students, many from South Asian countries. One week, they’re banned from entry into the U.S. without enrollment in a live class, and the next they’re allowed again.  

 As my relative and I kept arguing, I realized the flaw in his thinking.

 He viewed immigration as a meritocracy. He worked meticulously, and he was rewarded with a visa. Those who didn’t get a visa simply didn’t try hard enough. 

The reality of legal Indian immigration is more complicated than my family member suggested, mired in government regulation. Immigration policy has allowed the state to use and exploit Indian immigrants by capitalizing on the community’s financial success but restricting future entries into this country. Today, Indians are the quickest growing undocumented population in the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a 43% jump in the number of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. from India.

It’s a miscalculation of economics. Studies show that immigrants grow the economy, but are still being turned away. In order to address this issue, there must be a shift in American policymaking. 

In the latter half of the 1900s, a series of immigration policies opened the doors for more immigrants to enter and stay in the U.S., owing fully to the history of the civil rights movement. After the decades-long fight of black activists, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. During this period, there was mounting political pressure to abolish racial quotas and discriminatory policies in the U.S. federal system.

This long-standing work culminated in the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, which abolished exclusions based on national origin. Following this, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 expanded visas for skilled workers, focusing on boosting immigrants with technical talent. Technology companies voraciously hired Indian workers, who had the requisite education and were cheaper than hiring locally. South Asian immigrants were able to get access to U.S. visas due to the historical organizing by our black brothers and sisters. 

Today, Indian-Americans are viewed as the “model minority.” This label affixed to Asian immigrants is born out of deeply anti-black sentiment. In lauding the “model minority,” the white establishment has created divisions among racial groups. Insidious parallels have been drawn between Asian immigrants and black folks in this country. Being the “model minority” implies that other minority groups have to follow suit, despite their systematic oppression and the lasting impacts of slavery. Indian Americans have reaped benefits at the expense of black folks. 

Our struggle should be viewed as a collective one, in solidarity with other groups of color rather than against them. 

While there is collective anger for the policies against international students, little is being discussed with regards to ICE’s human rights abuses. Migrant children are separated from their parents at the border. Immigrants are viewed as disposable because of their status. 

President Trump has now spun a narrative that immigrants harm the economy by stealing American jobs. The praises that Indian immigrants once received have now soured, mired by collectively mobilized hatred, stemming from misguided economic calculus. We are left in a grey area: Trump poses for pictures with Prime Minister Modi for Indian-American campaign donations while simultaneously denying entry for families of those same, coveted donors.

While America has capitalized on the financial success of this group, there are over 300,000 Indians still waiting for family-sponsored green cards. Today, it is much tougher for a highly educated Indian person to obtain an H1-B visa to move to the U.S. If my family wanted to leave India today, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it. 

Immigrants should no longer be viewed as use-and-throw seals in the leaking pipe of the American economy. Policy should not just favor immigrants when there is a gap in our labor force since there are more economic benefits to immigrants than just industry-specific work. 

The solution might answer my relative’s insensitive questions. We must make legal immigration easier for those seeking a better life in America. It is imperative to increase ceilings on visas to incorporate more than merely corporate-sponsored candidates. 

The key to this solution is consistency. Immigration quotas should not fluctuate drastically. We must welcome immigrants instead of adopting policies that disenfranchise them.  

While it might be easy to buy into rhetoric that immigrants take away from the opportunities of Americans, it is important to recognize that there is no roof on economic advancement. Immigrants, through entrepreneurship and population growth, actually create opportunity for all Americans. We cannot let powerful language guide bad policy. 

It’s our duty to understand why folks of color have made America great. It’s time to be open, with our minds and our borders.

Swathi Ramprasad is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.


Featured image by Jonathan McIntosh and license can be found here.

Imperial County: Infecting the Hand That Feeds You

Shrouded by divisive thought and taunts, no issue remains non-partisan. Blame is placed on political parties, denying accountability on either end. 

“This entire country was not prepared to deal with a pandemic. The political divisions, the lack of political will to address and invest in the inequities that have been long characterized, for many years, by academics..and experts have gone ignored”

Community activist, Luis Olmedo of Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc., comes into the July 10th Ethnic Media Services briefing full throttle. His frustrations are apparent as he speaks about the disenfranchised Latinx population in Imperial County. 

Imperial County is currently the hot spot of COVID-19 in California. Imperial is 88% Latinx, many undocumented, with a heavy hand in California’s agricultural production. Imperial County is the 10th largest food producer in the state, with their yield being domestically exported to Hawaii and California and internationally exported to Japan, Mexico, South Korea, China and Canada

The county has 2,835 cases per 100,000 people versus 491 cases per 100,000 statewide and only two hospitals bearing the brunt of this massacre.

Yes, a massacre. Of the same people who are working to provide us food and other essential services. Latinx families are being confronted with the nightmare of the pandemic. The worst America has to offer – which is nothing at all. 

Letters and calls to action were sent to growers, contractors, and packing facilities when the pandemic began. “All those letters and calls went unheeded,” says Armando Elenes of the United Farm Workers, “they continued their operations as normal.” 

Stock Photo (not representative of Imperial County)

Employers are not communicating with their predominantly Spanish speaking populations and choosing to forego the use of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. H2A workers or temporary agricultural workers, are having to carpool together, work together, and live together and are unable to take sick leave when they develop symptoms. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in infection and mortality. 

Employers have absolved themselves of any responsibility, taking advantage of the desperate situation their low-wage workers are in and in poor taste, victim-blaming those that have contracted COVID. 

CDC has provided data that suggests cases of COVID increased in Latinx communities while all other demographics showed a decrease. Using this data, Edward Flores and Ana Padilla of the UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center have found positive links between low wage work and COVID positivity.

They further defined and found a positive link between a term called worker distress and COVID positivity. Worker distress is characterized by wage (above or below the state average) and the size of the household. In Imperial County, 38.5% of workers have high worker distress. Correlations between worker distress and industry were made. High worker distress was seen in food service, transportation, farm work, warehouse work, and retail. 

A matter far removed from political factions, we turn to inward reflection. It is our habits, practices, and behaviors that have led to the exploitation of an entire population.

Reduced food cost, low wage outsourced labor work, privatized healthcare, inaccessible housing, exported food for profit…

Luis Olmedo said it best at the beginning, we have ignored all the signs for our own convenience. But the turn around for a profit has come back to infect us all. As the infection spreads in Imperial County, the risk of infection domestically and globally increases. 

An advocate from IV Equity & Justice Coalition, Luis Flores, states that “county backing for accountability is needed.” As a resident of Imperial Valley, Flores is able to address the needs of the residents and convey them at the county-state level. He and his coalition are hoping for economic stability, public health structures, clear mechanisms for accountability, mitigating housing precarity (city-level eviction moratorium), accessibility to equity, and data to support the narrative they see. 

A huge thank you to all the activists that are on the ground advocating for minority rights and educating community journalists! Consider donating to United Farm Workers or Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc. and aid their efforts to gain traction for the marginalized Latinx communities in California.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Public Charge Is a Public Attack by Trump Administration

International students at risk of being deported, H1-B visa bans, and the pressing change in public charge all have one thing in common – they are targeted towards immigrants. 

It feels like a car crash caused by a distracted driver, with the wreckage laid bare on the road, making way for those with sturdier vehicles.

While the rest of us are putting on masks with trepidation, dousing our hands in sanitizer, and cautiously going to the grocery store, the Trump Administration’s public charge measure is making its mark on access to social services and the rise of minority deaths during the pandemic. 

Luvia Quiñones of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, explains during the June 26th EMS Briefing on strategies for keeping immigrant families safe, that the last time a change was made to public charge was in 1996. The current ruling gives permission to immigration officials (ICE) to predict, based on current income, skills, and assets, if the green card or visa applicant will potentially end up relying on the government for benefits. And if so, their application will be rejected.

Luvia Quiñones speaking at the EMS briefing on 6/26/20

The pointed measure barring immigrants from coming to the US and becoming citizens, also ensures that immigrants currently in the States are in constant fear. 

Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, Harbor UCLA Medical Center and frontline doctor for COVID-19, reminds us that, “We need to stop detaining immigrants in general”. Why? While USCIS has stated that they will not arrest any undocumented immigrants seeking COVID related help, Dr. Turner-Lloveras questions the intent.

“Do you think suddenly people would come to get care? Especially when they’ve been afraid for years?”

Hospitals and government organizations cannot be the ones to deliver COVID testing and related care to disenfranchised populations. The distrust of our administration, and rightly so, is increasing the risk of transmission and death related to coronavirus. Dr. Turner-Lloveras advocates for emergency health care in community clinics – a solution to the language barrier and scare tactics employed by ICE. 

Exacerbating the disproportionate deaths of marginalized communities in America are the detention centers for immigrants. Detention centers, on average, are high density and unhygienic, with a lack of access to healthcare and basic needs. But compounded with the pandemic, the dialogue must include the rampant medical abuse in such facilities. Detention centers place immigrants in high-risk situations beyond their control.

Image is taken from Freedom for Immigrants.

Yet, this is not where the anti-immigration policies end. The “Remain in Mexico” Program has displaced asylum seekers awaiting trial in the US court system, into high-density housing in unfamiliar territory and isolated their family – a human rights violation and a public health hazard.

The Trump Administration challenges immigrant safety and well being from two angles: policies preventing immigrant stake in the country and access to healthcare and benefits.

Public charge threatens an immigrant’s capacity to stay in the country and potentially apply for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability insurance, unemployment, any government subsidies. Dr. Turner-Lloveras reports that one in ten Latin American families apply for housing subsidies and one in three Latin American families avoid healthcare; these are the same families that are displaced, frontline staff and require assistance.

Connie Choi, Campaign Field Manager & Strategist at the National Immigration Law Center, provides some hope on the federal level, championing undocumented and immigrant rights on the Congress floor. NILC lobbied for the House to pass the Heroes Act, expanding benefits to the undocumented and other non-citizens, which passed on May 15th, 2020. However, this piece of legislation is currently being held up on the Senate floor. Choi urges constituents to call their senators and encourage them to prioritize the Heroes Act and to halt public charge.

For those that will be directly impacted by public charge, Madison Allen, Senior Policy Attorney at CLASP, clarified what is available for immigrant families to protect them during this turbulent time.

If you have a social security number, you can apply for cash assistance, SNAP, Emergency Medicaid, and unemployment insurance without impacting your public charge determination.

For those undocumented, you can apply for Pandemic EBT if you’ve lost free or reduced meals provided for your child by the school. Community health clinics will be providing testing and care for COVID; make sure to check their availability first. All children, regardless of status, are eligible for Medicaid; your child’s Medicaid will not be used to examine your immigration status.

Check your state and localities for benefits being applied by area and district. California Governor, Gavin Newson, implemented the California Disaster Assistance Program for undocumented populations. Through the program, each family can get $500 in direct assistance per person and $1000 per household.

All sources for help are linked within the article.

The wreckage is not a lost cause. I don’t see a totaled car. I see an unhinged door, a broken side mirror, a detached bumper. Focused intent and continuous pressure on our legislators can repair the damage. Our sources of strength lie within our community and with those that resonate with the immigrant plight. So, let’s get to it. As Lin Manuel Miranda raps in the Broadway musical Hamilton, “Immigrants, we get the job done!”

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

CA Drivers Should Get 50% Refund During Lockdown

Drivers should get a 50% to 70% refund on their auto insurance premium for the duration of California’s shelter-in-place mandate, said state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara April 22.

“We feel 50% to 70% percent is fair,” Lara told reporters at a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services. “You should be getting more of a refund because, frankly, you’re not driving.”

On April 13 Lara ordered the state’s auto insurance companies to refund premiums to drivers at least for April, and possibly May, if California continues its stay-at-home order. His order, according to a statement released by his office, extended to six types of insurance: private passenger automobile, commercial automobile, workers’ compensation, commercial multiperil, commercial liability, medical malpractice, and any other insurance in which the risk of loss has fallen substantially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With Californians driving fewer miles and many businesses closed due to the COVID-19 emergency, consumers need relief from premiums that no longer reflect their present-day risk of accident or loss,” Lara said as he introduced the order. “Today’s mandatory action will put money back in people’s pockets when they need it most.”

Some companies subsequently issued refunds or credits of 15% to 20%, but the insurance commissioner believes companies must go further: Risks have been dramatically reduced as the state’s roads remain far more untraveled.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara speaks during the Ethnic Media Services briefing.

Lara encouraged people who have lost their jobs to ask their auto insurance carriers to delay payments of premiums for up to two months. To get help with such calls, people can call his office — 1-800-927-4357 — where his staff speak multiple languages. His office also has asked insurance carriers to allow a 60-day grace period for paying premiums during California’s shelter-in-place mandate and even beyond, as the state re-opens its economy in stages.

Lara also has asked insurance companies to extend coverage to drivers making deliveries with their personal cars. Typically, personal auto insurance doesn’t cover those who use their cars for commercial purposes.

At the briefing, the state insurance commissioner — the son of undocumented parents — spoke about how immigrant workers benefit nation’s economy.

“The broader community is finally realizing how essential they are,” said Lara, noting undocumented workers’ contributions to food production, processing, delivery, warehouse work and similar services. “Leaders across the country are recognizing the value of immigrant workers. We have demonstrated in our state that the sky doesn’t fall when you incorporate everyone into our economy.”

Lara added that the United States must “get (undocumented workers) out of the shadows, incorporate them into our economy as quickly as possible, and get their kids into school. Our economy will grow by embracing our immigrant community, rather than scapegoating them.”

In California, one out of every 10 workers is undocumented, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The Pew Research Center reports that the state’s labor force includes about 1.75 million undocumented immigrants, the largest number of whom live in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties.

Although undocumented workers were denied the $1,200 federal stimulus check mandated by Congress’ first COVID-19 relief package, here in California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million relief package for undocumented workers April 16, the first of its kind in the nation.

Lara encouraged immigrant workers to apply for workers compensation if they become infected with COVID-19 on the job. He noted that the Trump administration’s public charge enforcement has scared away many immigrants from applying for benefits to which they are entitled. Workers also should advocate for personal protective equipment at their job sites, he said, and they should call his office if adequate protections aren’t provided.

Sunita Sohrabji is a contributor to Ethnic Media Services

image: EMS
Photo by Barna Bartis on Unsplash

Belief in a Myth Can Cost Us a Decade

I keep trying to put ten years into perspective. Ten years ago, my prevailing concern was getting into college. Ten years later, my prevailing concern is the Coronavirus pandemic. It is inevitable that there will be a next ‘thing’ we must focus our energy on but we shouldn’t forget that Census 2020 is currently underway. The census comes once a decade and will measurably affect our lives for the foreseeable future. 

It is imperative, then, that Census 2020 be accurate. 

The census is a series of questions from which….arise more questions? Disclosing race, income, citizenship status conflicts with our sensibility to keep information private. However, if that information is to benefit the community around me, I would like for it to be done in a thorough way. Racially identifying Indian, I generally get frustrated with the box that demarks all Asians as the same. I know I’m not the only one. Then I think about my friends who are mixed race and the complications they face.

But like a true millennial, I am quick to jump to conclusions. So I recruited my mixed race friends, Ajay Srinivas and Nisha Kumar, to help me explore the myths and realities of Census 2020. 

Nisha predicted using a biracial/mixed race option and Ajay said he would identify as South Asian and West Indian. 

A quick FAQ search on census site informed us that: 

Answers to this question should be based on how you identify. Each person can decide how to answer. You can mark more than one race for each person. Once you check a category, you’ll also be asked to write in the person’s origin.

  • White: The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.
  • Black or African American: The category “Black or African American” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Examples of these groups include, but are not limited to, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali. The category also includes groups such as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: The category “American Indian or Alaska Native” includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who identify as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” and includes groups such as Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government, and Nome Eskimo Community. Census respondents should report the person’s American Indian or Alaska Native tribe or tribes in the space provided.
  • Asian: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Other Asian (including Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Other Pacific Islander (including Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)
  • Some Other Race: The option “Some other race” includes all responses that don’t fit within the categories above.

Nisha would be able to use the multiple check marks to identify her half-Indian and half-White origins, but Ajay was a little more confused. “Will the Census account for my Trini population?…Will my diaspora benefit from the write-in option considering West Indian is marked as Black/African American and I’m of Indian descent?” 

Ajay highlighted that there are many Indian diaspora populations in countries outside the Asian marker. Those populations benefit from their voice being represented and are left at a disadvantage when lumped with South Asians or Blacks/African Americans. 

These were good questions I didn’t have answers to. This will be the first year that we have a write-in option. And perhaps, until we use the write-in option, we may not know of its impact.

What we do know is that there is a possible outcome the census can have. I ask Nisha and Ajay about the potential influence and receive well informed responses. Ajay and Nisha both agree that it will arbitrate “federal funding and resource allocation”. 

I cross-check their information with that provided by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use the data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data is used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.

Nisha, Ajay, and I are in consensus on why it is crucial that we fill out the census. However, things aren’t so simple, right? 

PRIVACY. FEAR. DATA USE. Do we have something to be apprehensive about with the census?

Nisha decidedly responds, “I am not worried for myself but I understand the fear of filling out the census if you’re undocumented. How can I ensure the information won’t be used against them? We’ve seen it happen with DACA.”

Ajay corroborates, “There is a fear that census data will be used maliciously by the Trump administration against POC, DACA, minorities, immigrants, etc.”

I resonate with their anxiety for the people around them but sometimes research is a panacea. I find that:

The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. In fact, every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life.

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. This law protects your answers to the 2020 Census. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous: the Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.

Make it a part of your daily tasks – drink chai, eat cereal, take the census, shower, laundry, lunch, etc. 

And if that isn’t enough of an encouragement, taking the census is a legal obligation and you can be fined $5,000 for not completing it and up to $10,000 for falsifying information.

The census information should be mailed to you between March 12- March 20 and you have until April 1st to complete the census by mail, on the phone, or online

It is our social responsibility to urge everyone to take the 2020 Census. You are equipped with the knowledge to ease the worry that others might have. Don’t forget – we are what we report. 

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

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.

ucla_student_creditpaulinaclemente_copy

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