AAPIs say, “Immigrants and Refugees Deserve Better than a Harmful Bill and a Fake National Emergency”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, February 15, 2019

Washington, DC – The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) are gravely concerned by the steps taken last night by the United States Congress and the president.

First, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrant families are deeply disappointed with the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 in both the House and Senate yesterday.

We understand the immense pressure that negotiators were under to prevent another government shutdown. We similarly need to keep our government operating. Nevertheless, our organizations are alarmed at the inclusion of $1.375 billion for a physical barrier (a total of 55 miles), an 11% increase in funding for 45,274 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds, and more enforcement agents. AAPI communities have made clear that any bill including any of these measures is unacceptable. A full list of measures that AAPI communities will not stand for can be found in this letter to congressional leaders.

Both the border wall and the presence of ICE are sources of terror for all immigrant communities. The wall is a symbol of hate for any immigrant living within and outside of the United States, and it directs billions of taxpayer dollars to separating families. Furthermore, the bill does not place a limit on the number of ICE detention beds nor does it restrict the authority of the Department of Homeland Security from transferring or reprogramming funding internally, which enables ICE to continue expanding immigrant incarceration and deportation at will.

Second, President Trump intends to declare a “national emergency” at the border in order to justify the need for his border wall. Make no mistake, there is no national emergency happening at the border. Rather, there is a humanitarian crisis happening at the border, and it is a crisis that President Trump and his Administration caused in its entirety. The president’s intention to declare a “national emergency” is a unilateral rebuke of our democratic process driven by an irrational desire to fund an anti-immigrant unnecessary, and unpopular border wall after Congress would not approve the $5.7 billion the president initially demanded. Two-thirds of Americans do not support a national emergency.

Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), said:

“In just the last 10 days we’ve been hearing firsthand about the cruel treatment towards nine South Asian men currently on hunger strike in a detention facility in El Paso. Despite their asylum requests, they’ve been subject to violent force-feeding, solitary confinement, and constant threats of deportation.  What’s particularly devastating is that we’ve seen similar treatment occur previously in this same facility and we have received accounts of abuse of detainees in several facilities across the country. This bill does nothing to address the systemic issues with our detention system, and only serves to perpetuate abusive situations like the ones we are witnessing now.”

Jonathan Paik, director of the Korean Resource Center, a NAKASEC affiliate, stated: “This is a reckless move and endangers the future of our country. Our democracy is in incredible danger- this is the true national emergency. We call on all our fellow Americans to resist these abuses of power and reclaim our democracy!”

Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC, expressed:

“The Southeast Asian American refugee community has been devastated by the expansion of our detention and deportation system, and our families continue to be torn apart at unprecedented rates. Our organizations understand that this is a difficult position for our policymakers to be in, and none of them should be forced to make this choice. But our communities elected our policymakers to represent our interests, and Asian Americans have declared in no uncertain terms that we oppose the passage of this bill and the president’s unconstitutional and falsely justified national emergency. We remain vigilant and committed to working with our Congressional partners to protect the rights of our refugees and immigrants.”

 

Contact: Sophia Qureshi | sophia@saalt.org | 202-997-4211

Letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Demanding Release of Hunger Strikers in El Paso ICE Facility

February 8, 2019

Ms. Kirstjen M. Nielsen Secretary of Homeland Security Washington, D.C. 20528

Secretary Nielsen,

We write to express our deep and urgent concern about the treatment of Indian-Punjabi Sikh and Cuban asylum seekers detained at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas, in particular 11 of who have been on hunger strike since late December, 2018. Through nasal tubes and IV, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are force-feeding nine Punjabi detained asylum seekers; six of these nine individuals have been force-fed since January. It is imperative that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immediately release the individuals engaged in these hunger strikes to ensure their well-being, safety, and protection of their due process rights.

Just today, our organizations learned of disturbing retaliation against the strikers. An attorney representing two of the detained hunger strikers reported that ICE officials threw nine of the hunger strikers into solitary confinement for refusing to be force-fed while standing up. This follows reports on Wednesday, February 6, that ICE officials threatened four of the hunger strikers with imminent deportation, allegedly scheduled for today, February 8, 2019.

A lawyer representing two of the detained immigrants informed South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) that her clients’ arms and legs were tied to a chair to facilitate the force- feeding. The force-feeding tube stays in their nasal passages 24/7. On some of the individuals, the tubes are too large, causing nasal bleeding and pain. Many of the detained asylum seekers have wounds and lesions on their throats and nasal passages, are suffering from rectal bleeding and bleeding while vomiting, persistent stomach pain, and are having difficulty speaking and breathing. We are deeply concerned about their health and well-being at the hands of guards and medical staff at the El Paso Processing Center.

On January 30, 2019 an Associated Press article detailed the story of detention center staff force-feeding Cuban and Punjabi asylum seekers who have been on hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention and denial of bond at bond hearings after passing credible fear interviews. This latest strike represents an escalation of pervasive and historically discriminatory behavior against South Asian asylum seekers in particular, that has been extended to Cuban asylum seekers in this case and across various populations.

The detained immigrants have also been subjected to prolonged psychological abuse by ICE and detention staff. They are being denied religious accommodations and are routinely threatened with deportation, segregation, and solitary confinement. We believe these threats are a form of retaliation for drawing attention to their cases through the hunger strike.

Lastly, the asylum seekers are being denied adequate language access inside the facilities regarding their legal rights and due process. All detention facilities have an obligation to provide language interpretation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13166 and under the ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards 2011 (rev 2016).

Our organizations and many others have documented egregious, dangerous, and punitive conditions experienced by hunger strikers in detention facilities across the country, particularly in the El Paso Processing Center and Adelanto Detention Facility. Asylum denial rates in El Paso and neighboring New Mexico, where some of the hunger strikers’ cases were heard, areamong the highest in the country. The current El Paso immigration judges average about 95% for denials of asylum, with one judge not awarding asylum in the last two years. Additionally, El Paso and southern New Mexico immigration judges routinely deny bond, resulting in prolonged detention for many residents in the detention facility.

From 2014 through 2018, organizations have documented several instances of damaging and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers on hunger strike in the El Paso Processing Center and others across the country.

2014

El Paso, TX: In 2014, the Sikh Coalition filed a complaint (No. 14-07-ICE-0183) with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) about the treatment of 37 Punjabi asylum seekers detained in the El Paso Processing Center for over one year. All of these asylum seekers passed their credible fear interviews and were denied bond or parole and went on hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention. They too received inadequate medical care, retaliation for their hunger strike, and no language interpretation. In the end, many of them were deported.

2015

El Paso, TX: In 2015, 54 South Asian asylum seekers, mainly from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan went on hunger strike at the El Paso Processing Center to protest their prolonged detention and demand investigations into unfair hearings and interference with their legal cases. These asylum seekers passed their credible fear interviews and were denied bond or parole. They too received inadequate medical care, retaliation for their hunger strike, and no language interpretation. In the end, as egregious examples of refoulement, many of them were deported back to their deaths. In the 2014 and 2015 instances, the government brought Indian and Bangladesh consulates into the El Paso Processing Center without the consent of the asylum seekers. This endangered the security of the detained immigrants who were seeking asylum from these very governments represented by the respective consular offices. These consulate representatives then intimidated detainees into ending their hunger strike, which is in direct violation of 8 CFR 208.6 which “generally prohibits the disclosure to third parties of informationcontained in or pertaining to asylum applications, credible fear determinations, and reasonablefear determination.”

In 2015, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIP-NLG), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) filed a complaint (No. 16-01-ICE-0012) with CRCL about the treatment of these 54 asylum seekers. In early 2017, we were informed the findings of a CRCL investigation were turned over to ICE for further action. We have followed up several times for the findings of these investigations and have been given no update.

2017

Adelanto, CA: An asylum seeker from Nicaragua detained in the Adelanto Detention Facility committed suicide in 2017 and seven more detained immigrants attempted suicides between October 2016 and July 2018. This follows the death of five asylum seekers from Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras over the last three years alone in Adelanto, resulting from medical neglect despite repeated requests for medical attention from detained immigrants. In June 2017 nearly 40 detained immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras launched a series of hunger strikes to protest their conditions and treatment and faced severe retaliation. In May, 2018 the DHS Office of the Inspector General conducted a surprise visit of the facility and concluded that it was violating ICE’s own detention standards. On August 15, 2018, a delegation of Members of Congress from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, led by Chairwoman Judy Chu, raised further questions about hunger strikes, retaliation, and woefully inadequate medical care of detained immigrants in the Adelanto Detention Facility.

2018

Sheridan, OR: In June, 2018, 70 South Asian detained immigrants in the Yamhill County Federal Prison were denied access to counsel, language interpretation, and religious accommodations. Some Sikh detained immigrants were even forced to cut their hair.

Folkston, GA: Also in June, 2018 over 100 South Asian asylum seekers at the ICE Processing Facility in Folkston, GA began a second hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention. Once again, after passing credible fear interviews, the asylum seekers were denied bond by immigration judges. DHS allegedly visited the facility in August, 2018, but there has been no update on the findings of this visit.

Victorville, CA: Also in June, 2018 nearly 400 South Asian asylum seekers were held in the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, CA. Many of the asylum seekers were Sikh and banned from wearing their turbans and denied other religious accommodations and adequate medical care at a facility notorious for its scabies and chicken pox outbreaks. The detained immigrants were also denied legal counsel and their cases were on indefinite hold.

We request the following actions:

  1. Release the hunger strikers and provide them with immediate medical attention.
  2. Release the court order authorizing ICE or DHS officials to engage in force-feeding the detained immigrants in the El Paso Processing Center.
  3. Conduct an unannounced inspection by the DHS Office of the Inspector General.
  4. Conduct immediate independent monitoring of the El Paso Processing Center while investigations are carried out into allegations against medical staff and guards, including the review of facility video footage that documents incidents of abuse and mistreatment.
  5. Release the findings of the 2015 CRCL investigation into treatment of hunger strikers and violation of Title VI provisions in the El Paso Processing Center to the complainants within 14 days.
  6. Conduct an investigation to assess how ICE complies with Title VI provisions relating to language access in the El Paso Processing Center and nationwide across all detention facilities. Release the findings to the public within 30 days.
  7. Immediately conduct an investigation of bond and parole processes, including whether people are released, in the El Paso Processing Center and nationwide across all detention facilities. Release the findings to the public within 30 days.

Signed,

  • Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert
  • Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)
  • Chhaya CDC
  •  Defending Rights and Dissent
  •  Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
  •  Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee
  •  Detention Watch Network
  •  Freedom for Immigrants
  •  Government Information Watch
  •  Immigrant Defense Project
  •   Immigration Advocates Network
  •   Jakara Movement
  •   Kaur Law LLC – Ruby Kaur
  •   National Immigrant Justice Center
  •   National Immigration Project of NLG
  •   National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
  •   NWDC Resistance
  •   Sakhi for South Asian Women
  •   Sapna NYC, Inc.
  •   Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN)
  •   Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
  •   Sikh Coalition
  •   South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI)
  •   South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
  •   Southern Poverty Law Center
  •   Texas Civil Rights Project
  •   The Reformed Church of Highland Park

ICE officials throw El Paso hunger strikers into solitary confinement after altercation over force-feeding, says attorney

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, February 8, 2019

El Paso, Texas — The nine Sikh asylum seekers on hunger strike in the El Paso Service Processing Center (EPSPC) have been thrown into solitary confinement after refusing to be force-fed standing up, reports their attorney after speaking with a family member. Immigrant rights advocates, civil rights organizations, and local community groups are deeply alarmed by this latest development involving the nine Sikh asylum seekers who have been on hunger strike for more than 40 days to protest their incarceration at the EPSPC. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has responded with abusive retaliation, including force-feeding at least nine of the asylum seekers, a cruel, degrading and inhumane practice. ICE agents also threatened the asylum seekers with deportation as early as Friday morning.

“They have scars on their arms from IVs, and are suffering from rectal bleeding and blood in their vomit in addition to persistent stomach, chest, and throat pain. They recounted abuse after abuse at the hands of ICE agents and medical staff at the facility. They’ve lost 40 to 50 pounds,” said the attorney for two of the asylum seekers, Ruby Kaur, after visiting the facility on Thursday. “They told me ICE agents have threatened them with deportation as early as today, despite them being in no physical condition to travel.  ICE agents responded that there was nothing that they could do and that they didn’t care.”

Amrit Singh, the uncle to two of the Sikh asylum seekers on hunger strike, attempted to put money into the commissary accounts of three of the strikers and money was returned back to his card.  This development is particularly alarming because ICE frequently cuts off detainees’ phone accounts prior to deportation.

“We demand the immediate release of the hunger strikers and that they receive critical medical care,” said Nathan Craig of AVID. “ICE has a long documented history of abuse, clearly indicating that people are not safe in its custody. We call on Representative Escobar of Texas to stand with the migrant community and demand their release, while insisting on an independent investigation of the facility and ICE Field Office, yielding swift disciplinary consequences over the strikers’ treatment.”

Since May 2015, Freedom for Immigrants has documented nearly 1,400 people on hunger strike in 18 immigration detention facilities. A troubling pattern as President Trump continues to expand the detention system to skyrocketing proportions, leading to an increase in abuse and death. Since March of 2018, AVID volunteers have been collecting reports of large numbers of detained South Asians hunger striking at both EPSPC and the neighboring Otero County Processing Center.

“In the shadow of Trump’s border wall is immigration detention, a system shrouded in secrecy where a culture of violence persists,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of Policy and Advocacy for South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). “The retaliation and abuse that hunger strikers have been forced to endure underscore the egregious conditions endemic to the detention system nationwide. It also echoes the cases of abuse and torture of South Asian migrants in particular, in detention facilities in the U.S., including most recently at the Adelanto Detention Center in California.”

Sign the petition to support the hunger strikers at the El Paso Processing Center:  https://rightsanddissent.salsalabs.org/ICEForceFeeding/index.html

Media Contacts

Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org 202-997-4211

Liz Martinez, lmartinez@freedomforimmigrants.org 956-572-4349

###

Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert works to end the isolation of immigration detention. Our volunteers are from Las Cruces, El Paso, and surrounding communities. We visit and write to migrants who are detained in El Paso, Otero, and West Texas. avid.chihuahuan.org

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC) is a community group based in El Paso, TX, that fights to free the border from the criminalization and mass incarceration of migrants. We aim to reach this goal through support services, organizing, and actions that promote more humane public policy and respect for migrants and other marginalized communities.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

Defending Rights & Dissent (DRAD) is a national civil liberty organization that strengthens our participatory democracy by protecting the right to political expression and working to make the promise of the Bill of Rights a reality for everyone.

DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving organizes low income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean immigrants, workers, and youth in NYC for educational, immigrant, racial, worker, and gender justice.

Freedom for Immigrants is Devoted to abolishing immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. Freedom for Immigrants provides support to people in immigration detention and monitors and documents human rights abuses through a national network of visitation programs, a free hotline and community-based alternatives to detention. www.freedomforimmigrants.org

Ruby Kaur – Kaur Law LLC

National Immigration Project of the NLG promotes justice and equality of treatment in all areas of immigration law, the criminal justice system, and policies related to immigration. We provide technical assistance and support to legal practitioners, immigrant communities, community-based organizations, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens.

 

Two years too long: Repeal the Muslim Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2019

Two years ago today, the Trump Administration announced its Muslim and refugee ban. From the ban to the militarization of the border to restrictions on asylum seekers, the Trump Administration’s racist policies are tearing families apart. These racist policies are enacted in an environment where xenophobic political rhetoric is all too frequent.

In SAALT’s 2018 report Communities on Fire, we found that one in five perpetrators of hate violence incidents referenced President Trump, a Trump policy, or a Trump campaign slogan. This data demonstrates a strong link between this administration’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate violence. We have documented over 300 incidents of hate violence to date since November 2016 aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans.

As we welcome a new Congress and as the government reopens, it is imperative that elected officials exercise their leadership to terminate the Muslim Ban and ensure it is never replicated. SAALT supports legislative solutions that will at the very least block funding to implement the Muslim Ban, but ideally limit executive authority to institute discriminatory bans in the future.

Two years of a Muslim Ban is two years too many.  This anniversary must be a call to action to Congress to use their power to end this example of state-sponsored discrimination and keep our communities and nation whole.

CONTACT: Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org

Notorious El Paso Facility Continues Abuse of South Asian Asylum Seekers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 31, 2019

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is deeply disturbed by reports of staff at the El Paso, TX detention processing center force-feeding mostly Indian and Cuban detainees in the midst of a hunger strike. Up to 30 detainees, the majority of whom have pending asylum claims, went on a hunger strike after verbal and psychological abuse at the hands of ICE and detention center staff at the notorious El Paso facility.

These horrifying reports are only the most recent in a series of unaddressed civil rights violations reported at the El Paso facility since 2015, at which point SAALT, along with other organizations, pursued legal action. In 2015, mostly Bangladeshi asylum seekers at the El Paso facility went on hunger strike to protest the indefinite delays in their cases after passing “credible fear” interviews, an initial and important step in the asylum process. SAALT, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed an official civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over treatment of the asylum seekers.

DHS has yet to address the civil rights violations at the El Paso facility reported in 2015, and now more asylum seekers face violence and abuse.

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, issued the following statement:
“Individuals should not have to put their bodies and lives on the line to draw attention to their indefinite detention. Our nation’s immigration system should provide protection from violence and persecution, yet current practices create an increasingly punitive asylum process, which only extends the violence and persecution asylum seekers are fleeing.”

Since 2015, SAALT has also documented reports of South Asian detainees in additional facilities in Oregon, California, and Georgia who have gone on hunger strikes to protest prolonged detention, denial of legal counsel, and a range of civil rights violations from providing inadequate medical care to withholding language interpretation to denying religious accommodations.

SAALT is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States.

Contact:  Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org

Between Deals and Decisions, SAALT Reaffirms the Need for Real, Clean Solutions on Immigration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2019

The Supreme Court’s decision today to omit hearing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) case is welcome news, as it keeps the program alive and allows current DACA recipients to continue submitting renewal applications. While this is encouraging, the work ahead remains clear – we need a clean DREAM Act and permanent legislative solutions that do not include harmful provisions, as proposed by the Trump Administration last weekend.

The Administration’s immigration “deal” from this weekend is no deal at all – it’s a sham. The Administration is claiming to reinstate two programs – DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – that the Administration itself made a decision to eviscerate last year. These so-called protections to TPS and DACA holders are half baked at best and do little to actually protect communities. The “deal” legislation that the Senate will likely introduce this week excludes entire communities. Anyone with TPS status from Nepal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Syria would not be protected.  The bill only covers a fraction of all DREAMers and does not provide permanent protection from deportation. Most alarmingly, it includes a $5.7 billion dollar border wall and more bloated increases to detention beds and border patrol agents.

“This ‘deal’ offers no concessions, no solutions, and will further undermine the rule of law. It will intensify militarization on the border and expand detention, while continuing to hurt refugees and asylum seekers, DACA recipients, and TPS holders. There are at least 450,000 undocumented people from India alone, at least 25,000 Indian and Pakistani DACA recipients, and nearly 15,000 thousand Nepalis with TPS status who will be directly impacted by this legislation,” said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

South Asians, along with all immigrant communities, deserve a real immigration overhaul that serves everyone. Once this sham bill is introduced, we will support our community members and partners to voice our opposition.

CONTACT: Sophia Qureshi sophia@saalt.org

Denaturalization Operation

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) failure to comply with any eligibility requirement for naturalization is subject to revocation of naturalization. Most recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed civil denaturalization complaints against Baljinder Singh of New Jersey, Parvez Manzoor Khan of Florida, and Rashid Mahmood of Connecticut under Operation Janus. In January 2018, Baljinder Singh of New Jersey, whose fingerprints were missing from the centralized digital fingerprint repository, was denaturalized by the USCIS.

According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), “United States citizenship is not absolute—it may be “lost” in either of two ways: 1) Any citizen, by birth or naturalization, may choose to abandon it voluntarily; or 2) if acquired through naturalization, the government may revoke citizenship if they can prove a person obtained citizenship illegally. Expatriation is the voluntary abandonment of citizenship, while denaturalization is the revocation of naturalization and citizenship by the government.

Denaturalization applies only to people who became citizens through the naturalization process. The rationale for denaturalization is that the individual should not have been granted naturalization in the first place. Therefore, the
government may revoke citizenship if the individual illegally procured or procured citizenship by ‘concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation.’ Once citizenship is lost, the person reverts back to their pre-naturalization status.

In the past, denaturalization proceedings were rare and usually brought only against alleged war criminals and in other extreme cases. However, continuing their assault on immigrants, families, and communities of color, the Trump administration has increased resources dedicated to pursuing denaturalization in an effort to strip citizenship from
naturalized citizens.”

This resource, co-created by the ACLU and Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), discusses the Trump administration’s denaturalization operation and describes the process of denaturalization, who the targets are and the number of cases as well as the historical context for these efforts.

This practice advisory, created by the ILRC briefly describes these recent efforts to increase denaturalizations, the legal grounds and process for denaturalizing a citizen, and the consequences of denaturalization.

SAALT’s Guide to Advocacy for Legal Immigration Reform: H-1B and H-4 visas and the South Asian American Community

A Guide to Advocacy for Legal Immigration Reform: H-1B and H-4 visas and the South Asian American Community

Introduction

The South Asian American community is one of the fastest growing demographic groups in this nation and spans a rich diversity of immigration statuses from undocumented to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to asylum seekers to H-1B and H-4 visa holders to green card holders.

As we grow to over five million South Asians in the United States, the diversity of our population has also grown. Nearly half a million Indian-Americans alone are undocumented. As India ranks one of the top ten countries of origin for DACA recipients, 3,600 Indian Americans obtained DACA since 2012.[1] Nearly 1,879 Pakistani Americans and 594 have applied and received DACA.[2]  Over 9,000 Nepali Americans are at risk of losing TPS in June 2019.[3] In fiscal year 2018, South Asians have been detained in 16 out of the 19 border patrol sectors across the country ranging from Rio Grande Valley to Vermont.[4] Since 2015, over 90% of the H-4 visa holders granted employment authorization are from India, and may lose their work permits with an anticipated rule from this current administration.[5]

Our nation’s immigration system has been broken and unjust for centuries: from enslavement to forced migration and displacement to discriminatory quotas based on country of origin to the present day. Today, deportations have rapidly increased, the border has become militarized, citizens are being denaturalized, and authorized immigrants are aging out their visas, being denied work authorization, and unable to obtain green cards.

SAALT has been consistently engaged in the fight for undocumented South Asian Americans, DACA recipients, TPS holders, asylum seekers and refugees, and H-4 visa holders. We believe these populations within our community are the most vulnerable and have the least attention, resources, and advocacy dedicated at the national level.

In today’s fractured political climate, we have observed a disturbing trend. Some immigrant rights advocacy groups are advocating for immigration policies that benefit them, but harm other immigrant groups. One such example is using green card processing fees to fund a border wall, which we discuss in detail later in this guide.

Comprehensive immigration reform that truly transforms our immigration system is the only path forward to address the struggles of all immigrant populations. SAALT does not support any solution, legislative or otherwise, that would advance the rights of one group of immigrants at the direct expense of another group.

In this guide, we lay out SAALT’s perspective on the political and advocacy landscape for H-4 visa holders who stand to lose their hard fought work authorization and H-1B visa holders and others who face indefinite wait times for green cards.

What is an H-4 Visa?

The H-4 visa is issued to spouses and dependent children of H-1B visa holders, also known as “highly skilled workers” employed in specialty occupations requiring relevant bachelor’s or advanced degrees. Since 1997, more than 1.7 million individuals have received H-4 visas. According to the State Department, the overwhelming majority (nearly 90%) of these individuals are of South Asian descent.

In December 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced its intent to rescind Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) for H-4 visa holders, which will revoke their right to work. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) is expected to be published as early as January, 2019. This proposed rule is a direct outgrowth of this Administration’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, which guts employment protections, benefits, and pay for foreign workers, targeting H-1B and L visa holders. Stripping the hard fought work authorization of H-4 visa holders, granted to some spouses and minor children of H-1B visa holders through an Obama-era rule is yet another component of this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. Please see here for a more detailed guide on this important issue.

What is a “legal DREAMer” and why should I care?

Minor children, who age out of their H-4 visa at the age of 21 and must bridge to a student or other visa to remain in the country, have been called “legal DREAMers” by some advocacy groups.  Please see here for guidance from South Asian immigration attorneys around the country who explain the shared plight, but important distinctions between H-4 visa holders and DACA recipients.

This framing as legal “DREAMers” is flawed. It creates a “hierarchy of the deserving,” utilizing divisive arguments about who should be “first in line” rather than viewing an entirely broken immigration system that serves no one.

What can we learn from DREAMers?

We have many DACA recipients or DREAMers within our own South Asian American community. The DREAMers have been successful in winning over 75% of the American public and Members of Congress, who support them remaining in the country with a path toward citizenship. They have accomplished this because they are unwilling to sacrifice any other group of immigrants to win, all while facing the threat of deportation themselves every day. In fact, they have joined forces with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients to demand that the next Congress pass legislation that combines protections for both DACA and TPS recipients within the first 100 days, which will likely happen.

If they can exemplify this level of leadership and collaboration, then we must follow their example and find ways to jointly address the problems facing authorized and unauthorized immigrants instead of insisting that DREAMers go to the back of the line.

What is H.R. 392 and how does it resolve the green card backlog?

Indians in the U.S. have among the longest wait times for green cards.  The reason? Current immigration policy does not allow one particular country to account for more than 7% of visas leading to a green card in any given year. This means countries that fall below the 7% threshold have much shorter wait times than large countries like India, which has among the longest green card backlogs.

The “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017” (H.R. 392 in the House of Representatives & S. 281 in the Senate), first introduced by Rep. Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Lofgren of CA and most recently championed by Rep. Yoder of Kansas following the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla by a white supremacist at a Kansas bar in his Congressional District, would lift the 7% green card cap in an effort to clear significant backlogs. However, helping clear the green card backlog for Indians does not actually eliminate the backlog, it simply moves it around to other countries.

At this time, the language of H.R. 392 has been included in the House appropriations (funding) bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While the Senate passed a Continuing Resolution in an effort to avoid a government shutdown, neither the House nor the Senate passed the actual Homeland Security appropriations bill. The Senate version of this bill does not currently include language about lifting green card caps. If the House language is included in the final version of the appropriations bill, it could pass each chamber and ultimately be sent to the President for signature. Even if the House passes the Continuing Resolution to avoid a government shutdown now, this would only delay the vote on the funding bill until February 8, 2019.

How does H.R. 392 hurt some immigrant groups?

While H.R. 392 has gained wide and even bi-partisan support, its proposal to remove green card caps does not actually increase the number of green cards available, but redistributes them by application date rather than country of origin. This inherently favors nations with much larger demand for green cards, most notably, India. But, this comes at the direct expense of countries with lower demand, who will experience higher wait times. Among South Asian countries, this puts green card applicants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal at a much greater disadvantage.

Between 2015-2017, only 55,000 Pakistanis, 46,000 Bangladeshis 37,000 Nepalis, and 5,300 Sri Lankans obtained green cards. [6] Comparatively, individuals from the top two countries of origin, China and India, obtained 228,000 and 190,000 green cards respectively.

And, this makes it even harder for countries like Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela who fall in this category and are additionally impacted by this administration’s discriminatory immigration policies like the Muslim Ban. Such a proposal all but closes the door on nationals from these countries who want to remain in the country or be reunited with their families. In FY 2017, Indian nationals were the number one beneficiaries of H-1B visas with over 276,000 approved petitions followed by 34,477 visas granted to Chinese nationals. Only 1,643 Pakistanis received H-1B visas; 1,390 Iranis; 1,279 Nepalis; and 900 Venezuelans. [7]

Additionally, not all green card applicants are H-1B visaholders. For example, foreign nurses are not eligible for H-1B visas and must obtain green cards to work in the United States. H.R. 392 would drastically reduce the number foreign-born nurses who could enter the country with green cards from 77% to 100% in the next five years and beyond, devastating the healthcare system. H.R. 392 ignores the real problem, which is a significant mismatch in immigrant visas overall to meet the demand for foreign-born, high-skilled workers across industries.

Why is H.R. 392 not the best solution?

In January, 2018 a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated by Congressional co-sponsors of H.R. 392 from both parties framed H.R. 392 as a potential solution for the “DACA problem.” In it they state, “H.R. 392 can be passed along with amended language containing a fee that can be assessed upon the beneficiaries of the legislation that will raise billions of dollars. These critical funds can be used to enhance the likelihood of passage of a DACA deal, by either enabling Congress to pay for border security or other items in a manner that does not increase deficits, burden U.S. taxpayers, or cause any opposition to the nature of the funding source.” This means the funds from additional green card processing fees would go toward further militarizing the border, possibly even funding this administration’s wall.

In February, 2018 hundreds of Indian-Americans rallied outside the White House supporting this administration’s immigration policies, drawing attention to the green card issue. In particular, they held a sign saying “Dreamers pay for the wall” and offered to pay additional fees toward their green card applications to finance a border wall by supporting H.R. 392.

The South Asian American community must categorically reject such a divisive approach toward immigration reform.

What is a stronger solution?

The Reuniting Families Act, which will be re-introduced in the new Congress, would improve our family-based immigration system, reunite and keep families together, clear the family-based backlogs and eliminate the country caps in both family and employment-based visas, rectifying the backlogs for all those seeking employment-based green cards. At a time when the administration is attacking immigrants from all directions, it is particularly important that we advocate for solutions that strengthen and unite rather than divide our communities.

Please find the full Guide to Advocacy for Legal Immigration Reform here.

[1] “State-Level Unauthorized Population and Eligible-to-Naturalize Estimates” Center for Migration Studies, 2015 http://data.cmsny.org/

[2] Wong, Tom. “DACA AAPI Data” WHIAPPI (2016)

[3] “Temporary Protected Status Designated Country: Nepal” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services https://bit.ly/2KIQU6I

[4] “Border Patrol Arrests CBP Data through April 2018 sort via All < Citizenship < Border Patrol Sector” TRAC Immigration http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/cbparrest/

[5] “Evolution of the H-1B: Latest Trends in a Program on the Brink of Reform” Migration Policy Institute, 2018 https://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/publications/H-1B-BrinkofReform-Brief_Final.pdf

[6] “Table 3: Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Years 2015 to 2017.” Department of Homeland Security https://bit.ly/2ScgTHS

[7] “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers. Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report to Congress.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services https://bit.ly/2Gl568j

Community Guide on H-4 EAD Rescission

In partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and Immigrant Legal Resource Center (IRLC) we oppose the upcoming rescission of the H-4 work authorization rule.

Oppose the Rescission of the H-4 Work Authorization Rule That Would Harm Nearly 90,000 Asian Immigrant Women. Please see here for the full H-4 EAD guide.

In December 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced its intent to revoke Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) for H-4 visa holders. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is expected to be published in the coming months. We encourage people to oppose this senseless, cruel and unnecessary rule. This rule will strip work authorization from nearly 90,000 women, forcing many to choose between work, family and their home. Below is a description of the rule and it’s disproportionate effect on AAPI women.

What is an H-4 visa?

The H-4 visa is a visa issued to spouses and dependent children of H-1B visa holders, who are foreign workers employed in specialty occupations requiring relevant bachelor’s or advanced degrees. Since 1997, more than 1.7 million individuals have received H-4 visas. Approximately 136,000 individuals received H-4 status in FY 2017. According to the State Department, the overwhelming majority of these individuals are of South Asian descent; specifically, in FY 2017, approximately 86% of those who received H-4 visa status were from South Asian countries.

What is the H-4 visa work authorization rule?

In 2015, after several years of advocacy by community members, including local South Asian Women’s Organizations , the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US. Once an H-1B holder is sponsored for employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status–or a green card–his or her H-4 visa holding spouse may apply for work authorization.

As of December 2017, over 90,000 H-4 visa holders have been approved for work authorization under the DHS H-4 rule. However, many H-4 visa holders remain ineligible for work authorization as the rule only allows spouses of persons with an approved permanent immigrant petition to work, which continues to exclude thousands of others. Even this limited victory is now under attack under the current administration, which has proposed to rescind the hard fought work authorization.

How would the rule impact AAPI immigrant women?

H-4 visa holders at risk of losing work authorization are predominantly women from Asian countries. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 95% of H-4 visa holders who have secured work authorization are women and at least 98% are from Asian countries, the vast majority from India (93%) and China (5%).

How long will these AAPI women be without work authorization?

For some H-4 visa holders it often takes 6 to 8 years to obtain a green card, but H-4 visa holders from India are stuck in H-4 status indefinitely. This is due to long backlogs in the availability of employment-based green cards for Indian nationals, so if Indian H-4 spouses lose their work authorization, they may never get to work in the U.S.

Why should you oppose the rescission of the H-4 Work Authorization Rule?

H-4 dependents must be allowed to work for numerous reasons, ranging from their ability to contribute to the household to the value they provide in sharing their talents in our economy. Additionally, these individuals deserve the right to use and enhance the skills they have learned, be financially self-sufficient, thrive mentally and physically, and pursue their dreams.

Lack of employment undermines the agency and dignity of dependent spouses Without work permits, H-4 dependent spouses, many of whom also have advanced degrees, are not only unable to contribute to the economic security of their families–they also suffer from feelings of being devalued, depression, and isolation. Revoking work authorization for H-4 visa holders would force them to return to what many call the “golden cage” or “depression visa” while also being dependent on their spouses’ employment for immigration status. Without work authorization, H-4 visa holders experience a lack of dignity and agency over their well-being and future.

The rule would harm H-4 spouses’ long-term career prospects Under the new rule, H-4 visa holders who have been employed since the 2015 rule went into effect would have to seek re-employment by obtaining their own H-1B visas, which are already in short supply. Moreover, jobs that sponsor H-1B visa holders are disproportionately in STEM fields, which are known to be particularly hostile towards women, especially women of color, in hiring and work environments.

Rescinding work authorization fails to acknowledge the economic loss incurred by preventing H-4s from working. Many of these individuals might be interested in establishing a small business or founding an innovative company, yet are effectively barred from doing so because of our immigration system.

H-4 visa holders without employment are less empowered to leave abusive spouses Studies have shown that immigration status prevents a large percentage of immigrant women from leaving abusive relationships, and that abusers often use immigration-related tactics. Work authorization for H-4 visa holders who rely on their spouses for immigration status and financial stability can help provide them the resources to leave abusive relationships. Although certain abused H-4 spouses can apply for work authorization under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), this status can be very difficult to obtain: dependent spouses are less likely to report abuse, much less produce evidence of abuse in the form of police reports, medical records, and other documents.

Rescinding work authorization limits the success of H-1B workers and their H-4 dependents The proposed rule limits the success of H-1B workers, their families, and our nation’s economic growth. The ability of H-4 dependents to contribute to their household and our economy is critical to the long-term success of H-1B workers. Not surprisingly, individuals are better able to succeed with the support of their loved ones and the economic impact of having a multi-income household cannot go unnoted.

To rescind this rule and terminate work authorization would force many spouses and children of H-1B visa holders to return to their previous personal and economic hardships, potentially place them at risk of isolation and abuse, and remove significant economic benefits to the U.S. economy.

What can you do to stop this harmful proposal?

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to revoke work authorization for H-4 visa holders in the coming months. However, the administration must first publish the proposed new regulation and invite public comments before the new policy goes into effect. During this 30 or 60-day comment period, the general public is invited to submit in writing their opposition to the rule and how it would impact them.

We encourage immigrants, advocates, and friends and family of H-4 visa holders to submit comments expressing opposition to the proposed rule and calling for work authorization for H-4 visa holders to be left intact.

We call on Members of Congress to speak publicly in support of the ability of H-4 visa holders to work, to advocate with the Department of Homeland Security to leave the H-4 work authorization rule intact, and to support legislative efforts that protect H-4 visa holders and their families.

New FBI hate crimes statistics show disturbing surge in hate crimes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 13th, 2018

Earlier today, the FBI released its annual hate crimes statistics report for 2017. The data, while a vast underestimate of the violence our communities face, continues to show an increase in hate crimes for the third year in a row. The number of hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2017 went up to 7,175 from 6,121 in 2016, representing a 17% increase, a significant jump from the five percent increase between 2015 and 2016. This is an alarming upward trend of hate crimes – now consistently surpassing the spike immediately after September 11, 2001. The surge in hate crimes against Sikh and Arab Americans, which rose by 243% and 100% respectively since 2016 is particularly disturbing. And, while the overall number of hate crimes targeting Muslim Americans decreased by 11%, the 2017 total of 273 anti-Muslim hate crimes continues to be a historically high number. Since November 2016, SAALT’s data on incidents of hate violence aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans show that over 80% of the documented incidents are motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

Underreporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement agencies to the FBI remains a major problem. According to ProPublica’s “Documenting Hate” project, thousands of local law enforcement agencies choose not to report hate crimes statistics to the FBI at all; of those that do participate, 88% reported zero hate crimes in 2016 closely mirroring the 87% who reported zero hate crimes in 2017. A separate ProPublica investigation revealed that 120 federal agencies have not complied with mandates to submit hate crime data to the FBI. In fact, the FBI itself does not consistently submit the hate crimes it investigates to its own database. We echo the concern shared by our partners at the Arab American Institute, identifying glaring omissions from the 2017 hate crimes statistics. In particular, the failure to include Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s 2017 murder at the hands of a white supremacist in Olathe, Kansas. His killer, Adam Purinton, was convicted on a federal hate crimes charge earlier this year.

The lack of political will on the part of the Department of Justice to collect this critical data combined with this administration’s flawed approach to understanding and addressing hate crimes makes us all less safe and places a burden of data collection on communities. Additionally, this administration’s continued refusal to acknowledge the growing problem of white supremacy ignores the primary motivation behind the violence targeting our communities. The 2017 FBI data shows that of the over 6,000 hate crimes where the race of the offender was reported, over 50% of the perpetrators were identified as white. SAALT’s data as illustrated in our 2018 report Communities on Fire report found that perpetrators of hate violence referenced President Trump, a Trump administration policy, or a Trump campaign slogan in one out of every five hate incidents documented. White supremacist violence, fanned by the flames of racist rhetoric and policies at the federal level, has devastated marginalized communities. Until this administration confronts this crisis, we will continue to face a surge in hate crimes aimed at our communities.