House Passes Historic Dream and Promise Act

We’re tak­ing a moment today to pause and cel­e­brate what just hap­pened.

After years of immi­grant jus­tice orga­niz­ing by a broad coali­tion of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, allies and part­ners, elect­ed offi­cials have lis­tened.

The House vot­ed last night to pass the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), which offers per­ma­nent pro­tec­tions and a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for over two mil­lion peo­ple. The bill passed the House yes­ter­day with no addi­tion­al anti-immi­grant amend­ments.

H.R. 6 will have a direct impact on the lives of peo­ple who came to the U.S. as chil­dren — Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) recip­i­ents. It will make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of peo­ple who came to the U.S. because their coun­tries were rav­aged by war, dis­as­ter, or U.S. inter­ven­tion — those with Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Depar­ture (DED).

In our com­mu­ni­ties alone, there are over 15,000 Nepalis with TPS and 4,500 South Asians with DACA sta­tus.

H.R. 6  will give them the abil­i­ty to plan a future for them­selves.

The road ahead isn’t easy. We are dis­turbed that this vic­to­ry in the House includ­ed long debates across both par­ties on the use of deeply flawed gang data­bas­es and unjust crim­i­nal con­vic­tions to deny pro­tec­tions to some immi­grants. Ulti­mate­ly, the tire­less polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion of Mem­bers on the part of advo­cates ensured that the bill passed the House with no harm­ful addi­tions. But, our work ahead will be to stop Con­gress from fund­ing this administration’s depor­ta­tion machine.

Before H.R. 6 becomes law, the Sen­ate must vote to pass H.R. 6 and Pres­i­dent Trump must sign it into law. We com­mit to ramp­ing up the pres­sure on our elect­ed offi­cials.  

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Inter­im Co-Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT said, “ The Dream and Promise Act passed the House with­out addi­tion­al anti-immi­grant con­ces­sions.  This is the first step in bring­ing an end to this administration’s racist and xeno­pho­bic poli­cies and lay­ing a foun­da­tion for immi­grant jus­tice in fed­er­al pol­i­cy. When we refuse to com­pro­mise our val­ues, we keep the bar high­er and set the stan­dard for change. This must be the new path for­ward for addi­tion­al leg­is­la­tion and mea­sures to defund depor­ta­tion and restore pro­tec­tions for all immi­grant and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or.”

Con­tact: sophia@saalt.org

###

Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no oth­er way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immi­gra­tion. The Sen­ate, through recent amend­ment votes, put their stamp on poli­cies that focus on pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment rather than just and humane solu­tions to fix the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Below is a quick round-up of leg­isla­tive activ­i­ty of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these poli­cies will def­i­nite­ly have a neg­a­tive impact on the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty … in ways that you may not expect. Pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment means that hard­work­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indi­ans alone made up the 10th largest undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. in 2008) will be fur­ther rel­e­gat­ed to the shad­ows out of fear of appre­hen­sion by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. But it also means that many law­ful­ly present immi­grants may inad­ver­tent­ly also be caught up in the web of enforce­ment. Take a look for your­self; the impact may sur­prise you …

Dur­ing debates on the Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty Appro­pri­a­tions Bill (which is basi­cal­ly leg­is­la­tion that allows the gov­ern­ment to spend mon­ey with regard to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty), sev­er­al anti-immi­grant amend­ments passed, includ­ing:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amend­ment passed pre­vent­ing funds from being used to rescind the much crit­i­cized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of back­ground, let­ters are sent by the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion to employ­ers when Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers pro­vid­ed by employ­ees do not match gov­ern­ment data­bas­es. Under the rule, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties could use these let­ters as evi­dence than an employ­er should have known than an employ­ee is not autho­rized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in the­o­ry. But, how good can it be when the data­bas­es used are know to be inac­cu­rate and could net a range of work­ers, regard­less of sta­tus? Or when a fed­er­al court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It does­n’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E‑Verify is a pilot employ­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that cer­tain employ­ers use to check the work autho­riza­tion of their work­ers. Again, this might sound good to you in the­o­ry, but one major prob­lem with the pro­gram is that it relies upon data­bas­es with unac­cept­ably high error rates. (Wan­na know more? Check out this resource by the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter for more info on what’s wrong with the pro­gram.) Instead of paus­ing for a moment and assess­ing the prob­lems that exist with­in its data­bas­es, the Sen­ate instead passed an amend­ment mak­ing the pro­gram per­ma­nent for all fed­er­al con­trac­tors; in addi­tion, they man­dat­ed that all employ­ers cur­rent­ly employ­ing E‑Verify to use it on ALL employ­ees, no mat­ter when they start­ed. Can you imag­ine work­ing for a com­pa­ny for over 20 years — even if you have work autho­riza­tion — and your name some­how pops up as being inel­i­gi­ble due to data­base errors or name mix-ups and then you face pos­si­bly los­ing your job all because of this? It’s a fright­en­ing prospect.
In these dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times, South Asians — like all oth­er Amer­i­cans — fear los­ing their jobs and have dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting by. If flawed pro­grams like the SSA No-Match Let­ters and E‑Verify are left unchanged, South Asian work­ers stand to lose, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus. Mea­sures that not only hurt immi­grants, but also the econ­o­my, don’t make sense — call your mem­bers of Con­gress and urge them to sup­port just and humane immi­gra­tion reform rather than set­tling for obsta­cles towards real solu­tions.

The Good and the Bad in the Stimulus Bill

After weeks of intense debate and nego­ti­a­tions, Con­gress passed an eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus pack­age that is head­ed to Pres­i­dent Obama’s desk for his sig­na­ture today. The final law includes spend­ing for domes­tic infra­struc­ture projects, fund­ing to state and local gov­ern­ments, and tax relief in the form of cuts and cred­its. The gov­ern­ment knew that it need­ed to take quick action to pull the econ­o­my out of its down­ward spi­ral, which has affect­ed everyone’s lives – from immi­grants and cit­i­zens, to stu­dents and seniors, to the wealthy and the work­ing-class.

No one can claim to be unscathed by the reces­sion that we are going through, includ­ing H‑1B work­ers. Vast num­bers of South Asians rely upon this visa, includ­ing lawyers, engi­neers, artists, and sci­en­tists. Yet many fear los­ing not only their jobs, but also their immi­gra­tion sta­tus, dur­ing these rough eco­nom­ic times. Take, for instance, Shali­ni, whose sto­ry was cap­tured by Lit­tle India

Shali­ni (name altered), who came to New York City from Mum­bai one year ago to work with Ernst & Young, is cop­ing with just such an even­tu­al­i­ty. With­in a few months she was pro­mot­ed from assis­tant man­ag­er to man­ag­er in her divi­sion. How­ev­er, in Novem­ber, the com­pa­ny let her go. Her first thought was, “How am I going to find anoth­er job in the next six weeks in this kind of envi­ron­ment?”

Shali­ni is on an H1‑B work per­mit, which means that if she does­n’t find work with­in 30 to 60 days, she has to leave the coun­try. Her prospects are bleak. Most com­pa­nies in the U.S., India and across the world have either frozen hir­ing or are sack­ing their work­force. Shali­ni has real­ized that there is no safe­ty net in the U.S. with­out a Green Card or cit­i­zen­ship. So she is fol­low­ing the exam­ple of sev­er­al NRIs [non-res­i­dent Indi­ans], who have applied to non‑U.S. com­pa­nies, sent resumes to con­tacts in cor­po­rate India, put up notices to sell their homes and fur­ni­ture, and post­poned plans to get mar­ried or start a fam­i­ly.”  [Lit­tle India]

These work­ers help build the vibrant inno­va­tion of this coun­try. In fact, Thomas Fried­man had a thought-pro­vok­ing piece in The New York Times recent­ly about how we need more immi­grants, not less, because it’s good for the Amer­i­can econ­o­my …

“We live in a tech­no­log­i­cal age where every study shows that the more knowl­edge you have as a work­er and the more knowl­edge work­ers you have as an econ­o­my, the faster your incomes will rise. There­fore, the cen­ter­piece of our stim­u­lus, the core dri­ving prin­ci­ple, should be to stim­u­late every­thing that makes us smarter and attracts more smart peo­ple to our shores. That is the best way to cre­ate good jobs.” [New York Times]

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Con­gress went the oth­er way on this issue. As part of the stim­u­lus bill, finan­cial insti­tu­tions receiv­ing fund­ing through the Depart­ment of Treasury’s Trou­bled Assets Relief Pro­gram (or TARP) intend­ed to sta­bi­lize the finan­cial mar­kets, must jump through extra hoops before they can hire H‑1B work­ers. Giv­en the immense con­tri­bu­tions of H‑1B work­ers to help Amer­i­ca remain on the cut­ting-edge, it makes you won­der if this is not only bad news for South Asians, but bad news for the econ­o­my.

A Time of Transition: Immigrant Rights in a Changing Landscape

Check out this blog post from Just Democ­ra­cy that high­lights the ways that the elec­tion of the first minor­i­ty Pres­i­dent has impact­ed the immi­grant rights land­scape, for bet­ter or worse-

A Time of Transition: Immigrant Rights in a Changing Landscape

By Deepa Iyer

As an immi­grant who moved from the south­ern part of India to the Amer­i­can South in the mid 1980s, race has been a cor­ner­stone of my iden­ti­ty for decades. In class­rooms in Ken­tucky, my peers didn’t know quite what to make of me: you were either white or black, and no shade of gray exist­ed for folks like me, who grap­pled with bicul­tur­al iden­ti­ties and immi­grant expe­ri­ences. I remem­ber con­stant­ly nurs­ing an acute sense of want­i­ng to belong and to be under­stood- at school among my peers, among fam­i­lies in the neigh­bor­hood, and even among rel­a­tives and friends back in India as my lifestyle and inter­ests slow­ly changed.

I seemed to con­front the label of the “oth­er” in count­less ways, due, per­haps, to my Indi­an accent, or cul­tur­al cus­toms and tra­di­tions that seemed out of place, or the strug­gles of my immi­grant par­ents who expe­ri­enced an even more dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion than I did. My child­hood immi­grant expe­ri­ence is not very dif­fer­ent from thou­sands of oth­ers who also make the jour­ney from else­where to here. And yet, those expe­ri­ences are often not part of the Amer­i­can sto­ry as it is told, per­ceived, and framed; they are out­side the scope of what is con­sid­ered to be “main­stream” and accept­able. That is why I have been watch­ing the elec­tion and pres­i­den­cy of Barack Hus­sein Oba­ma with such great inter­est.

With his unique name, his diverse fam­i­ly, and his child­hood expe­ri­ences in oth­er parts of the world, Pres­i­dent Obama’s sto­ry res­onates with those of us who have tra­versed sim­i­lar paths. Many of us feel a sense of famil­iar­i­ty with a nation­al fig­ure and pub­lic leader in a way that we have not felt before. The elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Oba­ma sig­nals that Amer­i­ca is, per­haps, ready to be more inclu­sive, to expand its nar­ra­tive, to accept what has for so long been side­lined as the “oth­er.”

Yet, as the impact of Pres­i­dent Obama’s his­toric pres­i­den­cy is being explored, advo­cates and activists know well that we have much work to do to real­ize the fun­da­men­tal ideals of equal­i­ty and jus­tice in the Unit­ed States and around the world. This is cer­tain­ly the case when it comes to the wel­fare and rights of immi­grants in this coun­try, who con­tin­ue to be mar­gin­al­ized, alien­at­ed, and scape­goat­ed, despite the tremen­dous sac­ri­fices and con­tri­bu­tions they make every day.

How will the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion and the new Con­gress con­front the numer­ous chal­lenges that have been cre­at­ed by the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem in this coun­try? Cer­tain­ly, immi­grant rights advo­cates hope that there will be mul­ti­ple entry points for dis­cus­sion and action with pol­i­cy­mak­ers and con­gres­sion­al lead­ers, giv­en the polit­i­cal changes afoot in Wash­ing­ton. The tenor for these pol­i­cy dis­cus­sions will also be set by the vary­ing sen­ti­ments that the pub­lic has towards immi­grants. Will the anti-immi­grant back­lash that has per­me­at­ed the coun­try over the past decade shift? Will the gen­er­al feel­ing towards immi­grants be one of inclu­sion and open­ness, giv­en that we have elect­ed the nation’s first pres­i­dent of col­or?

Recent inci­dents show that as a coun­try, we still have a long way to go. In the week after Barack Obama’s elec­tion, a spate of bias inci­dents and hate crimes were report­ed around the coun­try. One such inci­dent involved a cross that was burned on the front lawn of an Indi­an-Amer­i­can fam­i­ly in New Jer­sey; around the charred cross was the family’s Oba­ma vic­to­ry ban­ner. One of the fam­i­ly mem­bers was report­ed say­ing: “Liv­ing in the 21st cen­tu­ry, and we have to deal with this – in Amer­i­ca.”

In Decem­ber 2008, a group of men par­tic­i­pat­ed in the beat­ing death of a Lati­no man in New York City who was strolling with his broth­er. And as the new year began, we heard of a fam­i­ly of Mus­lim pas­sen­gers who were removed from an Air Tran flight due to pas­sen­ger dis­com­fort. As we per­suade the new admin­is­tra­tion and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton to put forth leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies that pre­serve the rights of immi­grants – the recent reau­tho­riza­tion of the State Children’s Health Insur­ance Pro­gram (SCHIP) which includes pro­vi­sions for immi­grant chil­dren and women is a pos­i­tive exam­ple – we also have to change the way that ordi­nary Amer­i­cans per­ceive immi­grants in their own com­mu­ni­ties.

This moment in time presents a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty for a new direc­tion in the pub­lic dia­logue about the con­tri­bu­tions, needs, and chal­lenges of immi­grants. The cli­mate of open­ness in the coun­try, cat­alyzed by an elec­tion that saw unprece­dent­ed vot­er-engage­ment rates and a his­toric pres­i­den­cy that has moved many to heed the call to ser­vice and action, can also sig­ni­fy a new era for immi­grant rights. Here is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to destroy that us-ver­sus-them dynam­ic once and for all. And to do so, we must start in our com­mu­ni­ties and our class­rooms, as well as in dis­cus­sions at our kitchen tables. We must engage the pub­lic through our local news­pa­pers and at town hall meet­ings, so that immi­grant chil­dren and fam­i­lies in Ken­tucky, Kansas and around the nation feel con­nect­ed to the Amer­i­can sto­ry that is being rein­vent­ed and re-imag­ined through this elec­tion.

Deepa Iyer has been advo­cat­ing for civ­il and immi­grant rights for near­ly a decade through her work. She is cur­rent­ly the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to fos­ter­ing civic and polit­i­cal engage­ment by South Asian com­mu­ni­ties around the Unit­ed States.