MSU STUDENTS ADVOCATE FOR FAIRNESS IN IMMIGRATION

Recently, I was contacted by rising Michigan State junior, Meghana to write about an issue close to her heart. The issue? Fairness in immigration. Introduced in the 1990’s, per-country caps were implemented in order to limit immigration to the United States. Only 140,000 employee-based green cards were allocated, with a seven percent cap per country. Disproportionately affecting Indian immigrants, these outdated laws essentially require these citizens to wait over one hundred years to receive their green card. This problem is known as green card backlog. 

So what is the proposed solution? Meghana and DREAM MSU president, Shiksha have teamed together, along with other passionate individuals, to advocate for the passing of bill s.386 and HR 1044, more commonly known as the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019.”This bill would amend previous laws by removing the seven percent cap on countries, reducing wait time to a maximum of seventeen years. In our interview below, Meghana and Shiksha were able to provide their knowledge, insight, and experiences regarding the issue. 

What is bill S.386? Who does it affect? What important things do you want people to know about this bill? Why is it important? 

Meghana: Right now there are over 400,000+ Indian Immigrant families who are stuck, and will eventually die, waiting in the backlog. These people came to this country with hopes that they could provide a better life for their children and families, yet unknowingly stepped into shaky ground. Many of these immigrants' children, myself included, grew up believing we were American, yet every single official document has forced us to question our true American identity and made us feel as if we aren’t welcome in the country we call home. This bill affects immigrants from every single country because it removes the per-country limit, the main culprit to the grueling wait time. Indian immigrants have been largely affected by the backlog and have to wait up to 150+ years for their green cards. Additionally, immigrant children who are “aging out,” twenty-one or older, can no longer be under their parents’ Green Card application. This forces the individual back at the end of the 150 year-long line when to most, America is all they have known. This bill is important because people are dying, families are being separated, children are being deported from their homes due to this outdated immigration system.

Shiksha: The problem is that there are only 140K employee based green cards allocated (which is an arbitrary number selected 30 years ago and immigration has changed drastically since then). Out of those green cards, there is 7 percent cap per country. This means, essentially, that it will take 150 plus years for Indian citizens applying today to receive their green cards. By 2030, the wait time will have increased to 400 years. A green card gives us the opportunity to receive aid, to take out loans and to work whichever job we like. Since I am not in the green card line with my parents anymore, I will be waiting for a 100 years before I get my green card. Or in other words, I will be dead before I am able to enjoy basic rights. This bill removes the 7 percent cap on countries which thus, reduces the wait time to a maximum of 17 years. It will change the lives of so many other kids like me who have only known this country as their home but are unable to truly live their lives.  I am and will always be an advocate for an increase in green cards allocated, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people and reducing the current immigration costs. This bill is the first step towards comprehensive immigration reform. 

Why is this cause so important to you? Have you or someone you know been affected by this?

Meghana: This cause is very close to my heart because I have, and continue to, experience the struggles of being an immigrant in this country. Despite spending the first four years of my life in India, I still call America my home as it is where I spent the majority of my life, where I grew up, and where I go to school. Even though I claim America as my home, all the official documents say that I am an immigrant solely based on the fact that I was born in India. Not having my green card has caused me to face a variety of challenges throughout my lifetime. From not being able to work, apply for scholarships, or potentially hurting my chances of being accepted into medical schools, these hardships have impacted every aspect of my life. 

Back when my grandfather passed away, our family was faced with an incredibly difficult decision. If we flew to India for the funeral, we risked not being able to return to America. Ultimately, we had to stay and miss his funeral. My parents knew that if we stepped out of the country, we may never come back. I miss my grandfather everyday and wish our goodbye didn’t have to happen the way it did. My parents gave up so much when they moved across the world to America for my sister and I. They came so that we had a shot at the “American Dream” and could grow to be educated and successful. It is for them that I keep fighting for justice and fighting to fix the cruel immigration system.

Shiksha: I immigrated to the United States when I was 11 years old on an H-4 dependent visa. With those restrictions, I was not eligible for many scholarships, and I wasn't allowed to take out loans, receive federal aid, get a credit card, or work, which left my mother, my sister, and I completely dependent on my father. We aren't able to go back to India to visit since it can jeopardize our chances of receiving a green card. I haven't seen my cousins and grandparents in ten years. My parents have always taught me to be over cautious with everything because any legal infraction can lead to my deportation. Additionally, we had to constantly renew our H1B (my father's employee visa) and my family's dependent visas which is a very expensive process. Sometimes, we would apply for a renewal and wouldn't get the acceptance until a year after and by that time, it was time to pay for another renewal. We kept paying money we didn't have in the hopes of one day getting a green card and, eventually, a citizenship. 

However, once I turned 21, I essentially aged out of my visa as you can only remain dependent on your parents' visa till the age of 21. Many H4 visa holders who turn 21 have to self-deport back to their country of birth and be separated from their family. Since this occurred during my junior year, I had to switch over to a student visa. What this means is that if my family does receive a green card, I will not be receiving it with them. I have to go through the whole process all over again after graduation, finding an employer to sponsor me for an H1B and then apply for a green card. 

What goals do you hope to accomplish through your advocacy? 

Meghana: I hope to inspire more people like me to share their stories and to make allies who respect the hardships we have faced and who will support us through this journey. To all of the people like me, don’t be afraid of speaking up because silence makes problems invisible and nonexistent. Speaking up allows people to realize that this is a national issue we all need to fix. 

Shiksha: My goal is two-fold. I want to make non-immigrants aware of the green card backlog and how dire the situation is for their classmates and peers. Second, I want to pass this bill (through community engagement and activism) so the backlog is reduced and H4 children are protected. This bill won't help my visa situation, but it can help my sister and so many other kids.

What can readers do to help this cause?

Meghana: Those that are reading this article, please listen to immigrant stories. Treat them with respect and care. Readers can actively call their respective state senators’ offices and urge them to change immigration policies to make them more fair and reasonable, beginning with the passing of senate bill S.386. 

Shiksha: To support us, please contact your US senators and tell them to pass this bill. Contact Illinois Senator Dick Durbin who has been blocking this bill.

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The “Drive for Equality” will be a car rally hosted in Lansing, Michigan to advocate for immigration reform and the passing of senate bill S.386. The event will take place on July 18th from 3:45pm to 6pm at 498 Seymour Avenue. It is requested that those attending the event fill out the survey

For more information and personal testimonies, click here

"Citizenship to me is more than a piece of paper. Citizenship is also about character. I am an American. We're just waiting for our country to recognize it." - Jose Antonio Vargas