President Trump, please treat legal immigrants fairly

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Kimberly Hernandez, 21, of Arlington, Va., stands in the center of Mount Pleasant Street as an immigration rally heads toward the White House. Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin.

NEW YORK – President Ronald Reagan had once said, the “government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” In the Trump era, law-abiding legal immigrants, who have spent years and decades of the best years of their lives in the US, contributing to the economy, waiting for permanent residency – and life to kick off at full throttle, are slowly realizing to their horror that Reagan’s line has been distorted. Today, it could read just as well, ‘government’s first duty is to protect American citizens, ruin the lives of foreigners.”

The anguish for the Trump Administration since they came into office has been open borders, where illegals continue to scamper through like water in a sieve, and uncontrollable legal immigration, because of set laws by Congress. Executive orders don’t cut it with H-1B visas.

Trump is yet to get to build his wall, which now seems a distant dream. But his administration has come up with shocking strategies to counter the open borders and manipulate legal immigration: create anguish, demolish set lives. The mantra being: separate illegals from their children; deport legal immigrants.

After the nightmare that is still playing out on the southern borders, with hapless fathers and mothers torn apart from their infants and young children in the name of border patrol, the Trump Administration has now trained their lens on legal immigrants, especially those who are in the throes of trying to secure a job, or waiting for a Green Card.

There’s a double whammy in place for legal immigrants beginning from September 11 (one would be forgiven for drawing any connotation from the terror attacks 17 years ago on that day): United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agents will have new, vast powers to deny applications of H-1B and F-1 visa holders and Green Card applicants, based on applications deemed incomplete or containing errors. And if those applications are denied, come the acute trauma part: those immigrants would be deported, like criminals.

As of now, the laws require USCIS agents to issue an RFE (Request for Evidence) if an application is incomplete. Immigrants are given adequate time to send the necessary paperwork. The process then moves on. Immigrants wait to climb the next rung towards permanent residency.

That’s gone, come September 11.

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg, of the new rule: “a broader trend of USCIS becoming more of an enforcement agency than an immigrants benefits agency.”

The draconian move comes on the heels of the USCIS updating its mission statement, in February, to remove reference to the US as a “nation of immigrants” and instead included language on “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland.”

The recent move by USCIS “creates traps” for individuals already working legally in the country – or seeking to work here – by upping the consequences for clerical errors, said Todd Schulte, president of immigration reform lobbying group Fwd.us, which was founded by technology leaders including Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Dropbox Inc. CEO Drew Houston, reported Bloomberg.

USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said the policy changes are part of an effort to help “cut down on frivolous applications, reduce waste, and help ensure legitimate, law abiding petitioners aren’t undermined by those able to game our system.”

The critical issue, however, is what kind of personnel are USCIS employing to gauge the applications of skilled immigrants; how much education and training they have. The psychological nightmare for immigrants is dread their application falling into the hands of a rogue USCIS agent, who can do what he or she wants, with the new vested power. Ruin lives at will.

“The government’s failure to provide internal training can result in numerous denials, which are nothing less than clear ‘abuses of discretion’ or application of a standard that is ‘clearly erroneous’. Based on these grounds, the visa applicant can file an appeal with the ‘Administrative Appeals Office’ or seek a judicial remedy to reopen the case”, David Nachman, managing attorney at NPZ Law Group, said in an interview to The Times of India.

Mother Jones didn’t hedge on the issue. In a story headlined ‘The Trump Administration Is Working to Deport More Legal Immigrants,’ the magazine outlined the horrible consequences, and noted: “While seemingly small changes, these policies could have widespread implications, potentially sending far more immigrants into removal proceedings and increasing the number of cases in an already backlogged immigration court system.”

“These two memos work in tandem and are effectively a one-two punch that will render our adjudication processes even less fair and even more harsh for people that are applying for their families, for workers to be able to come here, for students who want to stay here or change their status,” Greg Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Mother Jones. “Businesses, universities, families, and communities are going to be hurt tremendously.”

Ironically, in the midst of the change in rules by USCIS, a new study was released by the University of California San Diego, which argues that foreign workers, in fact, help US companies grow.

A 10 percent increase in the share of H-1B workers at a company leads to a 2 percent uptick in its ability to create new products and replace outdated ones, according to a working research paper by UCSD faculty Gaurav Khanna and Munseob Lee.

“We found companies with higher rates of H-1B workers increased product reallocation—the ability for companies to create new products and replace outdated ones, which in turn, grows revenue,” Khanna, an assistant professor of economics at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, said in a press release. “This discourse could have far-reaching implications for US policy, the profitability of firms, the welfare of workers, and the potential for innovation in the economy as a whole.”

Even more ironically, as I wrote in an earlier column, the harsh measures to clamp down on legal immigration comes at a time when corporate America is finding it tough, almost impossible, to get workers to fill in a record 6.7 million job openings. It’s the reason why an earlier decision to rescind work permit for some H4 visa holders has been put off for now.

But it’s likely that in the near future, the rug will be pulled under the feet of those H4 visa workers too. It would fit into a pattern to dismantle legal immigration levels, going by current policies put into effect.

There is dismay on another front for legal immigrants waiting for a Green Card: children who came to the US with their parents, face the prospect of deportation once they turn 21, unless they have legal status like an F-1 or an H-1B visa (really, how many 20-year-olds can hope to get an H-1B visa?)

The immigration travails of a Microsoft software engineer, Sri Ponnada, who is current on an STEM OPT following graduation with a degree, on an F-1 visa, went viral after she shared on Facebook that she must leave the United States in six months, after she lost out on an H-1B visa in the lottery system. Ponnada, who is of Indian-origin, but emigrated from Jamaica, posed this question of her dilemma:

“Where should I go? Jamaica – where I came from? Or to India where I was born but haven’t lived in since I was 3 years old? That makes no sense to me. And I hope it doesn’t make sense to you either.”

Perhaps, President Trump can do the right thing, at least in cases like Sri Ponnada: let these children stay in the US if they are studying or able to secure a job. It’s not their fault their parents have yet to get a Green Card.

President Trump, please stop separating immigrant children from their parents. Be they of illegal or legal status.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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