Upending Immigration: A Senate bill endorsed by President Trump has Indian-Americans up in arms about its effect on family reunification

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President Donald Trump endorsing Senate Bill 1720 introduced by Senators Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, left, and David Perdue Aug. 2. (Photo: still grab from White House video)

Indian-Americans are concerned about a new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate which cuts Green Cards by half and drastically limits family members eligible for sponsorship by citizens and permanent residents.

A few however, believe the bill will be good for Indians as a large number are highly qualified professionals, more of whom may potentially be able to immigrate and bring their nuclear families more speedily to join them.

The bill, Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment or RAISE (S. 1720), was introduced Aug. 2, by two Republicans,  Senators Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and David Perdue, R-Georgia, and endorsed by President Donald Trump.

The bill which seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act “to establish a skills-based immigration points system, to focus family-sponsored immigration on spouses and minor children, to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program,” was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is already under attack by Democrats and some Republicans with what most observers say, a small chance of becoming law. A Bloomberg editorial calls it a “dead-end” bill, which by reducing immigration to half over a decade “would do enormous damage to the U.S. economy and the federal government’s fiscal stability.”

However, merely having a bill on the table for consideration, sets a benchmark for future negotiations that could lead to compromises in one form or another, argues Washington, D.C. based immigration attorney Prakash Khatri, former ombudsman at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service during a Republican administration, who opposes the bill.

Unfair

But President Trump sees it otherwise. “For decades, the United States was operated and has operated a very low-skilled immigration system, issuing record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants. And it has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers,” said President Trump.

Congressman Joe Crowley, D-NY, whose district has a significant number of Indians, vehemently opposed the bill.

“Keeping families together should continue be a priority for our immigration system,” Crowley said in an email to News India Times. “As the representative for one of the most diverse districts in the country, which includes a thriving Indian population, I know how important familial ties are (to) our community. I stand strongly opposed to any immigration proposal that does not take into account the value family bonds have in the United States.”

Last year, a little over a million people immigrated to the U.S. with a Green Card. The bill reduces legal immigration by 50 percent bringing the annual green card number to around 500,000, and exempts stops? extended family members from coming in.

Currently around 350,000 Indians are in the pipeline under the  preferential category – brothers, sisters, adult children, married children, parents, and adult children of permanent residents. The administration has said that those whose applications are already filed will be able to get their Green Cards. Also, elderly parents of citizens will be allowed to come over on temporary visas, but not with Green Cards. “There will be a dramatic drop in family members coming in as preferences. It would be basically eliminated,” Khatri said.

“We all have worked very hard for very long to keep family reunification intact,” said Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of News India Times and a Padma Shri recipient. Indian-American organizations, both social and political, have lobbied over decades for it. “Indian-Americans will 100 percent oppose this bill. Family reunification was the real value of immigrating to the U.S. and the value of what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes,” Parikh said.

“This is not a partisan issue, and Indian-Americans have leverage in both parties and we hope to influence them,” Parikh added. Conceding that the legal immigration system needs changes, “getting the extended family over to America was one of the strongest bonds to this country,” he asserted.

High Skills Advantage

Meanwhile, some perceive a benefit in the new bill for high-skilled and professional applicants from India because 75 percent of the country-quota of 7 percent would be eliminated, potentially opening the door to more professionals.

The current number of 140,000 high-skilled workers would compete on a points system like the one in Canada and Australia. If they are highly educated, know English, have other achievements, are able to support themselves financially for a stated period of time, or maybe bring in investments, they would get higher points and better chances to qualify for the Green Card.

The Bloomberg editorial however, concludes that the new bill would not increase skill-based immigration. The number of skilled immigrants granted legal residency annually “would remain roughly what it is now, 140,000,” even as family preferences are slashed and diversity visa lottery for 50,000 or so annually eliminated.

Right now high-skilled Indians suffer because of the 7 percent country cap on Green Cards, so potentially, the changes suggested in the new bill, may allow more to migrate under the points system, Khatri conceded. However, it may become more difficult for them to get married or bring their spouses and waiting lines would begin to swell in a year, Khatri predicts. Today’s Green Card holders can marry and bring their spouse but under the bill, citizens wanting to bring their spouses would take the major share and have priority. “Spouses and minor children of citizens would use up all the 500,000 and there may not be any left for others,” Khatri said.

“Second Grade America”

Shekar Narasimhan, a businessman in Virginia, and chairman and founder of the Asian and Pacific Islander Victory Fund, says while racism may not be the ‘intent’ of the bill, it is certainly going to result in “making American white again.” Narasimhan pointed to a Pew Research institute study which calculated that by 2043, the U.S. would be a ‘minority majority’ country. Narasimhan contends that a ‘small group of Americans believe they’ve lost their culture and values and that ‘legal’ immigration is the problem.” He fears that high skilled immigrants from India and elsewhere will find other countries to go to and that such thinking would create a “Second Grade America.”

Bloomberg News editorial echoed this warning. “The sharp reduction in immigrant workers in the years ahead would also reduce tax receipts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the tripod supporting the nation’s rapidly aging baby boomers — 10,000 of whom retire daily,” the editorial said. Immigrants paid about $328 billion in taxes in 2014 alone, it quotes an estimate. “In effect, the plan would take the demographic headwinds the U.S. faces already and transform them into a gale.”

Amit Jani, a Democratic activist, who came to this country when he was just a year old, says he is against reducing immigration in any shape or form. “My father was able to bring his parents and brothers and sisters, and together they were all able to set up businesses around the country and create jobs. If you are cutting that, you are cutting off their contributions to the economy,” Jani said. Even though he is much younger, he notes that a lot of his family is still in India.”For us, the more than 4.3 million South Asians in this country, the fastest-growing demographic, the bill is going to really hurt families.”

Supporters

Some Indian-Americans however, support President Trump, including a Democrat Srujal Parikh of the Federation of Indian Associations in New Jersey. “There has to be some kind of cap,” on immigration, Parikh, no relation of Dr. Sudhir Parikh, told News India Times. “I am a Democrat, but I support this bill.” The new bill was meant for the whole country and Indian-Americans “have to bear this.”

Vivek Wadhwa, an authority of technology entrepreneurship and Silicon Valley, gave the reform proposals a thumbs up saying, “The legislation surely needs to be improved, and the numbers of immigrants admitted increased. But it could be good for the country, because it gives preference to the job-creators and professionals who have for too long taken a back seat in the debates about comprehensive immigration reform.”

Puneet Ahluwalia, of Virginia, who was on President Trump’s transition team for outreach to Asian Americans also supports the bill. He believes Indians with their high-skills and education would succeed and the points system would favor them. As for the extended family preferences that would be eliminated if the bill became law, Ahluwalia said being able to bring your immediate family such a your significant other and minor children “makes more sense.”

“I know extended family is important. But let’s have priorities,” Ahluwalia said. Immigration was an integral part of America, and were the new bill to become law, “it will stay a young and evolving nation,” he contended.

 

 

 

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