Fake immigration news, false travel alert messages scare Indian Americans in the wake of Trump’s travel ban



NEW YORK: President Donald Trump’s ban on seven Muslim-majority countries has not only affected close to 100,000 people outside the United States, it seems to have set off a sense of paranoia, and fear of calamity amongst millions of legal immigrants, who are in trepidation of being deported, victimized and tortured by enforcement officials.

A recent study by economists Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford University and Hunt Allcott of New York University may have concluded that fake news – or as Kellyanne Conway put it ‘alternative facts’ – did not change the outcome of the Presidential elections.

However, in the wake of the travel ban, an outpouring of doomsday messages and stern warnings predicting calamity have proliferated on social media. It’s hard to gauge truth from falsehood and rumors.

What’s confusing is that some of the messages, like video recordings and mass e-mails are from well-known Indian American immigration lawyers. Most have one message underlined in common: don’t step foot outside of the US, or even travel domestically, especially to the border areas of Mexico and Canada. And that mind you, includes even Green Card holders.

Some have warned petrified Green Card holders and those on visas, on vacation, or those planning to travel overseas soon, to not sign the USCIS I-407 document, which is a voluntary relinquishment of permanent residency.

“Do not sign I-407 – no matter what the pressure. I-407 means you are voluntarily renouncing your Green Card and thereby likely will be denied entry. A GC renounced CANNOT be re-instated,” wrote an Indian American attorney based in New York City, a copy of which is with News India Times.

Another nationally recognized attorney pleaded in a video message to not travel for at least the next one month, as “President Trump may soon sign new executive orders.”

Another attorney warned that some Green Card holders have already been deported or detained.

As of now, no case of a legal resident from India being detained at any US airport because of Trump’s travel ban, has come to the notice of News India Times.

Another widely circulated message on WhatsApp, in short cryptic sentences, akin to minutes of a meeting, or tweets from a war zone, gave an account of an alleged immigration drive in the densely populated ‘Little India’ area of Oak Tree Road, in Edison, New Jersey. Popular grocery stores Apna Bazaar, Patel Brothers, and Sabzi Mandi, it seemed were trouble spots where hapless Indians were being questioned – and possibly herded like cattle to far away detention centers – by immigration officials.

“They have been doing immigration status checks in Oak Tree Road in Edison this week,” said a message which traveled like wildfire on social media.

Is it true? The answer: no.

News India Times spoke to a few of the workers at grocery stores in the Edison area to find out the veracity of these social media messages.

“I have been working at this store for over five years, and we have had no incident of any kind here, no police presence either. This is just a rumor,” Vibha Shah, a cashier at Patel Brothers in Edison, said.

Jignesh Patel, manager at the same Patel Brothers in Edison, confirmed, saying: “I am not aware of any such incident. No doubt people are scared, but if you have U.S. citizenship or the right papers, what is the need to worry.”

Dolly Singh, a cashier at Subzi Mandi in Edison, said: “People have been talking about being checked by immigration officials. I also saw the message on WhatsApp. I did not see anyone being questioned, so I can’t tell for sure of this happened, but it feels like a hoax.”

Apna Bazaar, in a Facebook post, explained that “No one is or will be checking anything.” They added for good measure: “This is a completely false and baseless rumor that is spread by people who enjoy creating fear and confusion in the society.”