NEW YORK – To understand real meaning of psychological horror, recurring nightmares, and perceived threats on a daily basis, all you have to do is to find an Indian family living on an H-1B and dependent visa in the United States, as children in their house get ever closer to the dreaded age of 21. Their Green Card is clogged in a long pipeline, years or even tens of years away.
If you think the cause of distress for those conservative Indian parents might be worry that their son and daughter would indulge in some frenetic drinking binges at late night clubs, as soon as they turn 21, think again.
The anguish and slow creeping terror in that vulnerable Indian family is because of the dread of their child being separated from them, forced to self-deport to the country they were born in, but are almost totally alienated from.
Those children are exposed to the “aging out” immigration rule when they reach 21 years of age, lose eligibility to get permanent residency with their parents, and stay in the US.
Even if a Green Card does come later for the parents, the children, if they are past 21 years of age, do not qualify. They have to stand in queue all over again, outside of the country, or get onto another immigrant visa, like F-1, or H-1B, to stay on in the US; carry on with life with trepidation, fearing the worst every single day.
When you consider the fact that if an H-1B worker from India were to file for a Green Card today, and the current wait time is over 100 years, one gets an inkling of the cruel absurdity of the situation.
Now, some Indian parents and their children are fighting back. A group of them – 12 plaintiffs from five families – filed a class action lawsuit on December 27, 2019, in the United States District Court in Portland, Oregon, against the USCIS and the State Department, to let these ‘aging out’ India-born children stay on in the US on a dependent visa, if need be, not be forced to self-deport.
The action, brought by and on behalf of all such immigrant children and their parents, seeks to ensure that provisions of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) are applied equally to children regardless of the national origin of their parents.
CSPA was enacted in 2002 to prevent minor children from “aging out” when they reach 21 years of age and losing eligibility to immigrate together with their parents. Presently, however, children whose parents are born in India are not protected from aging out due to the application of per country limitations and national origin-based visa bulletin charts which result in decades long waits, while children with other national origins remain protected.
“This disparate treatment of similarly situated children, purely on account of national origin, is unjust and violates the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” said the lawyers from Parrilli Renison LLC, who are representing the plaintiffs.
Thousands of Indian families in immigration limbo can relate to the plight of some of the plaintiffs.
Take the example of Nitheesha Nakka, a resident of Long Island, NY, who was born in 1994 in India. She came to the US at age four as an H-4 dependent of her father Nagendra Kumar Nakka. She has lived in the US all her life since that time.
When Nitheesha was in high school and planning for college, she was barred from applying to internships, research programs and scholarships due to her visa status, causing herself and her family hardship, both financial and mental, said the lawsuit.
These problems persisted throughout college and graduate school. She finished undergraduate with a major in economics and earned four job offers at very good companies, but all four rescinded their offers after learning she needed visa sponsorship for a work visa. Now, she fears separation from her family, forced to go back to India.
Or take the case of the brothers Girijesh Thodupunuri and Ravi Vathsal Thodupunuri, who came to the US when Girijesh was 7 years old and Ravi was 11, and have lived in Oregon since then. Now they fear being forced out of the US.
Or Vishal Addagatla, who was born in 1998 in India, and came to the US at age 8 as an H-4 dependent of his father Rajeshwar Addagatla. He is now over 21 years of age and was forced to change from H-4 to F-1 student status to remain lawfully in the United States, to attend Illinois Institute of Technology.
Then there’s the case of Venkata Satya Venu Battula, who was sponsored by his employer for an H-1B work visa. He brought his minor son Sandeep Battula in 2003 when his son was 6 years old, and his minor daughter when she was 3 years old. He was sponsored for permanent resident status by his employer in the EB-3 category on May 9, 2008. He was granted lawful permanent resident status in February 2019, along with his wife and his 19-year-old daughter, but his son Sandeep was considered aged out, not eligible for a Green Card. After waiting since 2008, Sandeep now waits again in line, with his new priority date shifted to 2019.
Then there’s Pavani Peddada, who was born in 1999 in India, and came to the US at age 6 as an H-4 dependent of her father Siva Peddada. She is currently completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, and faces many challenges with the renewal of her driver’s license due to her status.
“No legitimate purpose can be served by giving less consideration to Plaintiffs whose ties with this country are longstanding and sanctioned by special provisions enacted by Congress to permit their long residence, than to those who have never even touched foot on United States soil,” said the lawyers for the plaintiffs, in the lawsuit.
In an interview to Forbes magazine this week, Brent Renison, the lead attorney in the case and a partner at Parrilli Renison LLC, admitted that the case could go on for years.
“It is unfair to punish these children and their families for their national origin,” he said.
Renison pointed out the discrimination faced by thousands of Indian families in the US: “Our values as a nation are at stake here. Do we continue to permit discrimination against families based upon their national origin, denying them the legal right to remain with their families in the United States after they’ve come as young children and received all their schooling here, while at the same time granting recent arrivals, or even those who haven’t come to the United States before, preferential treatment based on where they were born?
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)