NEW YORK: This is what the United States’ broken immigration system has come to: on Wednesday, March 29, neurologist and founder of the Pain and Headache Centers of Texas, Dr. Pankaj Satija, 40, and his wife, Dr. Monika Ummat, also a neurologist, specializing in epilepsy at Texas Children’s Hospital, were told by Customs and Border Police officials they had 24 hours to sort out their affairs, before being removed to India, along with their two US-born children, Ralph, 7, and Zooey, 4.
The couple emigrated legally from India to the US 15 years ago, to do research and complete their medical residencies. Dr. Satija was sponsored for a Green Card in 2008. They bought a house in West University Place. They pay taxes quarterly, don’t even have a parking ticket to their name. Dr. Satija had 90 patients scheduled for operations before the end of this week.
The reason for their imminent ‘deportation’: a technical mix-up in their Advance Parole, the document which allows legal residents waiting for a Green Card to travel in and out of the US without having to get visa stamped. The parole is usually given for a period of one or two years, has to be extended through the United States Citizen and Immigration services.
The Houston Chronicle reported that the couple’s Advance Parole was issued only for one year, unlike their employment authorization document (EAD) which is valid for two years.
It’s likely Dr. Satija and Dr. Ummat are in line for a Green Card under the EB-3 visa category, which is terribly backlogged. According to immigration attorneys, anybody from India who applies for a Green Card today under EB-3 visa category would likely have to wait for at least 70 years for a Green Card.
If the person is still alive, that is. Dead immigrants don’t need a Green Card in the US. They can lie buried or their ashes scattered in any state without fear of being deported.
The couple traveled to India last October after Dr. Satija’s father fell sick. Upon return, the Customs and Border Protection officials stamped their travel document saying that it expired in June of 2017. In fact, the USCIS noted that their document actually lapsed in June 2016. That set off the couple’s nightmare. Although, they were allowed back in the US through a program known as Deferred Inspection, they had to regularly report to CBP every month till they received new Advance Parole documents.
On March 29, they were told their Advance Parole documents were approved, and in the mail. But Customs and Border Protection officials told them that the agency now had a new policy and they were no longer able to extend their deferred inspection. They had to report to the airport the next day, would be deported to India.
The couple and their lawyer didn’t give up fighting though. The lawyer at Quan Law Group advised them not to sign any paperwork. They narrated their ordeal to the media; Dr. Satija appeared in his scrubs in front of the media. They called their local politicians. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Republican Congressman John Culberson responded, were sympathetic to their ordeal.
On March 30, the couple and their children went to the airport as directed, their lives in ruins, leaving house and unfinished business behind. They got a pleasant surprise. Customs officials at Bush Intercontinental Airport informed them of a reversal in decision. They were given three months reprieve to sort out their paperwork, reported the Houston Chronicle.
“Somebody at a higher level has made that decision,” they were told by an agent. “I understand that you are physicians and a lot of lives are at stake.”
The fact is that most Indian immigrants would not have been as lucky as Satija and his family. In the same situation as the physician couple, they would be back in India right now.
But the US needs to understand one thing: if the Trump administration goes about removing skilled legal immigrants like Dr. Satija and Dr. Ummat and their family, tear apart their lives, there will be repercussions, losses to the social security system, and resultantly, the economy.
According to present rules, any legal resident who has worked for 10 years in the US and then goes back to his or her home country is entitled to full payment of their social security taxes, upon departure. The US, with its ageing population, is in no position to do that, as the social security system gets financially beleaguered. The Department of Homeland Security is paid for by legal immigrants, with visa fees giving employment to tens of thousands of federal employees.
The US economy is fine right now. But there are ominous signs of tremendous strain and cracks in the near future: the national debt is on track to nearly double over the next three decades, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Federal debt would reach 150% of GDP in 2047. Immigration forecasts are also down, according to the CBO.
A situation might arise in the near future where the US will not have adequate workers for either lower-end or higher-end jobs. That would be the start of the decline of the US in the world order.
It’s a shame what the US did to the hard-working Dr. Satija, his wife Dr. Ummat, and their family. It’s time “somebody at a higher level” who made the decision to give a reprieve to the physicians from India, also plots immigration reforms, before it’s too late.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)