Activists regroup in legal immigration battle

Given the focus on DACA, fears grow that green card applicants will fall by the wayside


Ritu Jha


HI-B visa holders are more than a little upset with Democrats.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech might not have attacked high-skilled Indians residing in the US but they also sounded perturbed seeing the way Democrats are focused on undocumented immigration and are not concerned about them.

“It was extremely hurtful,” Harshit Chatur, who came to the US in 2006 and is on H1-B visa and waiting for permanent residency, the green card, told indica.

Chatur is a member of the Skilled Immigrants In America, (SIIA), a green card backlog advocacy group with chapters in almost every state in US. 

He said SIIA started as a Facebook group but today has over 150,000 members from diverse backgrounds and represent the 1.5 million highly-skilled immigrants whose applications are currently in the green card backlog. This includes engineers, researchers, healthcare professionals, and other professionals with advanced degrees, most engaged in critical work in the STEM industry.

Chatur said SIIA’s objective is to work with the Congress to clear the green card backlog.

“We never raise money and never donated money to Congressman and nor are we lobbyists. This is what distinguishes us from other organizations,” he said, alluding to Immigration Voice, which has also been vocal in its effort to protect H1-B visa holders.

Reacting to Trump’s speech on immigration he said Chatur described it as predictable, yet troubling.

“Until [Congress] finds common ground it looks tough,” said Chatur. According to him the Indian community earlier got a lot of support from elected Democrats but lately they have been focused only on supporting (those impacted by) DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and completely ignoring legal immigrants and that is troubling.

DACA, established by the Obama administration in 2012, gave work permits to the children of undocumented who came to the US as minors before June 2007. Until 2017, USCIS has approved the application of 798,980 DACA recipients. But President Trump rescinded it in an executive order in September and asked lawmakers to come up with legislation if they wanted it to remain.

There is yet no order from President Trump, however, to fix the backlog of H1B visa holders waiting for green cards. One prominent bill introduced is H.R. 392, which, if it is passed, could eliminate the country wise cap on green cards, currently set at 7 percent per country.

But no legislation addresses the 1.5 million high skilled workers stuck in the green card backlog, according to SIIA.

“Hatch’s bill S.2344 introduced a few weeks ago, can clear the entire backlog in less than a year, if passed,” believes Chatur.

Trump during his speech Tuesday, announced support for a merit-based system of admissions that selects new arrivals based on their ability to contribute the economy, to support themselves financially, and to strengthen the country.

Trump also announced the ending of “chain immigration,” the ability of legal immigrants to bring the family over, which could impact Indians as well.

He was criticized by the Democrats when he hinted that Dreamers (those covered by DACA) were comparable to MS-13 gang members.

Giving the example of two teenaged girls in New York who were slain by MS-13 gang members, he asserted it was the result of glaring loopholes in immigration laws that allow illegal, unaccompanied alien minors to this country.

During the President’s speech, Senator Kamala Harris tweeted, “Dreamers should not be used as a bargaining chip or held hostage in exchange for anti-immigrant policies.”

But unlike DACA recipients, Indians waiting for years for their green card, say that while they are sympathetic to Dreamers, they themselves have to wait up to 70 years to get a green card.

Chatur said he sees Republicans, who earlier were more conservative towards immigrant, are now more supportive of high skilled immigrants.

“We hope there is common ground, which could benefit everybody,” he said.

“Think of the situation in the classroom, where one kid is documented and another is not, and a kid of parents who did not follow a law will become a citizen in 10-12 years, and children of legal, tax-paying immigrants could be deported at age 21.

“I don’t know what message this country wants to send to the legal immigrants. What will I answer to my kids, when they grow up,” he asked.

Aman Kapoor founder of one of the pioneers green card backlog advocacy group, Immigration Voice, based in Washington DC, sees things differently.

He said Trump’s speech was anti-immigrant though he welcomed the president’s call for merit-based immigration.

“It’s not easy. I have been watching them for the past 12 years,” said Kapoor, whose organization is working hard to get HR 392, the “Fairness for High‐Skilled Immigrants Act” passed in the current session.

The bill eliminates country-based restrictions on employment visas and to reduce country-based restrictions on family visas. It has 303 co-sponsors.

He recalled how his group first started Immigration Voice in 2005 and tried to get the bill introduced for the first time in 2008. Finally introduced in 2011 by Rep Jason Chaffetz, HR 3012, or The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, got only 21 co-sponsors. Chaffetz brought it back in as HR 633, this time getting 68 co-sponsors, and yet again in 2015 when it got 147 co-sponsors.

A bill gets introduced but usually don’t get passed in the same year, he said, adding, “These are generational changes.”

“I say their kids (Dreamers) are also important, and I am hopeful of HR 392,” Kapoor said.

But he also lamented, “Our people don’t come out. Unlike Mexicans, they don’t come out and protest.”

Sharing his view on H4 worker he said should be allowed to work, but approaching a member of Congress will not work, since there is no bill. But there will be a regulation coming out soon, which will not be positive.

But things seem to be changing across the US, with Indians on H1-B visas advocating for their rights.

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