Is Migration Really Beautiful?

Today is a very special day. It was four years ago, today, that the U.S. government initiated removal proceedings against me.

I am not only here–but now I have lawful status, and on an expedited pathway to U.S. citizenship.

(This does not stop people from sending me hate mail, which goes to prove the ‘we support legal immigration’ movement is a sham).

When I was put into removal proceedings, I felt a certain sense of relief. Finally, instead of living in the perpetual limbo of being undocumented, someone would make a decision on my case, and I could pick up on living life again. Finally, I may be able to go home, and restart my life from when it had ended. I truly felt like I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Americans are incensed by this. Of course, there is something to lose — your family, your community, and your life in the United States.

True, perhaps there is some loss there. But my great-great-grandparents were resilient people. And they passed on this resilience to the generations after them. They were taken from India to Fiji, as indentured labourers. Certainly, they must have lost a lot in that migration. Their culture, family, caste, and way of life.

Somehow, people also forget how much we lost, similarly, in moving here. That sense of loss does not go away with capitalist accumulation. Loss combines with isolation because the U.S. is such an individualistic society where everyone is so steeped in the rat race to nowhere, and worried about money.

People in the U.S. don’t smile and say ‘Bula’ when you walk down the street. We do not talanoa with our co-workers. Our neighbors do not know our names.  If they know our names, they cannot pronounce our names. And they cannot seem to fathom the concept of an Indo-Fijian, much less a queer one.

Integration into this society is unpaid emotional and mental labor, and in the U.S., the emphasis is on assimilation, not integration. My integration was also hampered by the decade that I spent being undocumented. There was no instate tuition. No ability to drive. No health access for counseling or basic check-ups. No financial aid for college. No law licenses for undocumented lawyers. No white-collar employment. No ability to travel abroad. And certainly no programs like deferred action to enable any of the above. We had to work hard to make all of these things possible. I had to personally fight and win these battles.

It all draws me towards the conclusion that migration isn’t beautiful for a lot of immigrants. It is devastating to leave everything and come to a new country to start over again. Feeling completely displaced and lonely. Constantly feeling threatened, scrutinized and under attack from anti-immigrants. Having to work twice as hard as everyone else, and be twice as more qualified, for the same jobs. Having to learn and speak English.

The U.S. provides tremendous opportunity to reinvent and recreate ourselves, but that opportunity is often met with tremendous resistance, and frequent isolation. Maybe migration is beautiful but only for those who benefit from it. The cuisines, languages, and cultures that other immigrants bring with them enrich the United States, and the immigrant experience. The cheap and expandable labour–well, we know who mostly benefits from that.

What do you think?

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What Obama’s Immigration Action Means for Indian Americans

My article in India Currents on how the immigration actions announced in November 2014 by the President impacts Indian Americans is finally available here. While some of the most pivotal programs such as expanded DACA and DAPA are currently on hold due to the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit, the Administration is moving ahead with the other proposed changes, through the issuance of more guidance. Feedback on the article is much-appreciated!

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#Asians4BlackLives

I am never quite sure how to begin talking about anti-black racism among diasporic South Asians and Pacific Islander communities. After all, indigenous Fijians are essentially black. Many Indians brought to Fiji to work as indentured servants were also much darker-skinned, when compared to their Indian-born counterparts. While Indo-Fijians are often prejudiced against native Fijians, in part, due to years of white settler colonialism and supremacy, firangis have a harder time telling us apart from one another.

So not to take away from the fact that many Pacific Islanders and South Asians are often perceived as black in the U.S., anti-blackness in South Asian and Pacific Islander communities is real. This is a great resource authored by friends at Queer SAAN to start the conversation in our communities about anti-blackness: It Starts at Home: Confronting Anti-Blackness in South Asian Communities. While the criminal injustice system is not about to root out the daily violence that we are all subjected to, the revolution does start at home.

Additional resources

Prezi: Confronting Anti-Blackness in Asian/American Communities and Organizing

NBC: The Secret History of South Asian and Black Solidarity and BlackDesiSecretHistory

I Became So Exhausted With Proving My South Asian Identity That I Started to Ignore It

ChangeLab: Why Ferguson Matters to Asian Americans

Why Ferguson is Our Issue: A Letter to Muslim America

The Revolution Starts with My Thathi (Dad): Strategies for South Asians to Bring #BlackLivesMatter Home by Sasha W.

Victimization of the South Asian Community: Why Unjust Policing is Not Just a Black and White Issue

India Abroad: So That All Our Grandparents Walk Freely

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Thoughts On The Federal District Court Ruling Against Executive Action

The party over executive action seems to have fizzled out even before it started.

As expected, late Monday, February 16, Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary injunction against the implementation of two parts of President Obama Administration’s executive actions on prosecutorial discretion in immigration: an expansion of the current deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program, and a program for the parents of U.S. citizens (DAPA).

The federal district court did not decide on the constitutionality or legality of the programs, but rather, took issue with the fact that the Obama Administration had not followed proper procedures under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), in rolling out the programs. The Justice Department is expected to appeal this ruling and to request a stay of the injunction so that the initiatives aren’t stalled.

While much has been written about how Judge Hanen reached an erroneous decision when he determined that the federal government had to allow for a notice and comment period, no one is actually talking about the fact that the National Day Labor Organizing Network had filed a complaint requesting that the government engage in rule-making with regards to executive action, more than a year before the executive actions were announced. This was a request for formal rule making of the kind that Judge Hanen found lacking from the executive actions announced on November 20, 2014.

The government seems to have not responded to the NDLON complaint, and never bothered to publish a formal notice in the Federal Register when it did announce changes to its prosecutorial discretion programs. If they had, perhaps things would have turned out differently last week. Perhaps not. In any case, the Obama Administration has a major “foot in mouth” problem, and perhaps before embarking on future partisan events to drum up support for his programs, someone should ensure that the intern does send over a copy of the proposed rule change to the Federal Register.

What’s next? Now that the brakes are on, the legal teams on both sides seem to be up against months, if not years, of litigation. That may bode well for the politicos, but not for undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from these programs.

Most talking points sheets say that people should continue preparing for the programs. Sure, that is true. But more importantly, the new enforcement priorities announced on November 20, 2014, remain in place. So if you think the Administration is still detaining and deporting people that it has no business doing, continue raising hell, and continue asking for a more expansive definition of discretion.

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Happy New Year from Canada!

Niagara Falls
I saw the majestic Niagara Falls for New Year in Ontario, Canada.
It was cold, wet, and dreary, but so worth it.
The Niagara Falls are on the list of 29 places people must see in the U.S. before they die.
2014 was a great year. I acquired license to practice law, received lawful permanent resident status, traveled to Fiji, Canada and Australia, launched a professional career as an attorney, and bought a new home.
My New Year’s resolution is to acquire several new citizenships, or at least ability to reside in various different places.
On that note, I must implore my readers to check out Canada’s new Express Entry system for skilled immigrants initiated by its Conservative government. It looks quite promising. If the U.S. had something similar, it would solve most problems plaguing its employment-based immigration system.
Got any new resolutions?

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#BlackLivesMatter

BlackLivesMatter

The system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect. – W.E.B. Dubois

Marissa Alexander will spend more time in prison for not killing anyone than the person who shot an unarmed, young, black man, Michael Brown.

The grand jury failed to indict anyone, much less Darren Wilson. When does that ever happen? That rarely ever happens, and in fact, it is very likely that the 108 day wait that Mike Brown’s family endured was not to make the decision, but to bury it.

But the amazing protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and the solidarity protesters around the country refused to let it go, refused to stand down in the face of injustice.

Racism is insidious, institutional and pervasive. We must acknowledge it before we can eradicate it. Last night, McCullogh proved that to the people of the U.S. Last night, the first African-American President of the U.S. fumbled and hammed through a half-hearted and ineffective speech. Where is his outrage as a black man in America?

People are outraged, and rightly so.

Much love and healing to Michael Brown’s family.

The struggle continues.

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Executive Action on Immigration: Good, Bad, and Ugly

I went to bed last night mentally doing a checklist of everyone I know who qualifies and does not qualify under the President’s immigration action. As a community advocate and formerly undocumented immigrant, the word that most aptly describes last night is “bitter-sweet.”

While the announcement is not enough, we do need to celebrate our victories, and what change this temporary reprieve will bring to so many members of the community. However, I am also frankly terrified for those that it would not help, and what would happen in the absence of permanent changes.

I am making a quick reference checklist here for myself, family members and friends, similar to the one I made for the Senate immigration bill two years ago as a community advocate. These are simply my initial mental impressions of the various memos released by the DHS yesterday and available here. They are in no particular order:

Good

  1. Expansion of DACA – The DHS will remove the upper level age cap on DACA so people who were above the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 will not miss out. The date of entry was moved to January 1, 2010 from June 15, 2007, which means thousands more people who are newer arrivals would benefit. DACA will also be made into a temporary reprieve of 3 years, and the changes rolled out in 3 months.
  2. The New DAPA program – The DHS is tasked with creating a separate deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizen sons/daughters or LPR sons/daughters born before November 21, 2014. Parents must have resided in the U.S. since at least January 1, 2010, physically present in the U.S. on the day of announcement and have no lawful status, passed background checks, and are otherwise not ineligible (i.e. not an enforcement priority according to the new Johnson memo).
  3. The provisional stateside waiver (I-601A) will be extended to all family members eligible, which will now include adult sons and daughters, and spouses of LPRs. The provisional waiver is for the 3/10 year bar for unlawful entry, and requires an individual to prove “extreme hardship” to their U.S. citizen family member if they are deported. Usually, individuals who are trying to adjust their status in the U.S. but entered the country unlawfully, need to travel abroad to their home country for approval of a waiver. In 2012, the Administration started accepting “extreme hardship” waivers without requiring immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to leave and wait outside. Now this benefit is also available to the children and spouses of lawful permanent residents. This provision will require rule-making, so it will take some time to roll this out. The DHS will also engage in rule-making to expand the “extreme hardship” definition.
  4. Naturalization – Lawful permanent residents who are naturalizing can now pay via credit card and may qualify for fee waivers.
  5. Expansion of parole-in-place to immediate relatives of those U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who “seek to enlist” in the US Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or the Reserve of any of the five Armed Services). This benefit means that not only would the family members of those who seek to enlist not be subject deported–they may also be eligible to adjust their status in the future.
  6. Clarification of travel on advance parole by DHS so that people on DAP, DACA can travel abroad, and return to adjust their status in the U.S.
  7. Department of Labor (DOL) reforms: DOL will start issuing U visa certifications in three key areas: extortion, forced labor, and fraud in foreign labor contracting, and certify applications for trafficking victims seeking T visas. According to DOL, “These efforts will significantly help qualifying victims of these crimes receive immigration relief from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and access the range of victim services that they need to recover and rebuild their lives.”
  8. Reforms to the employment-based immigration system such as extension of OPT for STEM graduates, defining “specialized knowledge” for L-1B intracompany transferees, increasing H-1B portability by having USCIS define “same or similar” jobs, expanding the use of the “national interest waiver” and starting a new parole program to bring talented entrepreneurs to the U.S.

Bad

  1. Elimination of Secure Communities with a new program that targets immigrant communities: DHS is replacing the current “Secure Communities”  program with a new “Priority Enforcement Program” to remove individuals convicted of criminal offenses. While it could be a marked improvement that moves us from a pre-conviction to post-conviction model and uses notification instead of detainers, unfortunately, this continues the entanglement of local law enforcement with immigration enforcement.
  2. Exclusions for parents of DACA recipients, undocumented workers and farm workers without families, and LGBT individuals less likely to have family members in the U.S. – While these exclusions are not categorical, and some parents of DACA recipients who also have U.S. citizen/LPR children would continue to benefit, the President’s immigration action does not specifically benefit those who do not have immediate family ties to the U.S. but are nonetheless, members of our community. It is also unclear at this point whether parents with final orders or re-entries after deportation would be eligible for the program. At this point it appears that they would be eligible since they are not priorities under the new memo.
  3. Visa backlogs – The announcement punts on the question of family visa backlogs that affect so many of us. However, there will be Presidential Memorandum to create an interagency group to look at “visa modernization” which has 120 days to prepare recommendations for further action.
  4. Limited expansion of DACA:  It is great to see an expansion of DACA and elimination of the age-cap. It would have been nice to see public benefits such as ACA (healthcare) given to DACA recipients, as well as increasing the age of entry to 18 from 16 years.
  5. Employment-based immigration: DHS expects to finalize regulation on H4 visa holders soon but the rule will not be expanded to all H4 visa holders
  6. New enforcement priorities that continue to target immigrant communities: The President is rescinding past memos such as the Morton Memo, and issuing a new one, effective January 5, 2015. The new priorities are troubling and continue to criminalize immigrant and border communities, pitting good immigrants against bad immigrants, and separating families. I have listed the priorities below, and some initial thoughts on each:

Priority 1: Non-citizens convicted of aggravated felonies, suspected terrorists, convicted gang members, people apprehended at the border while unlawfully entering the U.S., will be a priority for removal unless they qualify for asylum or another immigration benefit.

Most troubling here is the use of language such as “suspected terrorists” without built in civil rights protections that discourage racial profiling. Additionally, people apprehended at the border will now be a top priority, even though many are coming to reunite with family. The prioritization of people with gang-related membership (without conviction) is very troubling, as law enforcement targets specific racial/ethnic groups as gang-affiliated.  

Priority 2: Non-citizens convicted of three or more misdemeanor offenses, non-citizens convicted of significant misdemeanors (including DUI), non-citizens apprehended who entered after January 1, 2014; non-citizens who are perceived to abuse the visa waiver program should be a priority of removal unless they qualify for asylum or another immigration benefit.

Significant misdemeanors – a new legal fiction created by DACA – is here to stay, even though it has no legal foundation. The prioritization of people with a DUI, and their exclusion from DACA, is incredibly troubling, as is the prioritization of people who overstay their visas under the visa waiver program. Many of these people are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and have much to contribute to the U.S.

Priority 3: Non-citizens issued final orders of removal after January 1, 2014 should generally be a priority for removal unless they qualify for asylum, or another immigration benefit.

Immigrants who dared to come to the U.S. in 2014 will now be subject to draconian enforcement. 

Ugly

  1. Increased border enforcement – DHS plans to fund an additional 20,000 CBP agents, and continue to trend towards further border militarization of the Southern border we share with Mexico.
  2. Ramped up interior enforcement through existing programs such as the Criminal Alien Removal (CARI) Program, which profiles Latinos for detention and deportation, and  ICE raids, which will continue under these new announcements, despite right-wing talking points.
  3. Due process concerns: Expedited deportations and Operation Streamline will continue.
  4. No reforms to the existing detention system: Family detention will continue as the DHS opens a brand new center in Dilley, Texas, and arriving asylum seekers at the border will continue to be detained.

Finally, I just want to say that this is a deeply personal issue for me. I want to send some love and light to everyone who has worked hard for this announcement and emotionally drained from yesterday, and left out or have family members who are left out. I had a cab-driver yesterday, who unexpectedly started telling me about his son, and trying to figure out how to bring him here, just as I was getting out of the cab. I wish I had the time and opportunity to help him, and I hope he reunites with his son soon. We all deserve justice; we all deserve to be able to reunite with our families; and we most certainly deserve to be able to go home to safety–wherever that is.

If anyone has further thoughts, questions and concerns, feel free to comment or contact me.

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