Illegals tie themselves to buses to stop deportation, legals can at least do another ‘Gandhigiri’

Legal immigrants need to organize protest for immigration reform.

By Sujeet Rajan

Sujeet-sidebar 150x150NEW YORK: There is a massive push to fix the broken immigration system in the US: by illegal immigrants, their advocates. Advocacy for more legal immigration, to get more H1B workers, increase family reunification visas, seems to have tapered off, taken a back seat. Advocacy for legal immigrants languishing for years without permanent residency, stuck in a vortex of uncertainty – if ever there was any strong support for them on Capitol Hill, in the first place – is negligible.

Vociferous marches and demonstrations are ongoing all over the country since the beginning of the year, to clamor for amnesty. But now there is a new edge to the protests by illegal residents and their support organizations. They realize the seminal moment is here for immigration reform.

President Obama has said immigration reform is his number one priority, once the shutdown is over, debt ceiling raised, the country back on the road to progress. There is a growing resonance within the GOP that for it to be in contention for the White House in the 2016 elections, it need to be part of the solution, not be the stumbling block, like they were proved to be in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.

Reports pinpoint to a growing concerted struggle to raise awareness, get a debate going: halting deportation proceedings by chanting protests outside courtrooms, blocking the entrance to detention centers; stopping deportation buses taking illegal residents to be handed over across the borders, by chaining themselves to the tires of those buses. Even challenging policemen in Tucson, Arizona, who were trying to arrest two illegal residents at a traffic stop, Fox News reported.

“It’s absolutely out of frustration and impatience,” Marisa Franco, campaign organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the key coordinators of some of the provocative actions, was quoted as saying by Fox News. “Immigrant communities who are losing 1,100 loved ones every day to deportation cannot wait for Congress to end its political games or for the President to rediscover his moral compass.”

According to some organizations, around two million illegal residents have been deported from the US under the Obama administration. The Center for Immigration Studies reported there are about 11 million illegal people in the country, down from 12.5 million people in 2007.

In recent days, some of the biggest supporters of making the US a haven for skilled workers, the tech honchos, the big businesses, also seem to be shifting their fight to aid illegal immigrants. Maneuvering cleverly to mask a broadside move for an increase in flow in legal immigration.

Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration advocacy group is going to hold a ‘hackathon’ in November, for young undocumented immigrants as it tries to refocus attention on immigration reform, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The ‘hackathon’ will be hosted by LinkedIn founder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, at his headquarters in Mountain View, California, over two days, on November 21-22. It would strive to focus on ‘Dreamers’, children born to illegal residents and brought to the country here at a young age.

Zuckerberg visited Capitol Hill last month to revive the immigration reform bill stuck in the House at present. He is a strong advocate for increasing the number of visas for skilled workers, for jobs that he, as well as most other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, say are hard to fill with the current crop of talent available in the US.

Also, the George Soros-funded National Immigration Forum (NIF) is organizing a ‘fly-in’ on October 28th, of what it calls conservatives from across the country aimed at lobbying House Republicans for an amnesty bill, reported USA Today.

The move is being organized with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Zuckerberg’s, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy. The NIF says it has got together 300 activists from advocacy organizations for illegal immigrants, to make a “conservative pitch” for amnesty.

NIF’s Executive Director, Ali Noorani “has advocated for changes in immigration law to help legal and undocumented immigrants for three decades,” said the USA Today report, and added that “the broad collection coming to Washington represents ‘the conservative base of the Republican Party.'”

There is no doubt that the push by organizations to try find a solution for the plight of the 11 million undocumented workers, is likely to benefit legal immigration too, as the government cannot ignore the ones who are waiting in line for permanent residency, not allow the pipeline for permanent residency to clog further.

The Democrats want an umbrella bill to fix all aspects of immigration – the thrust of the bill passed in the Senate; the Republicans a piecemeal approach, which would mean separate legislation on different facets of immigration reforms, starting with enhanced border security, then moving on to the increase in number of work visas and the vexatious question of legalization of illegal immigrants, among other objectives, as the GOP-majority House seems to have come to a conclusion to.

The irony is that while the undocumented workers are the ones at present fighting to get a solution to their lives in the country they call home, the legal immigrants are not stepping forward to voice their protest at the stagnation in the USCIS process to give relief to them, argue for a way to expedite the process of permanent residency.

While illegal residents have held hunger strikes, even demonstrations outside offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement – risking arrest and deportation – the legal immigrants have not done anything for themselves, except hope that the protests by the illegals, and the lobbying by the proponents of those who want to increase the work visas, would pave the way for them to benefit too. They have suffered silently the injustice of the broken immigration system for years. Now, are again being silent, hoping for somebody else to do their work for them.

But there is a past precedent of legal residents coming together for a unique protest of their own, which yielded positive results.

Six years ago, in the summer of 2007, some 200 legal residents, mostly from India – living all over the country – did something unprecedented: they sent bunches of flowers to Emilio Gonzalez, then the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to protest against a sudden change in rule by the USCIS which took away a sudden shot at a Green Card. The department had opened a window for three weeks for aspiring Green Card holders to file for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and Advance Parole (AP), get out of the quagmire of visa status.

The flower protest was an off-shoot of the term ‘Gandhigiri’ that emanated from the blockbuster Bollywood film ‘Munnabhai MBBS.’

The gesture took the USCIS by surprise; produced a famous reversal: the USCIS, taking cognizance of the flower diplomacy, retreated from its position. It reinstated the order that anybody who had applied for a Green Card during the window of those three weeks would be considered for EAD and AP.

It’s time for legal residents waiting in line for a Green Card, to come together, and launch a new protest, do another ‘Gandhigiri’ act.

Legal residents have to realize they have only themselves to bank upon to find a solution to their problems: the illegal immigrants have got dozens of powerful Latino organizations and lobbyists working for them, potential new skilled immigrants to this country have got the backing of the Indian government, powerful business groups both here and in India, enough politicians on Capitol Hill, to advocate for them.

Nobody cares really for the legal residents waiting in line for a Green Card – they don’t have a vote, pay taxes, contribute to Social Security, pay money in the thousands of dollars every year to the USCIS to renew their papers and keep the department in business, remit money to India, buy houses here, raise children to become model citizens. Who really cares if they get a Green Card or not?

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)

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