Widow of slain Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibotla talks about how her tragedy turned her into immigration activist.
It’s been over two years since Sunayana Dumala lost her husband. While Srinivas Kuchibotla, a promising Garmin engineer was shot in a hate crime, what Sunayana faced after the tragedy was not just learning to live with her grief, but to also go through a draining immigration process.
Not many may know that Dumala, who is actively campaigning for the passage of S.386 or Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Bill 2019 in the Senate was instrumental in the passing of H.R. 1044 in the House.
The resolution that sought to remove the per country limit on green cards was passed by a majority earlier this year in Congress. Now, as the companion bill S.386 awaits passing in the Senate, Dumala has been relentlessly trying to explain the importance of the bill.
Dumala has seen the repercussions of the unfair immigration system first hand. Talking to the American Bazaar she recalls: “I clearly remember the night, when the police came to my door to inform me about the shooting that took my husband away.
“Standing there at that moment, I realized that my life has changed. I also knew that my years of studying and working in the U.S. would come to a naught as now I would be rendered out of status.”
Dumala, who was on an H-4 work visa for spouses of techies on H-1B visa, took the long journey to India for her husband’s funeral knowing full well that her return may be unlikely.
“I did think about staying back in India. I knew that would have meant starting my professional life from scratch but more than that, it would have also meant that the shooters’ word would come true and I did not want that.”
Adam Puritan, the man who shot Dumalas’ husband dead had yelled, ‘Go back from my country.’
“I felt my grief was increased manifold as I sat there during my husbands’ funeral while filling the necessary documents,” she recalled.
“During that time, my attorney in the U.S. called me back saying that I had filled my status as married on one of the documents, while it should be widow. It hit me hard and I realized that this documentation was exacerbating my pain.”
Today Dumala is grateful that she is out of the darkest phase of her life and credits the immense support shown by people in America that convinced her to stay back and pay real homage to her husband by telling the world who he really was.
“I would say that I became this accidental public figure,” she said. “I never planned my life like this but going through an exhausting immigration process I knew that there are many like me and my loss would mean nothing if I do not try to create a better way out for others.”
Dumala became the face of legal immigration when then then Kansas Representative Kevin Yoder came forward to help Dumala get a work visa of her own. Moved by her case, he also began working on a legislation to remove the per country cap on green cards.
Thanks to the efforts of lawyers from her late husbands’ company, her employer InTouch Solutions and Congressman Yoder, Dumala was able to get back into the U.S. on a humanitarian parole.
She was then granted work authorization through deferred action. However, the legal hassle was still not over. She says,
“I had to take the call whether I could go to India for my husband’s ritual a year later as my work visa still hadn’t come,” Dumala said. “There was no guarantee that I could come back again.”
“I broke down and thought why was it happening to me? Wasn’t losing my husband a grief enough that now I have to deal with the struggle to live in country where I studied, met my husband, worked and made my home?”
It was just in time that Dumala finally secured an H-1B work visa of her own, and was able to undertake the journey to attend the annual ritual.
“All these harrowing times,” she said, “forced me to stand for what I believe and that is fair immigration laws.”
Dumala and her husband were in the line for green card when Srinivas passed away. “We had a July 2010 priority date, but all this came to a halt once Srinu was gone.”
Dumala’s attorneys are working on the legal issues as her company too is preparing to apply for her own path to citizenship.
“I started advocating for fair immigration laws as my experience taught me that Indians despite being high skilled have to wait forever for green cards,” Dumala said. “I believe in a merit based system. It’s going to be about three years since my struggle started and people are still dying awaiting their green cards. The families are often left in limbo.”
About her advocating for S. 386 she says, “What we are asking for is to be treated equally. We want a first come, first serve process.
“When we apply for a job, we are not hired based on the country we come from, in fact it would be illegal if we are discriminated on the basis of country of origin so why should it be a matter when getting green cards.”
Dumala said she wanted Senator Dick Durbin, Senate Democratic whip, who has put a hold on S. 386, “to understand that we cannot wait all our lives to get the green card. Even after my personal struggle I live with the reality that I may not cherish the dream of being an American citizen.”
“There are countless stories of people suffering because of the backlog. Every week that Senator Durbin delays the passing of S. 386, there may be people dying in the green card line, there may be children getting deprived of their status.”
“I decided to stay back in America, because the country showed me if there was one shooter, there were thousands of others who were ready to support me,” Dumala said. “I believe in the America that feels for others and I am sure our voices will be heard.”
Trump talks about changes in H-1B Visa, including a possible citizenship (January 11, 2019)
Trump’s tweet on H-1B and path to citizenship evokes lukewarm response (January 12, 2019)