#SAALT South Asian Summit

Posted on by Prerna in Desi, Immigration | 3 Comments

This was truly an honor. I would have never expected an award from anything South Asian. Heck, I don’t even identify as South Asian on most days.

I don’t get involved in South Asian diaspora politics. However, I do take offense when people assume I’m from India — my great-grandparents left India for Fiji in the 19th century, as part of the indentured servitude system. But if anyone asks, I am ethnically Indian. (And I bleed blue – Congratulations Team India)!

Talking about immigration with South Asians is a different ballgame. Maybe the lens is different. I’m not a South Asian concerned about immigration issues. I’m just concerned about survival. And I’m always in survival mode: how do I tolerate and maximize my time to enjoy life in a system that does not consider my mother as my immediate relative? How do I keep my family together in defiance of the arbitrary political violence that seeks to separate us? And finally, how do I beat the system at its own game?

As someone noted last night, I’m only half-illegal. I thought that was hilarious. I’ve learned to not only survive but thrive in this system. Despite the odds, I seem to have it all together but with the knowledge that it can be taken away at any second. I could probably pass for a model minority as long as I keep my mouth shut and not play gay.

While not homogeneous, the community does not have much exposure to outspoken undocumented young people. The stigma and shame is immense and resources quite limited. And it’s harder to stop the deportations of undocumented South Asian youth when they are so reluctant to talk about themselves. For example, the campaign to stop the deportation of Taha — a Bangladeshi-American teenager — was riddled with such problems but I won’t go into details about it. If you are an undocumented South Asian, I urge you to contact me or get in touch with the amazing people at The National Immigrant Youth Alliance. There’s safety in numbers and community. We can help but the first step is always to come out to yourself, and then to others.

But of course, our troubles with immigration are not limited to those South Asians who are undocumented. Ten years after 9-11, the country is still racially-profiling and targeting South Asians, especially at airports. “Muslim” has become synonymous with a racial classification and anyone who “looks” Muslim is a target for immigration and customs enforcement. And the problems that plague H-1 and H-4 visa holders continues.

Anyway, the conference was fantastic. It even ran on time! I thoroughly recommend people to check out SAALT, maybe come to a summit and get involved in their communities.

The Grand April Fools’ Joke

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

My April Fools’ prank at Change.org from last year (White House Plans to Shutdown Rogue ICE) got me some heat. Who would fall for that?

This year, I don’t need to write anything new. We’ve news of Rep. Gutierrez launching his familias unidas tour all over again with immigration advocates calling on Obama to fulfill his promise of immigration reform. It’s a convenient practical joke for April Fools’ Day.

I’ve seen the movie. I don’t want to see the sequel. That’s all I’m going to say. Please refer to “This Dog Must Bite” for the full context.

Also, I’m looking for a full-time job since I have work authorization. No joke.

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Clarying USCIS On Gay Green Cards

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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Last week, USCIS told us that they would hold green card petitions filed by same-sex married couples in abeyance. This week, they are telling the press something else. The last thing the agency wants is to spread the perception that they are not following the law of the land regarding DOMA. So now they are going back on their word and resuming deportations.

Amidst, all the confusion regarding the official position of USCIS on issuing green cards to foreign partners of same-sex couples, I stick by what I said originally: inundate them with thousands of marriage-based petitions from same-sex couples. I’d love to see them adjudicate all the petitions and pursue removal proceedings. As a community, it’s time to turn up the heat on the agency and Congressional members.

I’ll say two additional things:

  • USCIS never said it would issue green cards. No one has ever said that the new guidance would give them green cards. This will not benefit those that live abroad and those couples who are not legally married. The end.
  • But if you are tired of being undocumented and came to this country legally, this is your golden chance to get work authorization and all relevant documents besides a green card. It really makes a difference. You can drive legally, work legally, take out loans — what more do you need? If you came here illegally, you are just out of luck.

No organization will completely endorse this position. Because lets face it, we are all lawyers and lawyers never give absolute answers due to professional ethics and a desire to err on the side of caution. But social change is not made using caution. Or lawyers.

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Posted on by Prerna in Sports | 2 Comments

Standard cricket ball on a cricket shirt.

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Today is the World Cup Cricket semi-final between India and Pakistan. About a billion people around the world will be less productive during the next 24 hours.

India has never won at Mohali against Pakistan. In return, Pakistan has never won against India in the World Cup. The winner will play Sri Lanka in the Finals.

The national fervor of cricket in South Asian countries is perhaps, the biggest critique of the word “post-colonial.” There’s nothing remotely post-colonial about adopting the colonizer’s passion past-time as the national sport of a new nation.

But maybe what is truly post-colonial is beating the colonizer at their own game.

Here’s to an all-South Asian World Cup Cricket Final.

Let the Battle of Mohali begin.

P.S. I bleed blue.

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Should States and Localities Be Able To Opt Out of Secure Communities?

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 1 Comment

2_12_11 Immigrant Protest Against Secure Commu...

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Paging immigration and constitutional law experts.

The spread of the non-opt-out federal Secure Communities program raises a compelling constitutional question: Does the federal government have the right to coerce state and local officials to participate in Secure Communities?

That’s essentially what DHS is telling local and state officials right now.

Immigration is an area of federal pre-emption. Crime fighting is historically a state and local initiative. Basically, under Secure Communities programs, local and state officials are supposed to run all arrest-related fingerprints through a U.S. immigration database, identify the ones without legal status and hold them till ICE can place them in removal proceedings. Reports suggest that most of the people deported under Secure Communities were non-criminal aliens that were never convicted of a crime.

Congress cannot impose a federal regulatory scheme on states that force state officials to implement federal law (Printz v. United States). How is Secure Communities not a federal regulatory scheme to manage immigrant populations in jails and prisons that requires not just compliance, but implementation of a program?

I’m sure local and state jurisdictions are unlikely to protest the legality of the program because they receive lots of money from DHS for implementation of the program. And most professional immigration reform advocates don’t really care about Secure Communities and detention practices. The ones who do care enough don’t really understand the law and probably don’t have an interest in spending any time on this. I do hope someone can answer my question beyond just arguing that Secure Communities requires only compliance and not implementation, and hence it is legal.

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No Blanket Deferred Action for DREAM Act Students

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 2 Comments

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 08:  U.S.  Rep. Luis...

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Here’s a persistent media myth that needs to die: President Obama is not deporting undocumented students. Actually, he is.

The President keeps reiterating his support for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. He did so on Univision last night. At the same time, undocumented and documented immigration advocates keep pointing out that Obama has deported more people than Bush and Secretary Napolitano seems proud of this fact.

I share the frustration that most of my friends feel on this matter. The most President Obama has done is make a few phone calls, a website banner, a speech — no direct lobbying, no campaigning, no real engaging of the American people on this issue. At the same time, I’m not sure how effective it is to keep asking Obama to grant a blanket deferred actionprosecutorial discretion to not deport — eligible DREAM Act students.

For one, I’ve yet to get a standard legal definition for a “dreamer.” There’s no pending legislation with markers and no chance of one passing before 2013. Without one, I wonder how advocates expect USCIS/DHS to create a blanket deferred action policy. These are details that matter. I can’t possibly lobby for an undefinable blanket deferred action policy for all immigrant youth when I’m in a room with officials from the Department of Homeland Security, who actually do want to help keep the best and brightest in this country. Honestly, these are former alum from my law school and people with backgrounds in international human rights who need something concrete to cover them. I’ve yet to get anything concrete from anyone.

In order to grant some segment of the undocumented youth population blanket deferred action, DHS would need to create a registry of eligible youth. Advocates can keep playing the same fiddle but pigs would fly before that happens absent Congressional action on the issue. Senator Durbin has spoken to Napolitano over at DHS on this on several different occasions and come up with nothing. At best, DHS has to do this on a case by case basis, which it has in the past in the cases of several students. However, I will not defend the amount of lobbying and campaigning each individual case takes. The message to DREAM youth right now is “get arrested, make some noise and we’ll offer you deferred action” and I don’t like that message.

For the next two years, I see an immediate window of opportunity to establish deferred action for same-sex bi-national couples and actually winning relief through the overturning of DOMA. I’ve said that on several occasions. Additionally, with backlogged petitions, clogged immigration courts and a Congress that is unwilling to act on immigration reform, USCIS would need to find more creative ways to maximize judicial economy and efficiency. The best possible win for everyone would be for people with approved petitions to gain prosecutorial discretion without living in limbo.

Anyway, I heard at a movie screening at my law school for Tony and Janina’s Wedding that Rep. Luis Gutierrez is launching his familias unidas tour all over again. All the best.

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USCIS Unveils E-Verify Self-Check – I Passed

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 1 Comment

I guess I don’t need to get married just yet.

Authorized to work but not authorized to live, seriously USCIS?

USCIS Grants De-Facto Deferred Action For Same-Sex Bi-National Couples

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ | Leave a comment

LGBT Families for Immigration Reform

Image by ep_jhu via Flickr

Update: USCIS is no longer going to deny green card applications (I-130s) filed by married same-sex binational couples. They will hold them in abeyance till a decision can be reached on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Not that holding in abeyance does not mean processing.

But it does create a case of defacto deferred action. Now what the hell do I mean by defacto deferred action? It’s not deferred action in law but deferred action in fact — usually, pending applicants for green cards are eligible for work authorization at absolutely no cost. Eligibility for work authorization confers social security numbers to applicants and hence, drivers’ licenses, and other necessary identity documents. If you are filing an I-130, you may as well file the application for work authorization at no additional cost, until USCIS tries to fill this loophole created by prosecutorial discretion.

However, here are some caveats. It is unclear whether this is a true shift in policy and whether it creates permission to stay. Visa overstayers may still risk a 10-year bar if they stay in this country without authorization. Yes, I know this creates a permission to work and not permission to live scenario — welcome to my life. Those who entered without proper documents may still be subject to removal proceedings and deportations. And most importantly, the policy only applies to married couples and not merely partners. And if you are an unmarried undocumented adult child of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident like me, it is unclear whether your same-sex marriage to a U.S. citizen or legal resident would benefit or doom you.

As always, my advice is to get a good immigration lawyer if you are part of a same-sex binational marriage.

Also, I’m glad to report I’ve a paid fellowship this summer from the San Francisco Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild to work at the National Center for Lesbian Rights on LGBT Immigration issues.

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Fighting Against Women’s Oppression All Over Again

Posted on by Prerna in Gender, Nationalism | Leave a comment

I’ve such a horrible case of déjà vu right now. Anyone else remember how the oppression of women in Afganistan was used as a polemic and rhetorical device to justify the occupation of the country and distinguish between “us” and “them?”

Of course, taking nothing away from this woman, my statement does not mean that Qaddafi and his troops are not horrendous and guilty. I’m just interested in how the crisis of women’s oppression has been used to justify war efforts throughout our history. We are so concerned about women’s rights abroad but not so much at home. A really good recommended reading is Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars.

Chipotle Strikes Out On Integrity

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 1 Comment

A Chipotle restaurant sign

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This is my two pence on the recent firings of allegedly undocumented workers from Chipotle chains across the United States.

The law is unfortunately not on the side of the Chipotle workers. In Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., the SCOTUS held that National Labor Relations Board could not award backpay to undocumented immigrants who had never been legally authorized to work in the United States. However, there’s a more recent Second Circuit ruling in Madeira v. Affordable Housing Foundation, Inc. which held that federal immigration law did not preempt New York law allowing undocumented construction worker to recover United States earnings. If D.C. has a similar law on the books, the fired Chipotle workers may be able to win the battle in court as may Chipotle workers fired in other states.

However, this does not mean that we cannot force Chipotle to comply with fair labor practices. We should always protect the most vulnerable in society. Chipotle promised food with integrity. Where is their integrity now that they knowingly hired, exploited and then fired undocumented workers when it became convenient? We must demand Chipotle treat workers with integrity, apologize, and pay up. To be clear, no one is demanding that Chipotle hire the workers back; people are complaining about the way in which the workers were fired during their shift and unpaid for their work.

And if it is a crime to hire undocumented immigrants, then why is Chipotle not facing fines and lawsuits from DHS? In its usual hypocrisy, ICE is also not imposing charges against Chipotle. Steve Ells, CEO and Founder of Chipotle, is smiling on his way to the bank while Jose and Maria are awaiting the next low-paying, back-breaking job that would exploit their labor. That’s integrity alright.

As a side note, I may need my money back if this is the quality of burritos that Chipotle is now producing:

Americans just cannot do the work immigrants do.

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