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Indian Americans occupy legal limbo waiting for green cards

Anti-immigration legacies enacted by the Trump administration exacerbated outdated quotas, which have increased the average wait times for immigrants, according to a new report published in the Cato Institute.

Presently, four nationalities are most affected by these policies: Chinese, Indians, Mexicans, and Filipinos. Out of all these groups, however, Indians wait the longest: 8 years and 6 months—nearly double the average wait of 4 years and 6 months for the other nationalities.

This issue of legal limbo resurfaced on Sept. 19. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough blocked parts of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan to provide legal status for “Dreamers” and other “essential” workers, The Washington Times reports.  

Furthermore, more than 80,000 visas have not been issued and aren’t expected to be before Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year when any unallocated green cards are forfeited. This means that these unused green cards, which allow foreign nationals to permanently reside and work in the U.S., will disappear.

These decisions were a severe blow to both Indian American professionals in the U.S. on a work visa as well as those who have been waiting for their green card for over a decade.

“We’ve been hanging by a cliff for a decade and half almost,” said Neha Mahajan, a Scotch Plains business manager for a law firm. “Don’t the rule makers see the lives behind these numbers? They don’t see that my child cannot apply for a summer job because she doesn’t have a Social Security number.”

Mahajan’s eldest daughter, Sanaa, has attended schools in New Jersey all her life. However, Sanaa will be deported to India or another country if the family does not receive its green cards by the time she turns 21, her mother told North Jersey. The Mahajan’s second child was born in the U.S. and is a citizen. The family will be separated if Sanaa does not receive the proper documents in time.

Take Sumier Phalke. At age 21, he left India to pursue his dreams in the U.S. Once he secured a job, his decision to stay in the country was supported by his parents. 18 years later, however, Phalake’s father was diagnosed with cancer and died within months. Sumier was unable to attend the funeral, as he was still trapped in the country’s interminable green card queue.

On Aug. 15, Phalake Tweeted his grief, “The legal immigration in this country is a cruel and unfeeling beast. [Its] cruelty only magnified the longer you are trapped in [its] clutches.”

While immigrants and their attorneys blame the Trump administration for exacerbating wait times with its hardline anti-immigration tactics that constrained USCIS, they also criticize the Biden administration for not diverting the waste of unused green cards.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren said, ““I think it’s a serious not just for the individuals stuck in backlogs that could go for decades, but for the U.S. economy. These are individuals who have already been screened and found to be taking a job that their employer could not find an American to do. So clearly they are good for the American economy.”

Lofgren is currently working with the Senate to eliminate national quotas for specific countries.  

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