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When the Grass Isn't Greener

By Risham Dhillon

Untangling the jumbled knot that is America’s immigration policy has proven to be a difficult task. Every time a party attempts to unravel it, the knot only seems to further tighten.

President Obama’s recent executive actions  protect a significant population of illegal immigrants. His decisiveness deserves applause—he successfully circumvented a deadlocked Congress and avoided the ping-pong tournament that almost every congressional debate has become.

However, what remains concerning is that immigration discourse nowadays is usually centered on illegal, and not legal immigration. This perpetuates the stagnant and outdated employment-based legal immigration process.

The most absurd part of the employment-based immigration system is that it authorizes a per country cap on annual green card allotment. In other words, out of the 140,000 employment-based green cards that the U.S. gives out each year, each country is capped at 7%. Oversubscribed countries like India, China, and the Philippines suffer extensive backlogs because of this cap. The consequences of this on the day-to-day life of employment-based immigrants from these countries is significant as they become entrenched in a state of limbo, waiting years and years for their green card application to be reviewed.

My Indian-born family falls under the Employment-Based Immigration category.  We moved to the United States from Canada in the early 2000s, after my mother was offered a job by the New York City Department of Education. Years later, while most other international recruits hired in the same year have already received their green cards or have even become U.S. citizens, my family’s application for a green card is put on a separate Indian-born queue. Year after year, as we pay taxes, contribute to the economy, pay off our mortgage, and celebrate Independence Day, we also check our mailbox for any news of our green card application. Year after year, the mailbox is empty.

In an op-ed titled “Why I Acted on Immigration” published by the White House, President Obama argued: “What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.” Obviously, for illegal immigrants, such was not the case—the looming, unfair threat of deportation paralyzed and prevented illegal immigrants from having, to paraphrase the president, a fair chance to make of their lives what they will.

But these same words can be applied to the employment-based legal immigrants of the EB3 category: if all of us are created equal, why is that an Indian EB-3 immigrant applying for a green card on the same date as an EB-3 immigrant from Denmark working in the same firm with the same job will wait years more than the Dane? Why should Chinese or Filipino applicants have to wait longer for the benefits of citizenship to kick in, even if they moved to the United States years before EB green-card applicants from other parts of the world?

In fact, according to a report by the National Foundation for American Policy, “a highly skilled Indian national sponsored today for an employment-based immigrant visa in the 3rd preference could wait potentially 70 years to receive a green card.”

Distribution of EB-based green cards should be on a first-come, first-served basis, not our current system that discriminates based on country of origin. America’s employment laws are crafted to prevent discrimination, especially discrimination based on race or country of origin. In fact, title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Our current system blatantly violates the spirit of this act.

One counterargument is that because the H1B visa process (the temporary work visas US companies are allowed to issue foreign workers and on which many EB immigrants first come to America) are not based on country-specific quotas, the US is not discriminating. But that is precisely the concern–the fact that America does not have any problem offering work visas to employees of any nationality, but when it comes to offering workers the benefit (or perhaps even right) of a green card, certain discriminatory processes come into play. There is no logic in insisting that America has an interest in making the permanent residency track easier for those who happen to be born in countries with lower number of employment-based immigrants, because the EB category does not have the same purpose as the diversity lottery immigration system.

For many EB immigrants frustrated with the green card backlog, the grass isn’t greener in America. Stripped of basic rights and securities that green cards provide, these EB immigrants soon come to realize that the pursuit of green is perhaps not worth it – leading to significant populations migrating back to their countries of origin. But if America wants its economic status to have a green light, it must resynchronize its EB green card policies with its economic goals and eliminate the per country EB green card cap.

Risham Dhillon ’18 is a Crimson editorial writer in Stoughton Hall.

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