‘WH is asking a big price for our protection’

Indian American urges lawmakers to reject Trump plan

Updated - January 31, 2018 05:56 pm IST

Published - January 30, 2018 09:41 pm IST - Washington

Chirayu Patel is among the 8,000 people of Indian origin protected from deportation by the Obama-era DACA order.

Chirayu Patel is among the 8,000 people of Indian origin protected from deportation by the Obama-era DACA order.

The massive cuts in legal immigration proposed by the White House in exchange for offering a path to citizenship for a section of undocumented residents is too high a price, and lawmakers should not accept that, an Indian American activist who could be a beneficiary of the proposal, said.

Chirayu Patel reached America as an 11-year old in 1994 legally, but lost his legal status along with that of his parents. He is one of the 8,000 people of Indian origin who are protected from deportation and allowed to work by an Obama-era executive order titled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. President Donald Trump has announced that DACA will end on March 5 and called upon Congress to make law to deal with the situation.

“They want a wholesale reduction of immigration for something that should have been done decades ago — the protection of dreamers. We are pushing our elected officials to ensure that they don’t accept that,” Mr. Patel told The Hindu in an interview. ‘Dreamers’ are children who arrived in the country illegally, and a law offering them a path to citizenship has been pending since 2001. In 2012, the DACA programme offered protection to a section of them. “Many people were not eligible to apply for DACA,” said Mr. Patel, who received work authorisation in 2013.

“With DACA, I could further integrate into the American society, get a loan, sign a lease and become financially independent. I have been able to use my degree to find a job,” Mr. Patel, who now works as an asset manager for a real estate company in Chicago, said. His 2013 DACA approval was renewed subsequently every two years, for a fees of $500, an interview and finger-printing. If Congress does not make a new law, he won’t be able to apply for the next renewal later this year.

Mr. Patel has been fortunate that Illinois, the State where he grew up, allowed people without immigration status to go to college. “In school, we were trying to blend in, in the midst of the uncertainty surrounding our immigration status. We had to be careful not to reveal the details, but until the high school, it was not a problem,” he recalled his early days in America.

“When you were applying to colleges, the status comes into play,” he said. Mr. Patel could find some scholarships and his parents had the wherewithal to organise private loans to finance his college education.

Belligerent debate

When the bipartisan DREAM Act — Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — offering a path to citizenship for people like him was introduced in 2001, he “hoped this could be the first step” to a more certain future. But the immigration debate in America began increasingly belligerent in the years that followed 9/11. “I grew up Gujarat and speak a bit in Hindi but I don’t think I could survive in India,” Mr. Patel said. There are an estimated 3.6 million people like him America, who grew up in America but continues to be undocumented. Around 800,000 of them received DACA protection.

The proposal floated by the Trump White House offers a path to citizenship for dreamers such as him, over a period of 10 to 12 years. In return, Congress would have to create a $25 billion trust fund to pay for a southern border wall, increase immigration arrests, allow quicker deportations of others, sweep up people who overstay their visas, disallow citizens from bringing their parents to the U.S., and end the diversity lottery programme for immigration from under-represented countries. “It is a pretty big price they are asking for our protection. They are using our future as a gambling chip. The White House has its agenda and the Republican Party has its own agenda,” said Mr. Patel.

Mr. Patel has come out into the open on his status in order to encourage larger mobilization of the Indian American community on the issue. “That is why I share my story and encourage others to share their stories,” Mr. Patel, who lends his voice behind the South Asian Americans Leading Together, an organisation that works on immigrant rights, said.

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