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Immigration Reform and Us:

July 2006
Immigration Reform and Us:

Myths and Realities

Myth: Comprehensive immigration reform is not important to South Asians because it does not affect the community.

The South Asian community is predominantly foreign-born and represents a range of immigration statuses – from undocumented aliens to U.S. citizens. This means that immigration policy affects all South Asians. It determines where an H-1B employee can work, how long a relative must wait before coming here, and the terms and conditions of working in the U.S. without status. Comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to improving the lives of all immigrants, including South Asians, as it embraces the following principles:

- promoting family reunification by reducing the visa backlog

- ensuring worker protections

- eradicating the criminalization of immigrants

- providing a path to permanent residency for all current and future immigrants in this country

Myth: There are no undocumented immigrants from South Asia in the United States.

Of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country, over 1.5 million come from Asia1. These immigrants may include those who:

- entered without papers because they lack the resources to enter lawfully

- arrived with visas, but then subsequently lost their status

- worked as blue-collar workers

- are H-1B employees who lost their jobs

- are college students who reduced their course load beyond approved levels

South Asians in this country are not just model engineers, doctors, and lawyers– they are also working-class individuals who support the economic well-being of America. They are taxi drivers, convenience store clerks, gas station attendants and restaurant dishwashers. For these undocumented workers, the situation is even more challenging as they are often exploited due to their status, endure extremely long work hours, receive below minimum wage without overtime, and are forced to live in overcrowded and filthy apartments. Providing a path towards legalization would significantly impact this invisible yet vital segment of the South Asian community.

Myth: I am an immigrant who obeyed the law and waited for years to come here. Why should those who broke the law be allowed to cut in line and get amnesty?

Everyone can agree that the current immigration system is seriously flawed. Due to the serious visa backlog, many have waited years to come over, even after their visas have been processed and made available. However, many immigrants come to the United States through unauthorized channels because there is a demand for labor, but insufficient visas for lower-skilled workers. Moreover, it is important to recognize that those within our community who were able to immigrate legally benefited from a certain degree of privilege – be it family members established here or an employer in the United States willing to sponsor them. All South Asian immigrants, whether legal or undocumented, encounter racism. We must eliminate a hierarchy of oppression and work together in the interest of our entire community.

Finally, while comprehensive immigration reform calls for placing undocumented immigrants on the path towards permanent residency, current legislative measures propose legalization with various requirements - rather than an amnesty. Permanent resident status and citizenship is not accorded automatically, rather, it is a privilege acquired over time. For example, in the Hagel-Martinez compromise bill, certain undocumented immigrants can eventually become citizens provided they pay fines and back-taxes, learn English and establish they have been here for the requisite number of years. Furthermore, under the Compromise Bill, undocumented immigrants cannot obtain legal permanent residency until existing backlogs for immigrant visas are cleared.

Myth: Undocumented immigrants are a burden on our society.

Undocumented immigrants pay the same real estate, sales and consumption taxes that all other Americans pay. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, and contribute $6–7 billion in Social Security funds, even though they may never be able to claim them2. In addition to paying taxes, undocumented immigrants contribute financially by working in various sectors of our economy and they contribute socially and culturally to the diverse fabric of our nation.

[Source: SAALT (South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow)]

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