LTE: An Immigrant Perspective

As the news stories developed on TV, Social media and newspapers since President Trump signed and issued an Executive Order regarding the renewed procedures & rules for the immigration criteria, the entire world panicked. Every citizen of US, both native or immigrant alike, felt disturbed. Severe criticism of the order was made and the arguments in defense of the Executive Order (in media) are offensive and repetitive at best. Almost every immigrant and non-immigrant started canceling their foreign trips, if not debating vigorously leaning towards cancellations. The discussions about visiting home for a family wedding or to see their Parents and siblings, business travel, education trips etc., were all under tremendous concern and adamant about the safety of their return. This level of travel concerns can be equated to the post-9/11 travel concerns. The only difference is the Airline safety then and now, it is the confusion and a deliberate negative intent towards immigrants, as circulated in the media circles.
While the entire world, if not every American, appreciates and wants the President and his Administration to protect the USA from any and all foreign and domestic threats swiftly, there lies a question of basic threat to peaceful living of an immigrant family. Post-9/11, during my first travel to India within 2 weeks of normalization of air travel, I was pulled aside just before I boarded the plane for one last security check. As we made the situation lighter with my comment, “it is a random pick, correct?” and a much-needed smile from the Officer, saying “Yes” and then entire security staff was very respectful. They socialized and asked very friendly questions. Once that is done, I was upgraded and treated with great respect. I am sure the whole nation, especially, the airline community was under tremendous pressure but the conduct towards the passengers was very “American”. Fast forward 15 years, travel is quite a different experience. As I travel through the airports, albeit domestic, I do see very “serious” faces with heightened tension between the passengers and the airline staff/security. The staff is visibly under pressure and in most international airport cases, seems overworked.
The impact of the latest Executive Order has increased the stress levels of both passengers and staff alike. The actual Executive Order has very normal language reiterating the importance of handling the threats. It ensured the intent of the Order is to prevent the infiltration of terrorists and anyone with the intent of harming the US. This is a pre-existing requirement since day 1 and reiterated multiple times throughout the Executive Order. I do support this requirement and will do everything to ensure this is implemented thoroughly. I am confident, even President Trump intended to implement this without any chaos or causing harm to any and all American citizens while maintaining the American Dignity of handling guests visiting the USA.
Now the questions are why is there so much concern? What is wrong when a new Administration wants to conduct a thorough study of existing processes and documentation and fill the gaps? What is the uproar about? What is un-American about this Executive Order? There is one country on this earth that will not harm or restrict its own citizens, especially, with laws and treats every human being with utmost dignity irrespective of their race, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation etc. That is the USA.
There are a few sections in the Order that were clear but left open for interpretation. The most important thing that struck me is the section that laid out criteria for refugee status. It simply states the religion that is most subjected to persecution will be given priority. Now, the obvious interpretation on the news media is “Christianity”. However, in reality, it is a Sectarian violence in middle-east between Sunnis (ISIS) and Shiites/Yudis/Christians/other religions. The news media – both in support and against – reiterating their own interpretation of the Order as if Christians will get top preference. However, this is never mentioned either in the Order itself or any other addendums that were released. The criticism is at the same heightened level of “hatred” towards “perceived hatred”. The alarm bells went off. It definitely appeared that this religion-based policy of immigration especially implementing at the airports, instead of Consulates and Embassies put up the negative optics. While one would expect that these restrictions are implemented during the application process and interviews at the Consulates, not at an airport. If anyone traveled overseas, especially, Europe, would know that the flights to the US are from a separate and dedicated Airport Terminal with extensive Security procedures and multiple documentation checks. There is a 4th security check setup on the ramp of the aircraft. This latest implementation of one more documentation & security check at the airport with renewed policy change with a lack of clarity within the departments on implementation has caused a significant backlog in processing resulting in 109 pending cases within 24 hours. The supporting argument is; it is only 109 out of a million passengers. Agreed. But it is only 24 hours. There will be another 100+ in another 24 hours and keep adding. Though the cases get resolved as we go but the number is only going to go up and takes days to resolve. What would be the next step? To house the immigrant and non-immigrants till they are fully processed or send them back? Refugees obviously do not have a home to go back, so they have to be housed till the clearance is granted. In the case of Legal immigrants & non-immigrants, they are here supporting businesses and living day-to-day life with kids. How would they be impacted? Most of all, who would like to risk of going through this level of hardship by traveling.
For most immigrants, life in the US and the status of Legal Permanent Residency & Citizenship, are hard sought and extremely time laborious. In some cases, there is a wait time of 10-15 years. More than anything, the legal status is of priority for every immigrant.
More than the Executive order itself, which is open-ended in several ways – Countries to be added to the list will grow after investigations, and Religious priority for refugees – the implementation and overworking of the Department of Homeland Security staff need to be addressed swiftly. The unintended consequence is skyrocketing of Travel cancellations resulting in Airline industry crash similar to post-9/11. For easy math, a half a million immigrants canceling their yearly visit to their home country with an average of $1000 per ticket in itself is $500,000,000. Can the Airline industry and all the multi-national companies prepared to handle this “crisis”? Many companies have issued internal memos reiterating their commitment to diversity and not forcing their employees to travel. Last time this kind of advisories and actions occurred was post-9/11.
The matter is extremely grim and hopefully, once the confirmation of Secretary of State is completed, the process will be smoothened out and returned to normalcy.
No perspective is complete without a comment on the media. A highly responsible informative media is extinct as of today. There is a rhetoric of adamant support or a vicious criticism and alarmism in the opposition. Both are causing a great harm to the Nation. People – citizens and immigrants – are taking it seriously. Lack of responsible media working cohesively with Administration is giving way to rumors on social media and negatively impacting the lives of immigrants and citizens.

-Prakash Kopparapu

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