Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants were on different sides during the recent US debate on immigration reform. The latest reform bill is on life support after it failed a preliminary vote in the US Senate on Thursday.
Indian-Americans were vociferous opponents of the Senate bill. But many migration analysts believed new Indians seeking US citizenship would have been prime beneficiaries if the bill had become law. The heart of the Senate reform bill was a plan to introduce a points-based immigration system where likelihood of becoming citizenship would be judged on the basis of education, age and other criteria. This would partly supplant the present family reunion system which gives preference to immigrants with relatives in the US.
Indian-American groups opposed the bill because it reduced the family reunion window —clauses giving priority to siblings and adult children of existing immigrants would have been knocked off. Some 22,000 South Asians moved to the US under these clauses in 2005, says activist group South Asian Americans Leaders of Tomorrow.
While Indians would lose a little, Muzaffar Chishthi of the Migration Policy Institute says the community’s fears are misplaced. “An unpublished study shows they would have been among the least-affected ethnic groups,” he said. The only family reunion category where Indian were significant was siblings. But since the backlog in this category is now 15 years, says Chishthi, “it is an almost useless category.”
Indian-Americans also ignored how much the points systems would benefit them. Immigration policy analyst Deborah Meyers argues the five criteria (education, occupation, work experience, age, knowledge of English) were tailor-made for Indians. An MPI study comparing Indians to other ethnic immigrants to the US in 2005 had Indians at or near the top in virtually every criteria.
Meyers adds that the points system would have also eased other immigration bottlenecks that tended to work against Indians like diversity and country-specific quotas. “Analysis indicates non-English speaking Africans, East Europeans and Latin Americans would have lost the most,” she says.
Sanjay Puri of the US India Political Action Committee, which lobbied against the bill, feels the family reunion minuses outweighed the points system’s pluses. “We don’t want the US to become a country that just attracts high-achievers who are dysfunctional — every study shows that they need a family environment.” Meyers said: “People in the same family tend to have similar educational levels. Siblings could probably apply on their own.”
Noting that a points system would make citizenship much easier, Chishthi felt the community had “become an interest group focussed on the single issue of family reunion.” Puri responds: “I can’t imagine that given the choices available to qualified Indians at home and elsewhere they would have a great fascination for coming to the US when they know they would have a hard time being with their families.”