US senator Richard J Durbin under attack for mocking Indians

Updated on Sep 29, 2019 07:20 PM IST

At the heart of the outrage is a video of an outreach event attended by Durbin with people who appear to also be in the queue for Green Cards.

Richard J Durbin(Photo: Facebook)
Richard J Durbin(Photo: Facebook)
Hindustan Times, Washington | ByYashwant Raj

A senior US senator is drawing intense criticism for mocking the plight of thousands of Indians who have been forced to wait for their permanent residency, Green Card, because of a country-limit system.

The senator, Richard J Durbin, who is a Democrat and represents the state of Illinois in US — President Barack Obama’s home state — has also put a “block” on a legislation that seeks to remove the country limit and that had recently passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. But advocates of the bill — S-386 “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act” — are used to these “blocks” by individual lawmakers, it’s the third so far.

But they have been outraged in this instance by the senator’s apparent lack of empathy for the plight of those who are looking at a statistical probability of waiting for more than 100 years during which many of them will either die or relocate to a more welcoming country such as Canada.

At the heart of the outrage is a video of an outreach event attended by Durbin with people who appear to also be in the queue for Green Cards. 

A man, who is said to be part of an effort to prevent S-386 from going through because of a racially charged agenda of its opponents, is seen approaching the senator in the clip with a mock green-card. And he said, “if you want more Green Card here is all you want”.

Durbin accepts it and says, to a burst of laughter, “Thank you very much, been waiting for years”

The authenticity of the video or the context could not be ascertained. But the person who posted it on twitter, using a handle that gave away nothing about its owner, wrote, “Today, I’m heartbroken. My Senator, @SenatorDurbin mocked & made a joke at a town hall when a man opposing S.386 gave him a green index card & joked that if people like me wanted a green card, we should settle for that - while others laughed profusely and held up fake green cards.”

A response was awaited from the Senator’s office, which does not appear to have contradicted or clarified the conversation on the video yet.

The poster, who seems to have been present at the event further and posted, “He did not say ‘this is not a laughing matter’ and he did not say anything about why the existing green card system should not discriminate based on country of origin. Instead, he laughed at my expense and mocked my family’s misery.”

Durbin “needs to apologize to the 1000s of backlogged families for mocking at their misery and supporting,” said a follow-up tweet.

“As a person in backlog - I feel backstabbed by a democratic senator who not only blocked the bill but mocked and laughed at me,” wrote another post.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs the Green Card and all other immigration issues, has said there are 306,601 Indians waiting for their Green Cards. But these are only the primary applicants, say advocacy groups dealing with the issue for years and they estimate that along with their dependents and those starting the process the number of those impacted directly and indirectly is much higher, at around 1.5 million.

Under current rules applicants from any one country cannot be granted Green Cards in excess of the country-limit of 7% of the annual total of around 1 million green cards.

While it’s open to applicants from all countries, those from India have outnumbered all others traditionally. And because of the country-limit, there is a growing backlog, mostly of Indian applicants. And studies based on the current rate of clearance have projected 100 years or more for Indians.

Indian applicants’ case has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, home to federal US legislature, and for years. But they have also faced opposition from critics who say these foreign-born men and women are taking away American jobs, citing lay-offs caused by outsourcing.

Durbin, however, appeared to be siding with those competing with India applicants for Green Cards. And that Indians were appalled that a Democrat was opposing their case.

“We thought Democrats were on our side,” said an Indian American who is advocating for the removal of the country-limit not because it effects him — he is an American citizen already — but because he had seen the consequences of it, children being sent because of “aging out”, becoming 21 that puts them out as adults independent of their parent’s visa, and families that have had to relocate to another country after years living in the US.

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