Fourteen years is a long time to wait to reunite with a relative.
But that is how much time has passed since Suraiya Sharker’s family first applied for a green card for her uncle to come and live permanently in the United States from Bangladesh.
The wait almost seemed over this month. That is when her uncle was scheduled to have his visa interview at the U.S. embassy in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, after years of waiting in line for a green card because of limits on the number of green cards the U.S. hands out each year.
But now Sharker’s family has no idea when her uncle, his pregnant wife, and the couple’s young daughter, will be able to come to the U.S.
First the pandemic hit, forcing the U.S. State Department in March to temporary close all U.S. embassies and consulates around the world and suspend routine processing of visas, including green cards.
Then on April 22, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation to temporarily suspend for 60 days legal immigrants such as Sharker’s uncle from coming to the U.S. with green cards.
Trump said one of the main goals of his executive order is to protect Americans who have lost jobs due to the pandemic from having to compete with immigrants arriving from other countries.
But as the Sharker family shows, U.S. citizens also are being hurt by Trump’s immigration suspension by further prolonging them from being reunited with loved ones abroad, often after they have already waited for years.
“It’s really frustrating,” said Sharker, a 22-year-old political science student at Georgia State University who lives in suburban Atlanta. She also works as an organizer for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an advocacy group.
Having the arrival of her uncle and his family from Bangladesh thrown in limbo has taken an emotional and economic toll, she said. Born in Bangladesh, Sharker is a naturalized U.S. citizen, as is her father, who is the main sponsor for a green card for her uncle in Bangladesh.
Besides the disappointment of not being reunited this month after years of waiting, her family has spent thousands of dollars on attorney fees, application fees and other paperwork trying to get her uncle a green card, Sharker said. Now her family is worried they will have to shell out more money to refile paperwork.
That would put additional financial hardship on her family after her father was laid off from his restaurant manager’s job because of the coronavirus emergency, Sharker said. She currently is the family’s main breadwinner.
She said she also found it insulting that Trump says the immigration suspension is needed to protect jobs for Americans from immigrants.
Most of the Bangladeshi immigrants she knows started small businesses after they came to the U.S. and created jobs, she said.
“And so they’re hiring Americans,” Sharker said.
For example, an uncle owns the franchise restaurant that employed her father as a manager until he was laid off.
Another Bangladeshi friend owns a gas station that offered to provide a job to her uncle in India once he comes to the U.S., she said. Now they are worried the job may not longer be available by the time her uncle is finally allowed to receive a green card and come to the U.S., Sharker said.
The sudden upending of plans has created a rift between her family and her relatives in Bangladesh, Sharker said.
“They feel like we aren’t trying to bring them here,” she said. “They think we are purposely stalling the process because they think we don’t want them to move and stay with us. And so there has been a lot of family tension, people feeling like we are being really selfish and (them) not really understanding the situation.”
Trump’s executive order suspending immigration is supposed to end June 22, but the order gives Trump the option of extending it, said Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, government relations director at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, an advocacy group.
Trump’s executive order calls on the secretaries of Labor, Homeland Security and State to recommend whether the scope of the immigration suspension should be expanded to other categories, including temporary workers.
On April 25, AILA, along with the Justice Action Center, filed a court motion asking a judge for a temporary restraining order to block Trump’s immigration suspension. A federal judge denied the request to block the immigration freeze.
An extension of the immigration freeze or an expansion in scope would likely be met with more legal challenges, Dalal-Dheini said.
There is concern that the Trump administration is trying to circumvent Congress to carry out permanent restrictions to the nation’s immigration system that the administration has been pushing for years, she said
For example, the Trump administration has tried to get Congress to pass legislation that would curtail what Trump derisively refers to as “chain migration” by restricting the ability of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to apply for relatives abroad.
Instead of the ability to sponsor parents, siblings, children, and spouses, immigrants who become U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents under Trump’s plan would be limited to sponsoring only their spouses and minor children for green cards.
Trump also wants to replace the family-based immigration system with a merit-based system that gives preference to immigrants based on their education and skills rather than their blood ties.
Immigration advocates are worried that the Trump administration is using the pandemic as an excuse to carry out those longstanding goals through an executive order instead of through legislation, which so far Congress has been unwilling to approve, Dalal-Dheini said.
The shuttering of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world had already in effect stopped new immigrants from arriving on green cards, calling into question the need for an executive order, she added.
“The real concern behind it is whether this was one of those things that it’s disguised as something done in response to COVID, but it’s actually a way for the administration to push its anti immigrant agenda,” Dalal-Dheini said. “And if that’s the case, and if this is extended another 60 days or more than that, it’s certainly something people are going to be able to challenge, that it’s using COVID as a smokescreen.”
Trump is already receiving support from some Republicans to expand the scope of the immigration freeze.
In a letter dated May 7, four Republican senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Chuck Grassley of Iowa — called on Trump to suspend issuance of guest-worker visas until 2021 or “until employment has returned to normal levels” because of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the economy, according to USA TODAY.
The letter drew praise from Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for less immigration.
“The current unemployment crisis demands precisely what the four Senators have proposed to the President,” Beck said in a statement. “Their logic of pausing nearly all foreign guest worker visas has to make sense to everybody except those who really do want to keep hundreds of thousands of higher-skilled and less-skilled jobs out of reach of this spring’s American graduates, as well as the 33 million Americans who have lost their jobs.”
Trump’s executive order temporarily halting green cards for immigrants arriving from outside the U.S. will block about 26,000 people a month, or 52,000 over the 60-day period, according to Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University Law School.
Immigrants blocked from coming to the U.S. with green cards under the freeze include parents, siblings and adult children of of U.S. Citizens and all relatives of legal permanent residents.
Trump’s executive order suspends the issuance of employment-based green cards to certain categories of workers and their families. Trump’s order also suspends the so-called Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which some Republicans in Congress have been trying to kill for years.The program awards green cards based on a lottery system to immigrants from countries that don’t send many immigrants to the U.S.
Spouses and children of U.S. children are exempt from the freeze. Health care professionals, members of the Armed Forces and their family members, and individuals who qualify for special immigrant visas such as Iraqi and Afghani translators, are exempted from the freeze, as are the vague category of individuals “in the national interest.”Tons of trash are being left at outdoor recreation sitesWhy Mesa Gateway getting a new air traffic control tower is a big dealHow health care became a defining issue in McSally-Kelly Senate raceThese Arizona bugs and reptiles can hurt you
Of the 26,000 immigrants who will be barred from receiving green cards per month under Trump’s freeze, the vast majority, about 86% are immigrants coming to reunite with family already in the U.S. not specifically for jobs.
Suspending immigrants from coming to the U.S. to reunite with family members for labor reasons is unprecedented, Chishti said.
“We have never applied labor market tests to family immigration, never in our immigration law and history, because we have always assumed that the rationale for family immigration is not that they are coming for U.S. jobs, they are coming to reunite with families, ” Chishti said.
That suggests Trump’s immigration freeze has more to do with politics than with protecting jobs for Americans, he said.
“The president is effectively implementing a policy that many Republican lawmakers have been arguing for quite some time,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. citizens such as Mark Faatz say they are paying the price for Trump’s immigration suspension.
Faatz, a 54-year-old national account sales manager for a food manufacturer, said he fell in love with a man he met during a trip to India in 2018 after his partner of 12 years took his own life.
The couple bonded over a shared interest in traveling, music and faith in God.
He was “the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life and he had the same response with me,” said Faatz, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Faatz visited his partner six more times in India.
In July, they decided to get married in the U.S. in part because same-sex marriage is not legal in India and also because his partner is not openly gay out of fear he could be beaten or killed in India, Faatz said.
Faatz said he began the process of applying for a fiance visa the same month to bring his partner to the U.S.
In December, Faatz said he learned his petition for a K-1 fiance visa had been approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. An interview for his partner was scheduled at the U.S. embassy in Mumbai, the final step in receiving a fiance visa to travel to the U.S.
But then the embassy was closed because of the pandemic, followed by Trump’s executive order order suspending immigration.
Faatz said closing of the embassies is understandable. But Trump’s immigration suspension felt like a slap in the face to U.S. citizens like him trying to reunite with loved ones abroad.
“I wouldn’t say I was suicidal that day that this happened, but I would say that I was as close to despair as I’ve ever been in my life, including the day that my partner at the time killed himself two years ago,” Faatz said.
Technically, a fiancé visa is considered a non-immigrant visa, but in practice they are treated as immigrant visas, and therefore are affected by Trump’s immigration freeze, said Ally Bolour, Faatz’s Los Angeles-based immigration lawyer.
As a result, Faatz’s partner’s fiancé interview has been put on hold indefinitely, putting the couple’s summer wedding — and future — in limbo.
“It just seems to me that Trump was not thinking about how emotionally this would affect people,” Faatz said. “Now we have to go to the back of the line and if he extends this order … it’s almost as if he is holding me, an American taxpayer, hostage, as well as others.”