South Asian Americans seek holistic immigration reforms

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 15, 2013 04:20 hrs

Washington, March 15 (IANS) Asserting that South Asian Americans contribute to American society in numerous capacities, socially, culturally, and economically, a coalition of community organisation has sought holistic and comprehensive immigration reforms.

"Our community members fill the gaps in low and high skilled jobs, start their own businesses, provide support to their loved ones, and desire an education and opportunity like any other American," Deepa Iyer, Executive Director South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) told a House panel Thursday.

Suggesting that the current immigration system "makes it increasingly difficult for South Asian Americans as well as many other immigrants to successfully contribute to our country and therefore, impinge upon our progress as a nation," SAALT proposed a nine point reform agenda.

This includes creation of accessible and affordable pathways to legalisation and citizenship for all undocumented individuals and keeping families together, eliminating visa backlogs, and increasing caps for family and employment visas.

Rejecting enforcement-only approaches to immigration, the coalition of 41 community groups sought termination of racial and religious profiling and avenues and protections for immigrant workers and their families.

The coalition also sought access to services and benefits, including health care, regardless of immigration status; and promotion of support for integration programmes, including English as a Second Language, and naturalisation.

"It is only with this holistic approach to immigration reform that South Asian Americans and all other immigrants will be able to effectively contribute to our society in a way that allows our nation to flourish, prosper, and succeed," Iyer said.

South Asian Americans are the fastest growing major ethnic group in the United States, increasing by 81 percent from 2000 to 2010 to approximately 3.4 million people.

As almost three - quarters of South Asian Americans are foreign - born, the community is made up of undocumented immigrants, dependent and temporary workers on various visas, refugees and asylum - seekers, lawful permanent

residents, and United States citizens, Iyer said,

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there were approximately 240,000 undocumented Indians alone in 2011, making India the seventh - highest country of origin for undocumented individuals in the United States.

Additionally, South Asians, especially those from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, are often separated from their families for years at a time due to the family and employment visa backlogs, Iyer said.

As of November 2012, approximately 4.3 million people were awaiting their family - based immigration visas. Of these 1.8 million were from Asian countries, of which 332,846 are Indian, 161,8 96 are Bangladeshi, and 115,903 are Pakistani.

According to SAALT Individuals from India make up 7.8 percent (65,134) and 9.3 percent (230,799) of applicants awaiting their third and fourth preference category visas respectively.

Iindividuals from Pakistan account for 2 percent (16,752) and 3.7 percent (91,286) of applicants awaiting their visas in these categories respectively; and, individuals from Bangladesh make up 6.1 percent (150,757) of applicants awaiting their fourth preference category visa.

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