OCTOBER 31, 2018
Anuj Dhamija’s wife is an H-1B visa-holder cleared for Green Card, he is on H-4 work authorisation for dependents and their children are Americans by birth. Their small world, already in the throes of uncertainty, has been shook up by President Donald Trump’s plans to end birthright citizenship.
“Do we belong here at all?” asked Dhamija, a project manager with a construction company in Massachusetts. “I am going through this miserable state of uncertainty and my children who are American citizens by birth — one and four years old — don’t even know what’s in the future for them.”
Dhamija’s wife is among more than 300,000 primary Indian applicants waiting for employment-based Green Cards (lawful permanent residency), which in some estimations grows to around 1.5 million taking into account dependents of the primary applicants and others.
For a lot of them, their families grew after their arrival here, mostly on H-1B visas for highly skilled foreigners. The parents continue to be Indian, and will remain so till they renounce it after becoming American. But their children born here are Americans, and now possibly in Trump’s line of fire.
The uncertainty of the Green Card, which could take decades at the current rate — over 100 years for new applicants, by some estimates — has been worsened by the Trump administration’s determination to rescind an Obama-era rule allowing dependents of those in queue — and not all H-1B visa-holders — to work under H-4 EAD (employment authorisation document), which benefited mostly Indians.
“There is a deepening sense of panic and despair that this administration is coming after our families,” said another Indian in a similar situation, pointing to the H-4 withdrawal plan. He didn’t want to be identified so he could speak freely about his feelings on the issue and that of the community.
Children of those who were born outside and before their families came to the US are faced with the problem of “aging out”, becoming adults at 21, before their parents get their Green Cards. They will be forced to seek their own US visas, independently. Now, an uncertain future awaits those born here. The US is among nearly 30 countries that grant citizenship to anyone born on their soil, and this a right guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the Constitution enacted in the aftermath of the American Civil War to extend citizenship rights to African Americans emancipated from slavery. Trump has said he plans to nullify that right with an executive order, telling Axios in an interview published on Tuesday: “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the US for 85 years, with all of those benefits.”
He doubled down on his plans on Wednesday. “So-called birthright citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’.”
Some experts have argued that under the “jurisdiction” phrase in the amendment, children born to those illegally in the US can be denied citizenship. Others have contended all those on US soil — with the exception of diplomats — are subject to American laws, irrespective of citizenship.
If Trump presses ahead, the order will most likely be challenged in court.