After the federal government reversed a forward-thinking decision on immigration last month, breaking a promise to tens of thousands of highly skilled legal immigrants, some opted to sue. Others, last Friday, decided to protest by joining a campaign that sent more than 3,000 flower bouquets to the Department of Homeland Security in Washington. The notion is that the best way to fight bureaucratic malfeasance is with kindness. And for the sake of the important skills these immigrants promise to bring to the United States, let’s hope this gentle approach works.
The immigration drama started out on a positive note. The State Department had announced it would allow certain work visa holders to apply for green cards earlier than expected. Given the legendary employment-based green card backlogs, the move was met with thrilled surprise, and many foreign workers prepared accordingly. Some spent between $5,000 and $7,000 in lawyer fees and medical exams to get paperwork ready, others postponed trips, house moves, and job changes. But just as the new application date of October 1 was nearing, immigration officials realized they had made a mistake: They didn’t have enough green cards available. So they revised the eligibility dates, sending the affected immigrants — about 80 percent of whom are from India — back to immigration limbo.
Vikram Desai, an Indian engineer who has held work visas for 13 years, told me: “This is affecting nearly 30,000 high-skilled immigrants, but when you count their families, it adds up to about 100,000 people.” Desai heads Immigration Voice, the advocacy group that launched the unorthodox flower campaign “in the spirit of Gandhian principle and in light of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2.” The reversal sends a troubling message from the Obama administration and underscores the need to revamp our current immigration processes. Legal immigration of highly skilled workers is supposed to be the least politically radioactive, and Republicans and Democrats alike agree: We must retain and attract highly skilled foreign workers. Advocates are hoping DHS reconsiders, and there is a precedent: In 2007, after a similar about-face and after the same advocacy group sent thousands of flowers to immigration officials, the agency reversed course. Flower power indeed.