Looking Back And Ahead At Year's End
It is difficult to believe that it is already the end of another year! It feels like 2004 just came and went. Maybe it is a sign of growing older when time seems to start flying so fast! Or maybe it is our hectic lifestyles, dealing with constant, almost daily changes. In the midst of all of this, I would like to take this opportunity to share my year-end musings with you.
This year, it is difficult to think of a "happy" new year for 2005 - with so much sadness and tragedy surrounding us. The devastation from the earthquakes and the resulting 'tsunamis' took place while I was visiting India this past week. We now learn that tens of thousands are dead and many more are displaced.
A few days before the tragedy, while we were driving along the coast near Chennai, India, we had stopped near Mahaballipuram at a fishing village and taken photos of some children. It is feared that that entire village, along with many other fishing villages along the eastern coast in India, no longer exist. No people, no homes, nothing, just the debris! It fills my heart with sadness to think of those young, happy and innocent faces no longer a part of our world.
We wonder what can we do for those affected, those who are "lucky" to be alive? At this time, we can pray for the souls of the departed and help the survivors cope by providing them some practical assistance. The MurthyFoundation, with the help of our office staff at our affiliate, Murthy Immigration Services, Pvt. Ltd., in Chennai, India, will work to provide relief to some victims. We will distribute some essentials - like clothing, utensils, dishes, rice, medicines, etc. to approximately 100 families who have been displaced by the disaster in and around Chennai. We realize that this effort is not much considering the vastness of the tragedy, but let us each help in any way we can, small or big.
There is heated debate and negative commentary on the state of immigration in our country from those like Lou Dobbs of CNN. However, there are others who give us hope and a more positive message. In a recent speech for his acceptance of the B.C. Forbes Award, media mogul and CEO of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, could not have summarized my feelings on immigrants better: "Frankly it doesn't bother me in the least that millions of people are attracted to our shores. What we should worry about is the day they no longer find these shores attractive. In an era when too many of our pundits declare that the American Dream is a fraud, it is America's immigrants who remind us - by dint of their success - that the Dream is alive, and well within reach of anyone willing to work for it."
Major Changes in the Past Year!
As in the last few years, 2004 has seen many major changes in the world; and the world of immigration law is no exception.
From the proposed guest worker program that President Bush announced in January 2004, raising the hopes of many, to the undocumented nanny-related withdrawal of Bernard Kerik nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in December 2004, there is a crying need for a well-conceived immigration policy in our country. There is an acknowledgement that we have to provide some form of relief to the millions of undocumented workers whose diligent labor contributes to the U.S. economy. These workers provide necessary services for which there are too few U.S. workers who are willing. Many of these undocumented workers, of course, are in violation of our immigration laws for entering and/or staying illegally. Immigration is an issue that has divided our nation into two extreme viewpoints, but the solution may lie somewhere in the middle.
Recent news about the retrogression as of January 1, 2005 of employment-based third preference (EB3) petitions for nationals of India, mainland China, and the Philippines has created enormous concerns for health care providers. Nurse green card cases fall within the EB3 category. The United States is already suffering from a shortage of nurses in our hospitals and other health care facilities. The retrogression will exacerbate this shortage.
Other recent changes that drive home the point of how the immigration landscape is changing are the likelihood that PERM regulations will be issued "any day" by the U.S. Department of Labor; the recent law signed on December 8, 2004 substantially increasing the H1B fees while providing some relief for those who have graduate or higher degrees from U.S. universities; stricter eligibility criteria for those entering under L-1 blanket approvals to work with large, multinational entities; and an expanding US-VISIT program. Looking ahead, there is no doubt that it will be another eventful year for all of us involved in the immigration area.
Why Practice Immigration Law?
Many people ask why any sane person would want to be an immigration lawyer in this day and age. It is a valid question. Not only are immigration lawyers required to stay on top of almost daily changes in laws, regulations, procedures, and policies; there is a perception and concern that the government is especially watchful of immigration lawyers or anyone else they believe to be helping immigrants or furthering the cause of immigration.
So, why practice immigration law? The answer, for most of us, is that we believe in the system and want to make a difference in people's lives. As immigration attorneys we are able to impact one family at a time and we leave our imprint on future generations who will constitute this great nation. Historically described as a melting pot, the United States is the first experiment of its kind. We are a nation comprised of many races, religions, and origins, bound largely by the common goals of working hard, bettering the lives of our loved ones as well as ourselves, and contributing to the strength of this nation.
Immigrants must overcome so many obstacles just to reach these shores. We who have chosen this career path believe immigrants should be welcomed and guided through the legal maze they face. What if all who became immigration attorneys had taken the position that someone else should help the foreign nationals arriving here? Myself an immigrant, having personally undergone the painful process, I feel and understand the cultural assimilation that we each must undergo and the expectations we must meet to study, work, and live in the United States. As it is often said, "To whom much is given, much is expected."
Lessons are all Around Us!
History is a powerful teaching tool for willing pupils. December 17, 2004 marked the sixty-first anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of May 6, 1882. The law barred most Chinese nationals from immigrating to the United States. Even after the law was repealed, Chinese nationals faced a small quota that was not eliminated until 1965. Today we realize that our fears were largely unfounded and that Chinese immigrants have been a valuable and integral part of our country.
Two decisions in 2004, one from the U.S. Supreme Court and a parallel decision from the United Kingdom's highest court, the House of Lords, are momentous and celebrate the rule of law. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government cannot indefinitely detain those in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The highest court held that detainees must be accorded the right to challenge their detention before a judge or other neutral party. The Court declared, "A state of war is not a blank check for the President." More recently, on December 16, 2004, the United Kingdom's House of Lords ruled that the U.K. government's policy of unlimited detentions at Belmarsh prison in London were draconian, discriminatory against foreigners, and unjustifiable. These decisions are victories in the defense of civil liberties.
What can We Do to Help?
It doesn't take much to do a lot. Sometimes, just standing up for one's principles is a big step. We have hope that our legal systems are able to still protect us if only we trust in them and fight for fairness and justice where they are lacking. Simply writing to Congress or calling one's senators or representatives can make a difference. Those who are concerned about their own futures and the future of our freedom must express their concerns to their representatives and the current Administration. The people cannot be truly represented if their voices are silent.
We must be willing to stand up for what we believe. We must not allow anyone to ignore or violate our constitutional liberties or take away fundamental rights afforded to every person in a democratic civilization. Each of us has the right to a fair hearing. Our legal system gives us hope that we are not alone. There are many who will fight the cause with us but we must take a leadership role in times like these. We will carry that mantle with your help!
We are here to help. We are here to understand.
We know your immigration matters! (sm)
This article originally appeared in the December 31, 2004 issue of Murthy Bulletin on MurthyDotCom. Reprinted with permission.
Sheela Murthy is the founder of the Law Office of Sheela Murthy, P.C. which consists of over 45 full time attorneys, paralegals, and support staff, who provide excellent service in the area of U.S. Immigration Law to clients worldwide. The Office of Sheela Murthy, P.C. handles cases ranging from Fortune 500 companies, mid-sized and small companies, to individuals who are undergoing the U.S. immigration process. A graduate of Harvard Law School with an LL.M degree and herself an immigrant, Attorney Murthy understands the complexities of immigration and empathizes with those faced with its challenges.
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