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Rep. Shri Thanedar joins immigrant backlog fight
Meet the newest Samosa Caucus warrior.
Rep. Shri Thanedar has begun asking the green card backlog for input into migration policy. “Talk to me about EAD after I-140 approval. Tell me your situation, make a case, how soon?” said the freshman Democrat representing parts of Detroit and Livonia, Michigan. Thanedar was asking for specifics from a hyper diligent online advocacy community of backlogged legal migrants, hundreds of thousands of whom are stuck in legal purgatories stateside where their existence is tied to their employment, but there’s no feasible pathway to permanent residency.
These legal migrants are mostly from India and China. Enter Shri Thanedar, the semi-viral congressman who won the open seat for Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s district after the Democratic incumbent saw her district split up last term. Thanedar’s migrant story begins over four decades ago in Mumbai. “She had the authority to either approve or disapprove,” said Thanedar of the US consular official who handled his application for an education visa to study for a PhD at the University of Akron in 1978. Unfortunately for Thanedar, the consular official (“Virginia”) did not approve his visa.
“That’s the only time I fainted,” recalled Thanedar. “I fell to the ground. When I woke up, she was standing over me with water. I was so heartbroken. At the time I had a lot depending on my visa. I was coming to the US to do better for my family which was in dire poverty. My reason for coming here was to get an education, get a job and help my family survive.” Thanedar applied twice more, but he came with a letter of support from one of his Akron professors. Both times his application was rejected again. So Thanedar applied a fourth time. “Back then you could reapply as often as you wanted,” he said.
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When Thanedar went to the consulate to check on his application, a different consular official asked him for his passport. “They had never asked me for my passport before. I asked why they needed it. He said, ‘I can’t give you a visa if I don’t have your passport,” Thanedar recalled, smiling. What was different about the fourth application? Well, it turns out Virginia had gone on vacation and her assistant had processed Thanedar’s fourth application. “He thought my documents were perfectly fine,” said Thanedar, lamenting how arbitrary the process had been.
Thanedar is one of a small handful in Congress with a science PhD (Rep. Bill Foster being another). When it comes to migration policy, Thanedar told me at his freshman orientation in January that Congress needs to focus on two things: make sure the domestic workforce has the training for “tomorrow’s jobs” and encourage immigration to fill “skilled workforce” shortages. Thanedar has since floated the idea of submitting a new relief proposal for backlogged immigrants. He recently joined Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi’s bipartisan Eliminating Backlogs Act with Rep. Larry Buschon which would recapture unused visas from previous years and apply them retroactively without country caps. So far the bill has three cosponsors.
Pablo Manríquez is a Hill reporter and oil painter in Washington, DC. Follow him on social media @PabloReports.