Ritu Jha, SAN FRANCISCO: It was an earthquake that drove them out. But the Trump administration could drive them back.
Thousands of Nepali immigrants in the US who came over after the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015, may have to return to their country in a hurry if the Trump administration does not extend the Temporary Protected Status granted to them since June 2015. A decision on whether to extend or terminate the TPS is due by April 24.
Experts believe that returning these thousands of people suddenly could create an unstable political situation in Nepal.
The earthquake had claimed 8,000 people and demolished much of Nepal’s housing and infrastructure. Over half a million homes were reportedly destroyed. So on June 24, 2015, citing a substantial but temporary disruption in living conditions as a result of the earthquake, then Department of Homeland secretary Jeh Johnson designated Nepal for TPS for 18 months. That was later extended again in October 2016 and is set to expire on June 24, 2018.
According to a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), spokesperson, as of October 2017, there were 14,800 Nepalis living here under TPS, 1,549 of them in California.
She told indica, “That news release doesn’t mention an end to this benefit. I looked and haven’t seen any news beyond that release regarding Nepalis.” TPS is extended in certain circumstances where the home country is unable to adequately handle the return of its nationals.
Several advocacy organizations working with and for the Nepalis believe the situation is not right, economically, politically and also on the humanitarian grounds.
Prof. Ashok Gurung, director of the India China Institute at The New School in New York, told indica there are three broad perspectives — economic necessity, humanitarian issues and US geopolitics. The last is important given the roles of China and India.
“Nepal is still a developing country and the government failed to help the majority of people, especially those who lived in rural areas,” said Prof.Gurung, who has been to Nepal 15 times after it was hit by 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 for research.
He said that only about 15 percent of the damaged houses has been rebuilt so far, and that the Nepal government is responsible for the delay.
“It’s slow on international aid due to its internal dirty politics. They created rules that were unnecessarily cumbersome and confusing,” he said.
As a result, these areas still lack the basic needs (school, drinking water) for the people Gurung said, adding that for the past three years he has been involved in four sites for reconstruction – three schools and two multi-purpose community centers in Nepal. But while the local government was doing a heroic job most people there are living in a temporary home and many schools and other infrastructure are yet to be built.
He said he was concerned that most of the people on TPS in the US are from low-income backgrounds, working as nannies, taxi drivers, and restaurant workers. They were saving money to help people back home.
“If these people were forced to go back, there will be no jobs for them. They will be a burden and be unable to provide income for their families, That would create instability in some part of the country,” Gurung said.
“Going by both humanitarian and economic aspects it’s wrong; these people have become an important source of hope and livelihood,” he said, pointing out that a majority of those who live in the earthquake zone are from various ethnic and caste groups.
He said that, in addition, given that both China and India are emerging powers and given the geographic location of Nepal, US engagement there would play a stabilizing influence in the region.
Gurung said missteps by India had given China an edge in the region.
“A US presence through TPS, US-Aid and other means is absolutely crucial. It ensures a stable Nepal,” he said.
Gurung said that though the country has a parliamentary form of government, “it has been hijacked by a group that has ruled the country for 200 years.”
He pointed out that “China’s presence has increased significantly after the earthquake. For that reason we need big powers with good intentions in the region to stay engaged,” he said, adding that the US being so far away ensured that it did not have territorial issues that China and India would have in intervening in neighborhood nation’s affairs.
The US by and large is viewed as a positive force and TPS was one factor that generated goodwill and had a positive effect, he said.
He expressed his concern about the political climate in the US, saying, “It’s sad. It’s not about inclusion. It’s not the same old America welcoming immigrants.”
The South Asian Network, an advocacy non-profit organization in Southern California on TPS, told indica, “People have concerns and don’t know what will happen next week. If TPS does end they have to leave at some point.”
She said that while some people were working others were students.
They are worried because most of them came on some other immigration status but are now under TPS. Because of TPS they can work. But if you come on other visas there are many limitations to working.
The South Asian Network, along with organizations like Adhikaar in New York, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) are working to create awareness. Many have signed a petition urging senators and members of Congress to weigh in on the Nepalis’ TPS and influencing the Department of Homeland Security.
Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy told indica, SAALT has been working with them and the TPS Alliance since last September to pass legislation in the House and Senate to protect TPS holders and provide them a path to permanent residency.
She said that Adhikaar is hosting a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill, April 19, and SAALT is co-sponsoring their Congressional Briefing, along with other lead sponsors of the legislation to increase awareness on TPS and the quickly approaching expiration date for Nepal.
(People search for their belongings amidst the rubble of houses collapsed by an earthquake at Bhaktapur, Nepal, April 30, 2015. Photo: Reuters)