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U.S. House passes green card change championed by widow of Olathe hate crime victim

Sunayana Dumala, widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, leads peace walk to Austin’s Bar & Grill

One year after Srinivasan Kuchibhotla was shot and killed inside Austin’s Bar & Grill in Olathe, Kansas, his widow Sunayana Dumala led a peace walk from the Garmin headquarters to the bar where Kuchibhotla was killed. The walk took place on Friday
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One year after Srinivasan Kuchibhotla was shot and killed inside Austin’s Bar & Grill in Olathe, Kansas, his widow Sunayana Dumala led a peace walk from the Garmin headquarters to the bar where Kuchibhotla was killed. The walk took place on Friday

In the aftermath of her husband’s 2017 murder, Olathe resident Sunayana Dumala became the face of legislation to help her and other Indian immigrants take a step toward U.S. citizenship.

Her advocacy led to a major victory Wednesday, when the U.S. House passed the measure by a vote of 365-65. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.

House Resolution 1044 removes a per-country limit on employment-based green cards, a change that will primarily benefit highly-skilled immigrants from India and China.

Under the current system, Dumala and other immigrants from these countries live on temporary work visas that are tied to their employer.

Because of the high volume of immigrants from India and China, they can wait for decades to receive a green card, a step they must take in order to become citizens.

Their families are also dependent on their work status. Dumala’s own immigration status fell into jeopardy after the murder of her husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian-born engineer at Garmin, in a shooting at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe. The shooting death was classified as a hate crime.

She eventually obtained a work visa of her own and was able to remain in the United States following the intervention of then-Rep. Kevin Yoder.

“Today is an important day for many of us, a moment we have been waiting for years. Finally, our hard work and tireless efforts have come into fruition,” Dumala said in a statement Wednesday.

“After the tragic murder of my husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, I lost my status to stay in the country and the immigration struggle took over my grief. And, today with HR 1044 getting passed I can finally find peace and no words can express my happiness.”

Dumala has made multiple trips to Washington to advocate for the legislation. Supporters say removing the per-country limit creates a first-come, first-serve system, which will be fair to green card applicants from all countries.

“People are finally understanding that no matter what else is wrong with our immigration system, we can all agree that discrimination should never be a basis for deciding who is given access to permanent residency in the United States,” said Aman Kapoor, the co-founder and president of Immigration Voice, the main group that has been lobbying for the legislation.

Kapoor said the legislation will allow highly-skilled immigrants to start their own companies once they obtain green cards, which will be an economic benefit to American workers.

However, the bill still faces opposition from groups such as the American Hospital Association, which says removing the per-country limit will create backlogs for other immigrant groups, making it difficult for hospitals to hire nurses from the Philippines and other countries.

Groups looking to limit immigration, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill.

“It’s a step in the wrong direction from a modern, merit-based immigration system, which would eliminate the need for safeguards to prevent employment green cards from being monopolized by employers and citizens from one or two countries,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates for restrictions on immigration.

Rep. Kevin Yoder of Overland Park addresses a reception hosted by Immigration Voice in Washington, D.C. after being introduced by Sunayana Dumala. Yoder promised that a policy change to the green card system will happen this year.

The legislation was originally sponsored by Yoder, a Johnson County Republican, during the previous Congress. Dumala had been a fixture on the campaign trail as he faced a difficult re-election battle.

The bill never came up for a vote on the full House floor during that time and Yoder’s efforts to include the legislation as part of a border wall deal fell short before his time in Congress ended.

But his Democratic successor, Rep. Sharice Davids, joined on as a co-sponsor when the measure was re-introduced this year.

The Johnson County Democrat noted her predecessor’s work on the issue and touted the economic benefits of fixing the green card process for high-skilled tech workers from India and other countries.

“Kansas businesses depend on high-skilled workers to be competitive and to contribute to the local economy. This bipartisan bill will allow our businesses to focus on retaining these workers, while also reducing the backlogs for people facing the longest waiting times,” Davids said in a statement.

Davids said she hopes House passage spurs work on more comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Rep. Sharice Davids has championed some of her predecessors causes, including green card legislation. She said it's "a mistake to not look at each policy on its own merits."

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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