Government & Politics

Widow of victim in suspected Kansas hate crime faced deportation after husband’s death

Kevin Yoder pushes reforms to legal immigration system

Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder urges fellow members of the U.S. House to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that would speed up green-card process for highly sought workers.
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Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder urges fellow members of the U.S. House to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that would speed up green-card process for highly sought workers.

The widow of Austins Bar & Grill shooting victim Srinivas Kuchibhotla lost her U.S. resident status when her Indian husband was killed in February in a suspected hate crime.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas said the news made him “apoplectic.” He began working to help Sunayana Dumala maintain her residency after she traveled to India for her husband’s funeral and feared she could not return.

With his aid and others, Dumala said she has been granted a 1-year visa to resume her work at an Overland Park marketing agency.

“We are not going to deport the widow of the victim of a hate crime,” Yoder said in an interview Thursday.

Dumala, also a native Indian, has lived in the United States since she enrolled in a Minnesota college 10 years ago. She married Kuchibhotla, a technical engineer, in 2012, and soon they applied for a green card on his H-1B visa, issued to workers in specialized fields.

With his death, her pursuit of a green card is back to square one.

Dumala on Friday wrote in an email to The Star: “On the fateful night of Feb. 22, I not only lost my husband but also my immigration status ...

“I’m very fortunate that many people came to my rescue to get me back on a temporary status ... and are continuing to work on a permanent fix.”

Yoder said more needs to be done to prevent Dumala’s deportation and help her secure permanent residency.

And Kansas’ 3rd District Republican wants to help do that for others, too.

Yoder is lead sponsor of a bill that could speed up permanent-resident status of well-educated immigrants from India, China and other highly populated nations now facing strict limits on their access to green cards.

Separate from any fix for Dumala’s imperiled status, the proposed Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, rolled out in July, is supported in Congress by more than 100 members of each political party. Yoder said he hoped the measure will gain traction amid heightened awareness for immigration reform — spurred by President Donald Trump’s calls for Congress to pass a law to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Under present policy the U.S. each year can issue only 120,000 green cards to immigrants, and no more than 7 percent of those seeking permanent residency can come from any one country.

Because of the 7 percent cap, well-schooled immigrants from smaller nations obtain their green cards within months. But hundreds of thousands from large countries such as India and China must wait in line, sometimes for decades, for permanent status and then citizenship after establishing American careers.

To apply for green cards they must have a U.S. sponsor, typically an employer, willing to support the immigrant until permanent residency is secured. The sponsorship process costs employers many years’ worth of filing fees and legal expenses and prevents immigrant employees from changing jobs.

Besides slowing the citizenship process for high-skilled immigrants, “this is anti-economy and anti-employer,” said Overland Park immigration lawyer Mira Mdivani, who mostly works with corporate clients.

“We don’t have many people coming here from Scotland or Germany because they don’t want to come here. The economy of their countries are strong enough to keep them there,” she said. “We are so fortunate to have people from India, China and the Philippines who want to bring their talents to our country.”

From India alone, immigrants on hold in Kansas City include:

▪ Apurva Panchal, a pediatrician at KU Medical Center. He emigrated in 2005 to obtain his medical degree from Columbia University and applied for permanent residency in 2011.

“If I were from Nepal or Sweden, I would’ve gotten my green card in 2011 and be a citizen of America by now,” said Pachal. But he may have to wait until the 2020s or 2030s — and stay put in his career until then — unless rules change, he said.

▪ Sowmya Ramanan, 33, of Overland Park. Arriving here to study in 2007 and later obtaining a temporary work visa, she suffered a stroke four years ago that left her bed-ridden for months and unable to work.

In 2014 she switched her visa status to be a dependent on her husband, a mechanical engineer who has been waiting more than a decade for his green card.

As is the case of the grieving Dumala, Ramanan would be deported if something unexpected happened to her husband, such as a job loss or death.

“We are homeowners, we are taxpayers,” Ramanan said. “We would love to start our own companies. But as long as our status is tied to my husband’s work, we’re stuck.”

▪ Falgun Surani, a structural engineer from Kansas City.

Surani and his wife are parents to two American children. He emigrated 13 years ago and said he could wait another 15 or 20 years to obtain his green card.

Surani, 34, traveled this week to Washington, D.C., along with 100 advocates with the group Immigration Voice, to press Congress into lifting the 7 percent cap.

“It seems to be an easy fix. All of the lawmakers we spoke to like it,” he said.

But if Yoder’s proposal gets thrown into a larger package for comprehensive immigration reform, enough politicians will attach their own ideas into the legislation to “make the whole thing toxic,” Surani said.

Then nothing passes.

Yoder told The Star: “We have people working in this country for decades, who came here legally, followed every law ... done exactly what has been asked of them, and they could be sent home with couple of weeks notice if they lose their job.”

Or if, as Dumala learned, one loses a husband to a gunman. Adam W. Purinton, 52, faces first-degree murder and federal hate crime charges in Kuchibhotla’s death.

Having secured in the spring her 12-month visa, called an employment authorization document (EAD), Dumala still awaits approval of an H-1B work visa — valid for three years and renewable. If granted the H-1B, she would re-enter the backlog of green-card seekers from India.

“Both I and my husband got our home here and had many dreams,” Dumala said. “I want to fulfill those dreams by staying here.”

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

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