HOUSTON – Living in limbo is a continued in-depth series by KPRC 2 that delves into the challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of Indian women in the United States who stand to lose work authorization if President Donald Trump’s administration changes one rule. This series was made possible by a fellowship grant from the South Asian Journalists Association’s SAJA Reporting Fellowship Program. Read the full series here.
Tulsi Kamath is a first-generation Indian-American born in the United States. As a journalist in Texas she has covered culture and immigration which are both issues that are of deep importance to her.
Her parents came to the U.S. from India in the early 80s and settled in Alaska. Her father, a professor in Alaska, taught a whole generation of petroleum engineers during a 17-year career in academia. It took more than 15 years for her parents to become U.S. citizens.
Kamath first learned of the challenges facing H-4 visa holders in 2012 when she met young, intelligent women in Alaska who felt hopeless due to their lack of choices. However, it wasn’t until Kamath moved to Houston in 2017, that she saw the direct impact of the challenges of the H-4 visa on an entire Indian community in the region.
The Greater Houston area is home to one of the largest South Asian communities in the country. Over the years, Kamath interacted with Houston families navigating the immigration system and some of them were on the H-1B and H-4 visas.
In 2015, when the EAD was introduced for some H-4 visa holders, tens of thousands of Indian women applied and were granted the ability to work. Two years later, when it was announced that the EAD might be revoked, it caused some panic for members of the Indian community whose families depended on two incomes. Many of the Houstonians Kamath met in the Indian community were facing the possibility of losing the ability to work.
Knowing the hoops her parents had to jump through to become citizens, Kamath decided to focus her efforts on reporting on the plight of H-4 visa holders. In 2019, Kamath applied for and received a reporting fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association to cover the issue.
Kamath began working on this project in September 2019, covering the Howdy, Modi event in Houston when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the city. He was joined by President Donald Trump and took the stage at NRG Stadium in front of a crowd of 50,000.
Among the politicians who came out in droves to the event were local lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz, who praised the Indian-American community for its contributions to the fabric of Texas.
@SenTedCruz on Indian-Americans in Texas: “The Indian-American community value small businesses and entrepreneurship. You see the Indian-American community producing so many jobs and opportunity.” pic.twitter.com/mZjR6Y5WFW— Tulsi Kamath (@tulsi_kamath) September 22, 2019
As part of the project, Kamath also traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to members of Congress, advocacy groups and legal experts.
One of the key challenges Kamath faced during her reporting was finding dissenting voices that believe work authorization for H-4 visa holders should be revoked. The Department of Homeland Security declined to speak on this issue, though it did issue a statement revealing no information.
Another challenge was getting families to talk on camera. All the immigrant families interviewed in this series asked to have their names changed and were reluctant to share photos or personal information. They live in fear that coverage like this might jeopardize their immigration status.
Over the next several months, Kamath sifted through hundreds of pages of official letters, statistics and legal documents to determine the scope of employment authorization issue. She met with families to talk about their struggles through the winding immigration process. One common theme she found in talking to them was that they were terrified that by speaking up, their immigration status might come under scrutiny. They did not want to do anything to jeopardize their standing in the U.S. and so KPRC 2 agreed to protect their identities.
The timing of this project was significant because for months, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services maintained that a rule revoking the H-4 EAD would be rolled out by Spring 2020. As of May 2020, the rule has not yet been introduced and more than 100,000 families are waiting for news.