New Delhi: Over half a million undocumented Indian immigrants in the US hold a collective spending power of $15.5 billion and contribute $2.8 billion to the federal, state and local tax revenue, according to a report published by the American think-tank New American Economy.
Of 10.3 million undocumented immigrants in the US, the report analysed the top five countries of origin — Mexico with 4.2 million, El Salvador with 6,21,000, India with 5,87,000, Guatemala with 5,61,000 and Honduras with 4,16,000 undocumented immigrants.
Though India is the third-largest in this group, it was the second-highest in terms of household income ($18.3 billion), spending power ($15.5 billion) and contributions to federal, state and local tax revenue ($2.8 billion) in 2019, according to the study.
“Zooming out again to the top five countries of origin among undocumented immigrants, we find that across the board, undocumented immigrants are significant economic contributors as earners, taxpayers, and consumers,” report stated.
“While the debate over legalisation and the future of undocumented immigrants in the United States continues without resolution, the data suggests that they have already proven to be integral parts of the U.S. economy and valued members of communities across the country,” it added.
During the period between 2010 and 2017, 3,30,000 Indians overstayed their visas, from among nearly 3.5 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country in that period — far more than from any other country, according to the Centre for Migration Studies.
In a The New York Times report, Kalpana Peddibhotla, a San Francisco-based immigration lawyer, explains that these undocumented Indian immigrants stay because they build their lives there by buying homes and having children.
These undocumented Indian immigrants are also less likely to participate in census surveys for fear of exposing themselves and being deported. Therefore, censuses usually factor in an “undercount”.
According to a Brookings report, by subtracting the number of known foreign-born residents with legal status from the “foreign-born” population under the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey can yield a figure of undocumented immigrants in the US.
Who are undocumented immigrants?
Undocumented immigrants, also known as unauthorised immigrants or illegal immigrants, are those who lack immigration documentation, because they either entered the US without inspection, stayed longer than their temporary visa permitted or violated the terms under which they were admitted.
Undocumented immigrants in the US are not eligible for unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs. Most are also uninsured as they have limited access to health coverage options.
In order to legally stay in the US, they have limited options — marry an US citizen, serve in the US military, apply for a green card to become a permanent resident, apply for asylum or temporary protection status.
Biden’s immigration plan to benefit illegal Indian immigrants too
In January, the Biden administration unveiled its “ambitious” US Citizenship Act of 2021, currently being deliberated in Congress. Central to the legislation is the goal to give about 11 million undocumented immigrants an eight-year path to become citizens.
If passed, the bill will allow illegal immigrants to live and work in the US for five years after passing background checks and paying taxes. They can then
apply for a green card and become permanent residents with the opportunity to win citizenship after three more years.
The bill seeks to make good on Biden’s campaign promise for an overhaul in immigration policy. “Dreamers, TPS (temporary protected status) holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation,” states the legislation.
The “Dreamers” refer to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, stayed in school or enlisted in the military.
In 2012, the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice-president, ushered in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, which aimed to stop the deportation of young illegal immigrants who entered the US as minors if they meet certain requirements.
The Trump administration terminated DACA in 2017, putting an end to new applications. The then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions simply declared the programme “unconstitutional”.
In 2020, when the programme was about to phase out, the administration planned to end it once and for all but a Supreme Court ruling restored the policy.
Subsequently, President Biden signed a presidential action on his first day in office to “preserve and fortify” DACA. In his campaign plan, he had also promised to ensure Dreamers are eligible for federal student aid.
In a recent column in the Washington Post on Biden’s immigration policy, Fareed Zakaria argued that without immigration the US faces a “dire demographic future”.
“Shortly after Mr. Biden took office, he issued an executive memorandum – preserving and fortifying DACA — the Obama-era policy that provided a safe haven from enforcement for individuals who came to or stayed illegally in the country as minors,” stated a Brookings Report. “The policy would allow individuals to register with the government and to attend college and/or to be able to work legally.”
However, how this will benefit the illegal Indian immigrants and whether they will finally avail themselves of such opportunities under the Biden government, remains to be seen.
In late 2014, former US President Barack Obama introduced a reform that benefitted roughly 4.1 million undocumented parents of US citizens and about 300,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
It allowed them to be eligible for temporary legal status and work permits if they fulfil certain criteria, register with the government and pay a nearly $500 fee.
The move, reportedly, was expected to benefit roughly 1.7 lakh Indians who were in the US illegally. A report by Migration Policy Institute found that although almost 20,000 illegal Indian immigrants were eligible for DACA in 2012, only 2,220 Indian-born individuals were active participants of the program as of March 2020.
Also read: H-1B visa overhaul will be affected if immigration bill is broken up