Friday, September 27, 2013

Pessimistic Eye with Optimistic Lens for a Better Future


Note: For some reason, this article never got out for publication. I saw it in my draft folder today.


As I sit and ponder upon my experience regarding the recent protest against China’s next President Xi Jinping visit to Washington DC in 2012, I feel the need to share my views on the entire episode.  Some of you, who knows me, realize that I prefer to take a critical approach at what Tibetan do or does in the realm of social, political, and social spectrum.  Some think of it as a negative approach to look at.  However, I tend to observe and analyze things from a different viewpoint – pessimistic eye with optimistic lens for a better future.  Here is what I went through at this protest event.

Two days prior to the bus trip from NYC to Washington DC, I registered for the trip via online registration form posted on the Students for Free Tibet Website.  The protest was jointly organized by Students for Free Tibet (SFT), Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of New York New Jersey (RTYC NYNJ), and Capital Area RTYC.

A day after the online registration, while walking down the streets of Jackson Heights (Queens, NY), I saw a table with donation box and bus registration for the protest.  Though I registered via the SFT’s online registration form, I checked again to see if my name is on the registration list.  To my surprise, my name was not there.  Then, I checked my friend’s name who also registered via online.  He was not on the list too.  I told the concerned RTYC NYNJ executive member about my online registration.  Again, to my total dismay, he was not even aware of online registration for the protest.  That too, just a day before the bus trip.

During the next 24 hours, I was informed several times to be at Jackson Heights (JH) exactly at the departure time of 3:00 AM.  I woke up at 2:00 AM to make sure I reached at least 15 minutes early.  When I reached JH, there were a group of Tibetans waiting for the bus to arrive.  We waited, we waited, and we waited.  Finally, after much frustration, the bus came an hour late.  When the bus opened its door, people started to rush in to get hold of the best possible seats.  There was a line (queue) but people just don't respect it.  Civility remains at zero level.

Once in the bus, a frustrated individual asked about the delay.  The response was, “Tibetans will not show up on time. So, its better to say 3:00 AM than 4:00 AM."  At this response, I felt of asking, “what about all of us who showed up on time and been waiting for the past one hour in this bone-chilling winter?"  It seems few Tibetans will never learn to respect time and people.  More disturbingly, most Tibetan organizations support this lack of respect for time.  Next time, when people hear 3:00 AM, they will count it as 4:00 AM or 5:00AM.

We reached about an hour late at the White House - protest venue.  About an hour later, my friend and some twenty Tibetans were urged to go to the Department of State for protest as Xi Jinping was supposed to be at this building.

At the White House, Tibetans shouted loud and far with their banners, posters, and street acts.  There was tea, drinks, alu dum, fried rice, and pizzas.  I was about to say, “Tibetan protest seems very organized and professional."  However, few incidents changed my views (shared below).

My friend at State Department returned after three hours.  His voice was down and broken.  He was definitely worn out and tired.  He later contacted one of the organizers about their protest at the State Department and to his surprise, he was told, “I (RTYC) am not aware of it.  Did Students for Free Tibet asked you to go there?”  It is a clear sign of minimal coordination among these organizing groups.

Later, Tibetans were told that Xi Jinping will visit the Chamber of Commerce, a building next to the protest venue, at 3:00PM.  Protesters (Tibetans, Uighurs, etc.) again waited, waited, and waited.  It was 4:30PM and some people were exhausted and starting to question the visit time.  I overheard an elderly Tibetan lady, “Organizers should have someone in the press to contact about the Xi’s schedule.”  She left few minutes later, leaving me to think again on the protest organization.  Her suggestion of having someone in the press really made sense.

Read also: Reinventing the Art of Protest


 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dominance of Rumor-based Facts in Immigrant Communites



A year ago, moving to New York City was a choice inspired by my study and research on adult Tibetan immigrant population, and the determination to carefully connect and observe immigrant communities (particularly Tibetan and Himalayan). This determination was justly complemented when I succeed in securing a job that allows me to work closely and directly with refugee and asylee population on a federal grant. Nevertheless, it may be too early to draw a conclusion but I see the need to share what I have experienced so far. Please bear in mind that my personal experience may not correspond with or reflect the general feelings of the larger immigrant community I observed.

For the interest of time and space, this article is categorized into four major headings related to immigration.

Applying for Asylum

Many Tibetan and Himalayan individuals enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa. Once they reach the United States, most succeed in seeking asylum from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) - some devote around 8 to 10 years in the US Immigration Court to gain the final asylum approval.

Applying for asylum has been viewed as a very complicated process. This view seems to have initially started as a rumor but it spread so far and wide within the Tibetan and Himalayan community that it is now the fact. This rumor-generated fact continues to be the best marketing tool for brokers (individuals charging a huge sum of money as fees to help process asylum application request) to prey upon political asylum seekers. These fees could range from hundreds to ten thousands of dollars depending on how long the asylum process takes. Most surprisingly, many college educated people also believe in this rumor and seek support from these brokers.

One of the most troubling common beliefs is the notion of higher chances of approval from the USCIS if your asylum request story is built upon your life (could be imaginary) in Tibet - some with different names and date of birth. The problems with this imaginary (or fake) story are many: loss of college degree earned in India or other country; paying a huge sum of additional money to buy/create new identification and supporting documents; lack of confidence during the USCIS interview; chances of deportation if proved fake; and most importantly, its a fake identity that you have to live with until your last breath.

To understand who is eligible for asylum request, let’s take a look at how the US Department of Homeland Security define a refugee or asylee, “To be eligible for refugee or asylum status, an applicant must meet the definition of a refugee set forth in 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. An applicant for refugee status is outside the United States, while an applicant seeking asylum status is in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry.” (Source: http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_rfa_fr_2012.pdf)

If you reside in New York City, there are many non-profit organizations providing free legal services to individuals intended on seeking political asylum in the United States. Some organizations have more wait time while others little less. It’s your responsibility to shop around these organizations to get the best help you need.

Immigration Fraud

When people lack knowledge and education, they become a victim. When people believe in rumor, they also become a victim. You may think that immigration fraud do not exist in this truth loving and compassionate group of Tibetan and Himalayan people. The fact is that the fraud exist on a very disturbing scale but it seems to be non-existent - thanks to the culture of not sharing failures and embarrassments. These frauds are not committed by others but by their own people. I am inclined to share one such hideous fraud but I am obligated to respect the privacy and confidentiality of the victim’s identity.

Many victims do not share or report their cases to the US government or law enforcing official on the fear of deportation. The immigration frauds are committed on the strength of these existing fears in Tibetan and Himalayan community. Though you may have a fake asylum story, you still have the rights and privilege to report immigration fraud in-person or anonymously. In other words, you can report without identifying yourself. If you are a victim of immigration fraud, the biggest mistake you are committing is to live with the burden of humiliation and letting these brokers continue to prey upon someone like you.

To report immigration fraud, there are number of avenues to contact. Some of these are:

  1. Call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 or find legal help at www.uscis.gov/avoidscams
  2. To get a referral for legal and social service providers, call NY Immigration Hotline 1-800-566-7636 or email: bria.contact@otda.state.ny.us
  3. Notify Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.org/complaint or 1-877-382-4357
  4. Call NY Attorney General’s Immigration Fraud Hotline at 1-866-390-2992 or visit www.ag.ny.gov 
  5. For a list of free legal services, visit U.S. Department of Justice at http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/probono/states/htm
  6. Report to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - Be a whistleblower and you could receive up to 30% of the amount that has been underpaid (for more, visit http://www.irs.gov/uac/Whistleblower-Informant-Award

USCIS Applications and Fee Waivers

If someone is selling the USCIS application forms (for asylum, green card, travel document, or citizenship), don’t buy it. They are scammers. All USCIS forms are free and downloadable at no cost from its Website (click here). There are individuals who help file these forms at $100 to $200 fees with an assurance that your application fees will be waived. Please remember that these individuals neither work for the US government nor possess an authority to waive your application fees. The fees are waived by the US government based on its eligibility requirements. For instance, if you are currently a recipient of Food Stamps (SNAP benefits) and/or Medicaid, your fees will be waived cent per cent. If your income is low but not a recipient of Food stamps (SNAP benefits) and/or Medicaid, your fees could be partially waived.

Please remember that fees for Travel Document are rarely waived for the simple reason that you have earned enough money to travel.

Citizenship Eligibility

I still remember an asylee from Africa questioning me the impact of “federal grant for refugees and asylees” on her prospect for the US citizenship later on. Out of curiosity, I asked why you raised this question. Her response surprised as well as saddened me. She heard from her own community members that if someone receives a federal grant, it will impact their prospect towards naturalization (U.S. citizenship).

Her question was a surprise because I have been hearing the same in other refugee and asylee communities such as Tibetan, Nepalese, and Bhutanese. I was saddened at this question because it is just a baseless rumor that has turned into a fact. My response was simple to her - no federal program will impact other federal program.

On a similar front, many believe that receiving Food Stamp, Medicaid, and Cash benefits will impact their prospect towards naturalization which is another baseless rumor. However, things that will really impact the request for naturalization are never discussed or understood by many refugee/asylee communities.

For instance, not-filing income tax returns, defrauding IRS, domestic violence, aggravated felony, drunk driving, reckless driving, not-paying child support, travelling back to your prosecuted country, and child abuse could lead to the denial of your request for naturalization. 

Recommendation and Conclusion

So far, this article discussed the existence of rumor-based facts in the realm of immigration. However, these rumor-based facts are widespread in all walks of immigrant life such as social, welfare, economics, and not to miss the politics.

Rumors spread like wildfire in many communities. Sadly, many individuals believe in these rumors as true. These rumors are like parasites in the community that holds back the growth and development of its community members. It’s important that each and every community members identify and understand these rumors and work together to undermine them.


Education is the best tool to empower community members. When you hear something, don’t buy it. Don’t share with others until you do your own research on what you heard. Hearing and believing are two different functions of the body. You hear from ear but you should believe from head. So, to believe, do your research thoroughly and then, share the findings with your friends and community members. Together, we can make the community stronger.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Researcher Perspective: Who I Am?


As a researcher, my past history and experience may have contributed in how I framed and conducted the study (research as well as articles). I am a first generation Tibetan refugee born, raised, and educated in India. I received my school education from Tibetan refugee schools and my higher education from Indian universities. Throughout my educational journeys in India, I earned numerous awards and scholarships. One of my biggest academic achievements in India was to secure the sixth rank from the entire University of Mysore. I consider myself a successful product of Tibetan refugee educational programs in India.

Moreover, I worked in a few leadership positions at the Department of Education, Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in-exile), Dharamsala, India for about eight years before I came to the University of Wyoming (UW) as a non-degree graduate student in 2007. Though both my bachelor and master’s degree were in commerce, I decided to pursue a doctoral program in education because I felt that, with an education degree, my contribution could be more meaningful for the larger Tibetan communities in the diaspora. This feeling was confirmed when I learned about adult and continuing education and its philosophy in the Spring 2008 semester at UW. I realized why some adult Tibetan refugees in India did not continue their formal education once they completed their college education. Life responsibilities such as having employment, getting married or having children take precedence. 

Further, I experienced this same pattern on the part of adult Tibetan immigrant populations in New York City when I visited in the summer of 2008. In addition, I noticed during this visit that many adult Tibetan immigrants were struggling to adjust to their new country. Thus, this study (research on skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants) was a direct result of my past history of being a Tibetan refugee as well as my personal experiences with Tibetan immigrants in New York City. Most importantly, as a Tibetan majoring in adult and post secondary education, I began realizing the need for adult education programs for Tibetan immigrants in the United States in general and in New York City in particular.

 
Moreover, because of my unique relationship with the Tibetan refugee experiences in India as well as in the United States, I may be uniquely positioned to conduct this study. Also, as far as I know, there were no Tibetan professionals in the Tibetan diaspora holding a doctoral degree in adult education. So, as of this study, I may be the first and the only Tibetan professional adult educator in the diaspora.

On a final note, being a young male Tibetan professional in the United States for the last four years, this study was very close to me personally as well as professionally. Sometime in the future, my hope is to work towards providing initial skills education programs for adult Tibetan immigrants, particularly in New York City.


*Taken from the first chapter of my 2012 dissertation, "Skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants in the United States: Identification, prioritization, resources, and challenges".