Editor’s Note: Neeraj Gautam is an intern at Adhikaar, a New York Immigration Coalition member and worker center organizing Nepali-speaking communities that have been leading the fight for TPS since 2015. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Eight years ago, I came to the United States with the same vision that countless immigrants before me pursued – a better future.
At 19, I left my family and home in Nepal to attend college in the United States. It may sound like a cliche, but the American Dream gave me a new drive in life. As a teenager, I had to grapple with massive questions about my future while watching a humanitarian crisis unfold in my home country. In 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, the biggest the country has had in almost a century. My parents’ home was damaged, and many of our farm animals died. In the earthquake’s aftermath, many Nepalese people have struggled to rebuild physically and emotionally. Though there was government and international aid, much of it failed to reach those in need due to corruption.
Since the earthquake, nearly 15,000 Nepali people, including me, have received work authorization and protection from deportation under the US Temporary Protected Status program. But TPS is typically only extended for 18 months at a time, which means we live our lives in the short term. As with other immigration issues, we also have to worry constantly about the way court decisions about the program will affect our lives.
That sense of uncertainty afflicts too many members of our immigrant community who help drive our national economy and continue to shape our national identity. We are constantly in survival mode, never knowing when a protected status will expire or go unrenewed, leaving us in a vulnerable situation where we’ll be detained for possible deportation, invalidating and devaluing not just our aspirations but also our contributions to the US – our home.
In September, the Senate parliamentarian, an official who advises the Senate on how its protocols should be applied, rejected the Democratic leadership’s attempt to add bold immigration reform to the budget reconciliation bill twice.
Despite this setback, the Biden administration must work with Congress to help pass legislation to provide a path to citizenship for all TPS recipients and their families, Dreamers and undocumented essential workers. This immigration reform would give long-term residents who pay taxes and contribute to our communities the stability that is necessary to thrive.
Living as an immigrant often means battling profound isolation – you are separated from your family, language and home. I have only seen my family once in the past eight years. Financial security dictates nearly all of my decisions as an immigrant.
Before I secured my TPS status, I was on a student visa that left me incredibly vulnerable to predatory and discriminatory employers. As many students tend to do, I took odd jobs to try to support myself, but when some people saw that I was here on a visa, with limited options, they took advantage by not paying me for the hours I worked.
At the lowest point, a man I worked for told me explicitly that he “owned” me. Despite being the pinnacle of liberty, America became the place I felt most trapped in the world. Once I gained my protected status, I was able to work more safely and freely, taking jobs that I am passionate about. TPS has allowed me to focus on work that aligns with my interests, education and skills. Imagine, however, what it would mean for the nation to permanently include the immigrants who invest and contribute to this country’s society and economy in the face of significant risk.
Immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship would change my life – as well as the lives of countless other immigrants. For one, it would allow me to see my family again without fear of losing the home and community I have here in the United States.
Although I could apply for advance parole through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which would allow me to travel between Nepal and the US, it is not a simple process. It is still up to the discretion of US Border Patrol to let me back in the country. For many, the risk of possibly getting stuck outside of the US is too much to even try.
A path to citizenship would alleviate that fear. It would also provide a level of stability that would allow me to focus on my future and plan for both a family and a robust career. I could finally achieve the American Dream.
Today, when I am fortunate enough to go to a job interview, there is one question that I still never can answer: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
As an immigrant, I know I am constantly searching for a sense of security. When you leave the only home you’ve ever known, you do so in pursuit of a more prosperous and stable future. But TPS recipients and their families, Dreamers and undocumented essential workers are denied that security. With a pathway to citizenship, we can continue to give back to this country, knowing we finally have a chance to become full members of our communities.