Pakistanis in New York City are campaigning to make their undocumented countrymen in the US obtain Temporary Protected Status (TPS), following the massive floods that have hit Pakistan in recent months.
Achieving TPS, they say, will provide a chance for currently undocumented Pakistanis to officially become a part of the workforce here and will enable them to provide for the financial needs of flood-ridden Pakistan more efficiently. Most recently, Haiti was given TPS within three days of a deadly earthquake hitting it earlier this year. Other countries which currently hold this status include El Salvador, Somalia and Sudan.
Saleem Rizvi, an attorney based in New York who originally hails from Pakistan, has been leading the campaign for the cause; writing open letters to President Barack Obama in several major newspapers of the Pakistani community and holding sessions on the issue at Pakistani gatherings here. Rizvi conducted a talk on the issue at the local Makki Mosque a couple of days ago to prompt Coney Island Avenue residents to sign a petition that urges Mr Obama to grant TPS to Pakistanis.
He explains that Pakistanis in America are eligible to obtain the Temporary Protected Status because one of the conditions for being granted the status is if the country has been struck with an environmental disaster – as Pakistan has. If Pakistan is granted TPS, its undocumented citizens in America would be able to get work authorization, would not be subject to deportation, and may or may not necessarily be given permanent citizenship at a later time. Also, all these privileges would end as soon as the temporary status is revoked and the US returns to its original stance. Exact data is unavailable but estimates range from Although exact data of the number of undocumented is unavailable, estimates of the number of Pakistanis that could benefit from TPS range from 70,000 to 100,000, said Rizvi.
Rizvi reinforces the importance of TPS for the flood victims in Pakistan by saying, “It is needed because if such a large number of Pakistanis here obtain work permits, they will be able to work here and support their families back home who have been affected by the floods.”
The hurdles, however, aren’t few. Some are afraid that the US concerns over terrorism would make getting TPS for the Pakistan community impossible. Rizvi argues that the process already has built in protection because to be able to get TPS, a person has to fulfill a number of requirements by the Homeland Security department. “Terrorists would rather run away from such a process which involves getting fingerprinted and background checks,” he says.
Still, efforts by Rizvi may turn out to be meaningless. This is because although the final authority to decide whether Pakistan is granted TPS or not is the United States Department of Homeland Security, the process cannot be initiated until the Pakistan government issues a formal request for TPS in a letter to the U.S. government. “I had a meeting with the Foreign Minister (of Pakistan), Shah Mehmood Qureshi this Sunday here in New York to press upon the issue and he has assured us that he would go back to Pakistan, get the issue reviewed by his team at the Foreign Office and bring it under discussion in parliament,” Rizvi informs.
Talking to people in the Midwood area about the issue, it is evident that they clearly want the US to grant TPS to Pakistanis here so that they can also play an active role in helping out their loved ones in Pakistan. Having dinner at a local restaurant, Hashim Chaudhry tells that he was one of the many signatories to the petition the day Rizvi spoke at the neighborhood mosque. “If Haiti can be given TPS, Pakistan can get it too. There doesn’t have to be a new law created for that.” Yet, not everyone is ready to believe that the Pakistani government would actually issue a letter to the American government. A business manager at a local newspaper called Sada-e-Pakistan, Abdul Rasheed says, “Everybody had hopes that the foreign minister would take swift action after the meeting but honestly, I don’t see the Pakistan government writing a letter to USA.”
(Photo courtesy: United Nations Development Programme Pakistan)