Bipartisan US immigration pact among several senate proposals

From left: US senators Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, David Perdue and Thom Tillis meet the press to discuss an immigration bill on Capitol Hill on Monday. (AP)
Updated 15 February 2018

Bipartisan US immigration pact among several senate proposals

WASHINGTON: A group of senators reached a bipartisan agreement aimed at balancing Democrats’ fight to offer citizenship to young “Dreamer” immigrants with President Donald Trump’s demands for billions to build his coveted border wall with Mexico.
Though the compromise was announced Wednesday by 16 senators with centrist views on the issue and was winning support from many Democrats, it faced an uncertain fate. Leaders were trying to schedule votes on that plan and three other immigration proposals for Thursday, which they hoped would bring the chamber’s showdown over the hot-button issue to a close.
While not specifically mentioning the bipartisan pact, Trump urged lawmakers to oppose any plan that doesn’t meet his more stringent demands, which include curbs on legal immigration and the abolition of a visa lottery. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, warned that lawmakers need to address Trump’s entire proposal, saying, “We need to take the president seriously.”
There were also qualms among Democrats. The party’s No. 2 Senate leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said some Democrats had “serious issues” with parts of the plan. Those concerns focused on its spending for Trump’s wall and its bar against Dreamers sponsoring their parents for legal residency.
“We’re not there yet,” Durbin said of the 60 votes the proposal would need for approval.
So far, no other proposals from either side seem able to do that. Republicans control the chamber 51-49, though Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has missed the last several weeks while battling cancer.
The bipartisan measure’s sponsors included eight GOP senators. That meant just three more Republicans would be needed for it to prevail if it is backed by all 47 Democrats and the two independents who usually support them.
The compromise emerged as senators spent a third day of debate largely as they spent the first two — with the chamber floor mostly empty. Other than an initial roll call allowing formal debate to begin, there have been no other votes while party leaders talk behind the scenes about scheduling votes on specific proposals.
The centrist proposal was produced by a group led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Virginia, that spent weeks seeking middle ground.
It would grant a 10- to 12-year route to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, participants said.
That’s the same number Trump has suggested helping with his own wider-ranging but more restrictive proposal. Dreamers are young immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children and still have no permanent protection from deportation.
The plan would provide $25 billion over a decade, $2.5 billion annually, for a wall and other border security measures, the same total Trump has requested. It would bar Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for citizenship, far narrower than Trump’s proposal to prevent all legal immigrants from bringing parents and siblings to the US
The moderates’ measure does not alter a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing its visas to other immigrants, including some who are admitted based on job skills, not family ties.
“The diversity lottery is kind of toxic politically because of some of the things said by the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a reference to a vulgar description Trump used for African countries during a discussion of immigration.
The White House issued a written statement by Trump urging senators to back his bill and “oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill” his demands. But the statement did not say Trump would veto a bill that fell short of them.
A GOP measure tracking Trump’s proposal and backed by McConnell has been introduced and was expected to receive a vote. Few expect it to attract 60 votes, but Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said he believed the bipartisan proposal could.
If that happens, Rounds said, “We’ll allow the president to determine whether or not it moves in the direction that he wants.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., indirectly embraced the bipartisan plan, saying, “Each side has had to give a great deal, but we are closer than we have ever been to passing something in the Senate to help the Dreamers.”
Also in play is a more modest plan by McCain and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware It would let many Dreamers qualify for permanent residency and direct federal agencies to more effectively control the border by 2020. But it doesn’t offer a special citizenship pathway for Dreamers, raise border security funds or make sweeping changes in legal immigration rules.
The White House said it opposes the McCain-Coons plan, saying it would “increase illegal immigration” and cause other problems.
Another vote will be taken on a proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, that would add language blocking federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” communities that don’t cooperate with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The amendment is considered sure to lose.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.