Seeing Lal

prerna Lal.jpgThis weekend, Desi youth will be convening in Oakland, CA and Washington DC for the primary purpose of getting activated and politicized. DCDesi Summer will be holding it down for the East Coast, and I personally have been involved in getting Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS) off the ground here on the West Coast. Not only am I excited about the FUNraiser we have scheduled, I am particularly excited about the opening keynote speakers for the weekend – author of Desis in the House Sunaina Maira and dream activist Prerna Lal.

I met Prerna Lal last summer at Netroots Nation in Las Vegas. I quickly learned that she was a quite the firecracker. Desi via Fiji, Prerna is a founder of DreamActivist, a current law student, a writer, a SAALT Changemaker, queer, an activist and… is undocumented. Her journey as a struggling youth trying to navigate the broken immigration system is one she is very vocal about sharing, whether on blogs or on twitter. Her tenacity is one to be admired and bravery is one to be inspired by.

Just a few months ago, Prerna was served deportation papers – but being who she is, she’s not leaving without a fight. Here’s what she had to say.

Taz: What made you tweet this?

Prerna: It’s how I feel on most days. We are always asked to prove our worth to our countries. But I have yet to have America prove its worth to me.

T: What is your legal status?

P: Out of status, allegedly accruing unlawful presence that could lead to a 10 year bar from the United States if deported.

T: Where are you from? How did you end up in the US?

P: Fiji Islands. Father brought me here when I was 14, kicking and screaming.

T: Your grandmother is a citizen, your parents are greencard holders and your sister is a citizen. How is it possible that you are considered undocumented?

P: That’s simple. I aged out at 21. You see, when a visa petition is approved, a family has to wait many years to actually get a “priority date” in order to immigrate legally. I was 24 by the time my parents received their priority date. Regardless of the fact that my name was on the original visa petition filed for my family, I was automatically castigated and separated from my family. My parents were no longer considered my “immediate relatives.” I find it morally repugnant, but I’m sure there are many young adults who have experienced the same horror of family separation due to an arbitrary age out of our control.prerna lal 2.jpg

T: What hurdles have you come across in your attempt to be documented?

P: I received admission into several prestigious institutions out of high school but either the cost was prohibitive or the universities rescinded their offer after finding out about my status. I don’t have access to any financial aid so I went to community college and state schools instead and while they were much cheaper, I had to work full-time. After classes would end for the day, I would clean office buildings till the wee hours of the morning to afford my college tuition and make ends meet. I also don’t have the privilege of federal loans like other law students who can borrow up to $75,000 per year so I have to continue working while also carrying a full-time law school course load. Due to lack of identification, there are other struggles like inability to travel, inability to work legally and inability to drive legally, that people in my situation face. It is like a physical and emotional impairment at times. I avoided bars and night-clubs for a long time because it was too much of a pain to carry my passport everywhere.

T: How do you feel about the immigration debate being framed as a Latino/Mexican issue?

P: I have a parenthetical status in the immigration debate as someone of South Asian descent. Sometimes reporters are unwilling to interview me due to their own internalized racism — they want a Mexican-American or Latino. Other times, people automatically assume I am from Mexico and tell me to go back to Mexico. Once I saw a picture of mine floating on the internet where I had been given a Latino male name — Palacio. I found it quite offensive. That said, I have more Latino than South-Asian friends and realize that due to the border we share with Mexico, immigration is an especially volatile issue for Latino communities.

T: Do you pay your taxes?

P: There’s sales taxes that every immigrant pays. I also pay business taxes to the state of California. My family pays several thousands in taxes each year when property taxes are taken into account. They are subsidizing the education of American citizens while their own daughter cannot get any federal loans to go to college.

T: You are a big advocate on behalf of the Dream Act. What are you advocating for and why is it important?

I think i said it best in this post for SAALT:

” …I’m queer and undocumented. Along with undocumented youth from across the country, I’ve worked to rip the DREAM Act from the clutches of the non-profit industrial complex, to queer the immigrant rights movement and to create a culture of radical dissent and accountability….

I hope no one is waiting for the DREAM Act and other pro-immigrant legislation to pass. It’s erroneous to think that incremental reforms like passing a single piece of legislation would change our lives dramatically. Our movement is not about passing a piece of legislation. It is about creating and fueling spaces for dialogue and resistance, building structures and networks that work for those who have been historically disenfranchised and castigated, and becoming our whole selves again. It’s not about waiting for change or for the right time to demand solutions but demanding change and creating our own solutions. It’s about being undocumented, unafraid, unashamed and unapologetic — and that includes not blaming our parents for alleged transgressions, not feeding into the military industrial complex and not serving as part of the grand narrative that seeks to criminalize other immigrants.”

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T: Last month you were awarded the Changemaker Award by SAALT and you wrote a really touching blog post afterwards. How did it feel to get that award, as a Fijian-Indian-American?

P: Surprised and shocked. I don’t necessarily identify as South Asian. I used to keep my distance from other Indian people and my own Indian identity. Once bitten, twice shy. As a teenager, I remembered them as friends who had laughed and ridiculed my gayness, family members who would belittle me despite my various successes and people who denied my Indian-ness by pointing out that I was from Fiji. I couldn’t relate to the women who would hold fasts for their husbands, the women who would suffer in silence or the women who caved to family pressure. Sometimes I thought there was nothing remotely desi about me besides the way I looked. My queer identity grew in opposition and direct denial to my Indian one.

Then one day I was getting recognized for my LGBT and immigrant rights work, in front of a room full of South Asian people, some of them who were queer themselves. I never thought I could feel whole in my lifetime but I was wrong. I like to think I’m evolving now and coming full circle. Right now, I’m more concerned about unearthing my own queer South Asian diaspora roots than belonging to any white gay politics masquerading as human rights for all, especially when it is white colonialism that repressed the various modes of sexualities in our cultures.

T: Do you identify as South Asian? What was life growing up in Fiji?

P: A lot of my consumption of Indian-ness comes from Bollywood and that is true for whether I was living in Fiji or America. But I’m not an Indian-American. I’m a Fiji-Indian American. To deny the Fijian part of me is to deny the history of my ancestors as indentured servants who were taken by the British to Fiji, away from their homes and families and compelled to build a new home for themselves in a completely foreign place. They were subjected to all sorts of abuses and finally compelled to leave the country after a hundred years of contributing to the social, economic and political fabric of the country. It’s not unlike what the United States is doing to me now — kicking me out of my home — only I have more rights and privileges than my girmitya great-great grandparents who crossed the Kala Pani.

T: You are a long time blogger and have written on change.org and your own site. How/why do you feel blogging/telling narratives is important to advocacy?

P: I think our stories are our best weapon against a system that suppresses and denies our truths. It is said that history is written by victors and I take that to mean that if I am writing my own story, I’m probably also victorious. At the same time, we have to be mindful that our personal narratives of pain and trauma, love and joy don’t conceal other narratives such as the subjugation imposed by neo-liberalism on our lives and bodies.

T: You’re getting hella educated and have lots of degrees under your belt. What do you want to do with these degrees?

P: Honestly, I actually want to write books, as in novels and maybe some non-fiction but I also don’t want to be known as yet another person of South Asian descents who writes those novels about painful and traumatic immigrant experiences. How contrived and cliched. One day, I want to be a tenure-track professor but personally, I’m just looking for love in my life.

Aren’t we all? To follow Prerna on her journey for love and justice, visit her blog www.prernalal.com, her tumblr The Queer Desi, her online art installation documenting stories of the South Asian diaspora, and her RedHotDesi twitter account. Keep dreaming.

Images of Prerna Lal found on her blog at www.prernalal.com

31 thoughts on “Seeing Lal

  1. As someone who is firmly on the side of “legal” immigration I have very little sympathy for cases like these. Just like bad money drives out the good – illegal immigrants tarnish and destroy the reservoir of good will for legal immigrants.

    From another perspective you could consider a different path – emigrate to another country within the Anglosphere – Canada is your obvious choice. USA’s loss – Canada’s gain. Canada gains a valuable migrant – one who pays taxes and improves life while the USA loses.

  2. I’m also normally on the side of “legal” immigration, but I have a lot of sympathy for her, because she was forced to come here as a child; I would feel less sympathetic if she was an adult who chose to illegally move here.

    However – I find it amusing that she threw in the “Too educated” bit; what is it with Desi gals these days and that line, anyhow? Lord knows we don’t need anymore lawyers in this country…

  3. Great interview and its definitely a unique voice to the Desi Diaspora, which is a good.

    Usually I’m on the right side of politics (low taxes basically) but on immigrations I believe in compassion whereever possible.

    I just saw this on facebook that the Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch’s own paper, did an expose on Wendi Murdoch (she of the right hook http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/nilegardiner/100097817/forget-arnie-%E2%80%93-wendi-murdoch-is-the-new-terminator/) and how she became an American citizen (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/1372878/How-Murdochs-wife-won-her-ticket-to-America.html).

  4. I am not sure what I think of Lal. On the one hand, I fundamentally respect people who work hard, and I think she falls into the category. But as I read more of the interview, and I end up fairly suspicious of her statements. Correct me if I am wrong, but many things she says seem quite misleading to me. For example:

    “P: There’s sales taxes that every immigrant pays. I also pay business taxes to the state of California. My family pays several thousands in taxes each year when property taxes are taken into account. They are subsidizing the education of American citizens while their own daughter cannot get any federal loans to go to college.”

    If the way she pays taxes is “sales tax”, I am sure every illegal immigrant pays them as well. Her family paying taxes is irrelevant—their property taxes go into lots of benefits they (and Lal) accrue—law and order, infrastructure, Lal’s schooling etc. Business tax falls into many categories, and I am unfamiliar with them. But the way it appears to me, she pays no tax on personal property or income—the way most legal aliens do—is that right?

    Another thing she seems to skip is that these rules probably didn’t exactly sneak up on her. The visa petition she talks about doesn’t make sense—visas are used to enter the country, right? If it wasn’t approved, how did she enter the country at all?

    Most legal aliens receive lower benefits from the govt here, but bear the onus of complying with rules and regulations, in addition to contributing to programs whose benefits they are legally excluded from (H1 workers and medicare). Not quite sure why Lal thinks why she has been particularly aggrieved.

    It doesn’t appear to me that she is fighting for an overhaul of the system, rather that she wants an exception made for herself. I think supporting her distracts from more genuine cases of injustice in the immigration system.

  5. I am normally do not support blanket amnesty. But for the issue is not so clear, especially in a case like this. We got a lady who came with her family, yet for some weird quirk of the system, everyone in her family not only gets legal immigration but they qualify for citizenship and become citizens. I do think there needs to be some discretion . Maybe make her pay a fine and bypass the time frame for her to return to the US? The US has already invested in her education. Why not make use of her productivity?

    But I too agree with NOtG that some of her statements just dont sound right. Her answer to the tax issue was laughably evasive. Also she said America has yet to prove its worth to her and not the other way around. So why not just leave America and go to Canada? Or Europe? Why not Mexico? Oh wait. Latinos won’t tell you that Mexico is worse than the US at treating its immigrants.

  6. I just want to also comment on her talking about having to work extra hours while studying in school. There are many American citizens who have to do that whole deal. She should look at her work experience as a character biulding experience. Not as something she was cursed to do because she was an illegal immigrant. And while she did not qualify for federal loans, one would assume that the family that brought her here benefited financially because their gamble worked out for most of them and they could help their daughter out with loans out of the extra money they made while living in the US compared to their life in Fiji.

    I do think parents need to take responsibility for helping their kids cope to such transitions in relocation. I was also curious that Lal mentioned that she was dragged kicking and screaming to the US which may imply that they had a pretty decent life in Fiji. So what made the parents come here? The promise of riches? The promise of more freedom because their free speech was being stifled in Fiji? Some animosity to successful Indians after the political crap that has been going on for a decade? Sometimes I wonder if immigrants should not take such risks to come here unless their condition is dire or they really feel that coming to the US is such a difference maker that it is worth the risk.

  7. I’m so glad to see this interview on SM. I think it’s so important that we are reminded that there are reasons for all of us to care about the ways in which our current immigration system hurts the SA communities.

    In response to the previous commenter, just a couple of notes.

    I went to two different graduate schools. I had no income at the time. I didn’t pay income tax because I didn’t make enough. Most of my friends going to school also don’t have to report income or “personal property,” i.e. houses or boats because they earn less than the threshold. Given that she is currently in law school, I would assume the same of her.

    The visa petition: When my parents immigrated with me to the United States, they received a visa that was only good for a certain number of years. I don’t know the details, but given that the rest of her family are now green card holders or citizens, it is unlikely that they entered the country without a valid visa. The government does not often award green cards to folks who entered as undocumented.

    I’m not sure why it’s difficult for you to understand why it feels unfair for the rest of her family (who came together) to have valid papers and for her to be the only one left out, especially since it was her parents who moved her here. Her whole family and life are here.

    • the system is unfair and broken. granted. but we won’t have zero immigration or open borders. that means that there’s discretion and discussion about who qualifies and why. this means that i think the exceedingly moral tone is a little off, insofar as immigration is not a right but a privilege. and will remain so. honestly what right do i, or prerna lal, have to live in the USA and eat of its many fruits, when billions live in dire poverty and would benefit from migration as well? i think it’s not about right or wrong, but making do with a tragic world. lal will get her chance at staying, whether it succeeds or not, while the vast majority of the world’s destitute won’t. that’s because of the choices our parents made. that wasn’t our right, but happenstance.

    • for someone who obviously wants to stay in this country she doesn’t seem to be a big fan. i can see why you wouldn’t be a big fan of this country in her situation, but still, it seems a bit off when you are asking for special consideration outside of the normal route (albeit, a really messed up and tortuous route).

    • i hope and assume that the post-colonial jargon and tone was for taz and the audience at SM which would be on the save wavelength. it seems de rigeur amongst educated colored folk in the west. but the contention that white colonialism repressed various non-western sexualities is grossly oversimplified and falls into the standard post-colonial narrative of inverting white gods into white devils who destroyed all the multicultural goodness that came before and created non-white cultures anew in toto. it is true that a lot of middle class indian prudishness probably can be derived back to the victorians, but you can see similar sentiments in other societies not touched by the west. the muslim dominated ‘islamicate’ culture of north india had some of the same concerns (or look at how ‘orientalist’ ibn battuta seems when talking about naked lascivious infidels), and a sexually repressed ethic can be drawn out of hindu religious literature as well. just like the hebrew bible has the lush song of songs and the puritanical leviticus and numbers most societies are two-faced, and it does not require the special genius of the white devils to give the colored man the insight into how to repress and oppress. i’m typing this not to convince anyone here, but just want to assert that so that others are aware that not everyone buys into the post-colonial model as it is universally agreed upon in ‘right think’ circles.

  8. Priya, I do acknowledge the difficulty in moving to a new country and then getting the false sense of security that this is now your country. I have no problems sympathizing with that aspect of her anger. That is why I talked about parents in such situations needing to take responsibility for counseling their own kids ahead of time as to what awaits them. Her case is more interesting because this is a case where she is the illegal one while her parents are eventually the legal ones. Normally, you got an illegal parent deported with the citizen kids having to accompany the parent back to the parents’ home country.

    I think each case is different. Unfortunately, when you are a country like the US which is the country of choice for many immigrants, discretion and common sense lose out to practicality for the department to function efficiently. I would have liked to have seen her appreciate the good things that she did encounter with her move or why else would her parents take such a risk?

    Also I dont hear much about people moving to Canada when such problems occur since they could still be close enough to their family. Is it really that tough to get into Canada? How do they treat illegals? Just curious.

    Take my case. I went to India as a kid. (yes, I immigrated in the opposite direction). Family issues caused the move. I hated the move. But I took the positives of such a move. It built character and I am back in the US.

  9. Priya: The visa petition: When my parents immigrated with me to the United States, they received a visa that was only good for a certain number of years. I don’t know the details, but given that the rest of her family are now green card holders or citizens, it is unlikely that they entered the country without a valid visa. The government does not often award green cards to folks who entered as undocumented.

    No, my point is what you are saying. I don’t want to be blunt since neither you nor me knows the full situation. Hypothetically, if she came on a visa, it wasn’t arbitrarily canceled on her. All visas have limited validity. Therefore, for Lal to be in a situation where she can be deported, she must have overstayed the visa—in which case she becomes undocumented—not “entered undocumented”. The situation didn’t exactly sneak up on her if this is the case.

    That apart, she would also have recourse (changing to a student visa, for example).

    Brings me back to my point, her story doesn’t add up in my mind.

    More importantly, if this situation feels unjust to you, perhaps you should speak with legal immigrants. H1 visa holders, who also have their whole life here, get 10 days to pack up and leave in the event their company goes bankrupt. Most do that. Greencard holders who marry cannot get their spouse here. They live with that. There are systematic injustices in the system, but I am not sure I would hold up Lal as the poster child for that.

    She is being willfully specious when she says “my parents were not considered immediate relatives”. Greencards are never given to adult children of applicants automatically as far as I know. But this isn’t an immigration “flaw”, many other civil rights transfer to spouses but not children.

    Priya: I’m not sure why it’s difficult for you to understand why it feels unfair for the rest of her family (who came together) to have valid papers and for her to be the only one left out, especially since it was her parents who moved her here. Her whole family and life are here.

    Same point as above. Legal immigrants go through worse $hit. In Lal’s case, I feel sorry for her because of the situation she is in. But not because she has been victimized.

    Priya: I went to two different graduate schools. I had no income at the time. I didn’t pay income tax because I didn’t make enough. Most of my friends going to school also don’t have to report income or “personal property,” i.e. houses or boats because they earn less than the threshold. Given that she is currently in law school, I would assume the same of her.

    I can’t obviously comment about you or your friends. I just want to point out that the threshold is pretty low for you to be taxed (less than 10k gross annually according to Sears H&R block—I just looked it up). Grad student stipends or the money she would have earned to pay for her living expenses (as opposed to the part she spent on tuition) are likely to be enough to push someone over the threshold for federal taxes. Besides she is in a position where she has to pay business tax, so it wouldn’t be just odd jobs that she is doing.

    There may be a perfectly good explanation for everything. I just said things don’t add up to me. Not that Lal or anyone else should care :) .

  10. –The rights-based discourse is indeed to blame for the moral tone of her responses. It’s simply too bad that you’ve picked it up in response. Your argument of pragmatism is much stronger and one to which most must become resigned to as the likely course of our near and far future. Reminding the DREAM act proponents of the billions far less fortunate than them seems only to arouse righteous indignation–and that is because this is as close to a holy quest as there exists in modern secular life. I don’t grudge them the indignation because they are simply unable to see how many it won’t help–the idea that a Clarence Darrow impersonation in some mythical international court will solve all problems of aggression towards innocents is still strong in ‘right-thinking’ circles and the legislative approach seems intuitive for them here.

    –When i was a wee poco undergrad historian, my responses to questions about the value of America were very similar to Prema’s–and that’s probably her lone preoperative aspect of cognition that doesn’t reflect an advanced grasp of abstract principles necessary to get through law school–so I’m not sure that her sour grapes are really a problem for anyone else.

    —yes, a pox on poco jargon. Virtually every kind of high culture (be it performance or visual art) in South Asia has been almost entirely reinvented in the past century(with help from white devils), though in the poco academy it remains shrouded in the mists of hoary antiquity, while everything barbarous about modern life is inevitably attributed to the curiously still omnipotent hand of an inchoate colonial influence. It’s a bit like the folks who believe that man learned to do only the bad things (war, aggression) and was born with the blueprint to do only the good things (bonobo conflict resolution).

  11. As someone who frequently leans liberal, I do think it is interesting how opposition to the actions of an amoral bureaucracy, the INS, (hate filled AZ type legislation notwithstanding) is framed in a moral tone. I guess corporations are not the only immoral monsters at work here. Just food for thought for my fellow liberals who think anything government related is automatically more caring about the human being. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog.

    I went to her website to see if the interview was not representative of all of her ideas regarding immigration. For a person who aspires to be a lawyer, she needs to be more cognizant on when to be in crusading lawyer mode(let us say in the case of uneven consideration of asylum for a human rights related case) and when she needs to be the analytical cool calcuating lawyer who finds loopholes in the system to combat what is obviously a quirk in the system and not a result of someone in the government out to get her personally. If she wants to be a lawyer, part of the skill set is conveying the right emphasis in as little time as possible to make us understand the case at hand.

    • This is a tough issue. My brother couldn’t get into the US or Canada and wound up working in Saudi. As a general matter it seems desis benefit by ‘playing by the rules’ in North America rather than by becoming outlaws. Any immigration scheme will have arbitrary break-points. Prerna seems a bit hostile to the USA.

  12. Thanks for sharing this! As someone who used to work on immigrant visas, I know how the system works– and how long it takes. It is complicated and involves a lot of bizarre rules– and plenty of situations like hers exist. She perfectly highlights the issue at hand of “illegal” immigration of children at the choice of their parents rather than their own– and the children later suffering the consequences. This is what people are striving to change– she, as many other “illegal” children raised and educated in the United States, can be independent and contributing members of our society– if we let them. I applaud her for so publicly discussing these issues.

  13. America has yet to “prove its worth” to her?! Ugh–good riddance. While I am a supporter of the DREAM act, this statement and others by Lal in this article does not make me sympathetic to her cause.

  14. What is Sepia mutiny’s stand here?
    That any one – whatever path they choose as long as they reach the US shores should get US citizen ship? if not which specific cases would choose?

    Prerna still has a legal route – till 21 she would have been on dependant visa after which she could have moved to f1 and with multiple OPTs till she gets her H1 visa. by then her family can sponsor for a green card – it just takes longer…

  15. But I have yet to have America prove its worth to me.

    America apparently HAS if she’s fighting to stay here. That sort of adolescent bravado won’t endear her much to anyone but militants and vicarious victims. I understand her frustration and don’t condemn her, but that’s a ridiculous remark to make.

  16. Well to be fair to her, she does say she came here as part of a family unit, and for whatever reason, she aged out at 21 because the visa proceedings were still in process even thought her initial application seemed to have been as a collective unit. If she spent more time elaborating on this point on her blog instead of railing out against every single injustice related to immigration and lashing out at the “haters”, maybe more people would understand her legitimiate greivance about the process. Questions one would ask 1) Did the adults in the family unit ask their immigration lawyer what would happen as the kids grew older and the process was still in limbo? 2) I would assume that regardles of the answer to the question in my first point, she has a good case because obviously the family as a whole was law abiding enough to earn their legal status here. She did start the proceedings as part of a family unit before she aged out and she was still a minor and was not in a position to live on her own separately in Fiji if she didnt want to take the risk of aging out. It would be different if the family came here around the time she was going to age out. 3) Lumping her case with others in a moral crusade won’t do her case any favors. Play it cool and get your status first. Then lash out all you want.

  17. I actually have to agree with Razib on something. Undoubtedly, white colonialism has played its role in the repression of various sexualities, but to assume that had it not existed, those sexualities would not be the subject of persecution is absurd. That might at first seem counter-factual, because we can’t know what things “would have” been like British-occupied India had the British (or other colonizers) not been there; but there is a longstanding queer history in India, among other places, which shows that while other sexualities have long been expressed, the cultures of South Asia were never definitively friendly toward ‘em. See Ruth Vanita’s Queering India. Call it what you will, but homophobia is not exclusively a white/Western phenomenon and certainly not “only” a white/Western construction. Homegrown homophobia exists, too, and it’s as complicated as our own western engagement with various sexualities.

  18. This is not a one-off case at all. Anyone who’s in 485-pending status with kids nearing the age of 21 will have the same problem if their priority date is not current by the time their kids reach 21. This typically happens when families move here on H1B (husband or wife or both) and when they already have kids in their teens. The GC wait period is usually 8-12 years for EB3 applicants. So a safe upper age for your oldest kid would be 9. Any older and you risk facing this situation. Most people look at alternatives like switching their 21+ kids to F1 or H1 Visas or even moving to Canada.

  19. Sepiamutiny seems like a ethnocentric, S.Asian version of Huffpo. It would be great if Razib, who makes some pretty good arguments in each of the posts on illegal immigrants, consolidates and posts his points in a separate post.

  20. If Razib wrote a book on brown Americans, I’d pre-order it on Amazon. I don’t always agree with everything he says but he can write!

  21. Seriously people? Lal’s been her since she’s 14, her family all have legal status, she’s been/will continue to be educated here, and she has meaningful connections and relationships to many other Americans. Deporting her is a stupid and inhumane use of limited resources. It’s not enough to say mindlessly that the immigration system is messed up but we need to follow the ridiculous laws. I’m tired of seeing this happen to people I care about, so I support Lal and others like her without reservations.

  22. my brother also missed the age cutoff-he waited,finished his education in India, came via work visa-this gal’s position is difficult-I agree. But, she comes across angry at everyone-white, desi, brown, non-gay. Everyone has contributed to her victimhood. She needs to get out of that mode. I do think that the arbitrary age cutoff is BS, but at some point, kids become adults-their parents are no longer responsible for them-they can figure life out on their own-including immigration legally vs illegally. If she came at 14, she was still legal-if she came after 21,she was a legal adult who should be able to navigate her own life and make those choices.

  23. It’s not enough to say mindlessly that the immigration system is messed up but we need to follow the ridiculous laws.

    Actually I think Taz did her friend a disservice by highlighting her interview here. Looking at her blog, she provides better explanations in some of the older items of what happened. When people questioned her evasiveness on taxes, it was actually directd to her parents paying income taxes. Her parents did not strike it rich here. In fact, it is questionable if it was worth their trouble to move to the US. It is possible that they left because of anti_indian sentiment in Fiji though as I mentioned earlier, I thought that was limited to just the power structure in politics. Her father is a messed up dude who pretty much not only abandoned her emotionally after bringing her to the US, he also abused her because she would not change her ways. I would call that exceptional factors for the INS making an exception in her case even if some paperwork was forgotten by the family.

    The trouble is Lal cloaks this in a much broader immigrants rights framework and dismisses the immigration REFORM movement. I am going to guess that most of us who have commented negatively are probably onboard some kind of reform. However, reading the blog made me more sympathetic to Perna’s case specifically, but less sympathetic to the family’s eligibility to come here. The INS was actually generous to the rest of the family. It seems like the parents barely had the resources to lead a comfortable life. Short of political/human rights asylum, I don’t see a reason why the US should be easy for anyone to get into just because they may get a few more financial opportunies here.

    There is nothing the INS can do to counsel undocumented families that sneak across the border. But they can counsel people coming over on temporary visas that they need to follow certain steps so that they don’t mess up the kids lives. Maybe they can have a prove it or lose it type temporary visa where the parents have to obtain certain kind of jobs by a deadline or return to their country so the family is prepared to leave if necessary. (For all I know, they probably have something similar already).

    But I can’t get onboard a blanket amnesty because you will just have more families who see downside taking a risk needlessly moving over the US to a life that may not be any better than the one they left. There has to be some kind of obstacle that makes someone assess their current lot in life as so bad that it is worth the risk to illegally immigrate.

  24. what an entitled, whiny, interview. oh, you have to work full time and take out loans to go to law school? how on earth is that different than 50% of (citizen) law students? you couldn’t afford to go to the colleges you got into? again, while that’s unfortunate, it’s by no means a problem only illegal immigrants have. and i know lots of people who didn’t qualify for federal loans for graduate school. and you came here legally at 14, are a student as well, and can’t manage to get a visa or extension? either you have a really bad immigration lawyer, or there’s a lot more to your story that you’re not telling us. either way, it’s not some grand injustice on INS’s part, nor is saying that at 21 you’re legally an adult and not a dependent of your parents.

    and so much of her argument makes absolutely no sense–she doesn’t identify as south asian but she isn’t interested in being part of white gay activisim that isn’t really seeking human rights for all, she’s upset that she pays (sales) tax to the states and doesn’t get federal money, she’s angry she’s getting deported but america hasn’t proved its worth to her,she thinks its ridiculous for the INS to treat her as an adult at 21 but she’s an advocate trying to change the world, she’s “highly educated” but doesn’t even seem to know the basics of our legal system and going to law school so she can be a novelist (btw, i don’t think you can be undocumented and actually be admitted to the bar in any state), she’s upset at the treatment she recieves for being undocumented but says immigrants shouldn’t blame their parents for any part of their situation, and what on earth does “the millitary-industrial” complex have to do with citizenship status.

    i have a lot of sympathy for illegal immigrants, but absolutely none for this particular one. And i’m kind of offended that SM/taz thought that just because the readers are brown, we’d be sympathetic to this brat. I’ve never understood why most SM posters seem to assume that all browns are in favor of some sort of amnesty (after all, those of us who are here legally are here because our parents had to wait a long freakin time to come over, and had our family members have to wait 10+ years to come over as well, and we paid federal taxes) but assuming, on top of that, that this is a story or individual that deserves support, is really skewed.

    • Well, I’m kind of offended that you are a reader of this blog. But we can’t control everything right? If you don’t like it, you know where to step to. I’ve never understood why people who are so vociferous on the comment threads continue to read this site.

      As for as my choice of Prerna – and not “coaching” her on the bitchiness of the comment threads these days – it is what it is. People who read our site (and get interviewed by our site) know what they are getting themselves into by being profiled on our site. They don’t HAVE to answer the questions if they don’t want to – and many haven’t. Despite what you may “read” in her tweets, I think she’s handling it just fine – better than other people SM has profiled over the years.

      Sepia Mutiny is a group blog w/ over 20 bloggers on the site – and we all write what we want to. And I’ll continue to write about people like Prerna or activists, politicos, music, issues, Muslims or anything really that I think need to be megaphoned into the Desi American community. You call it a puff piece, I call it highlighting issues important to and for the Desi American community. Deal.

  25. what an entitled, whiny, interview. oh, you have to work full time and take out loans to go to law school? how on earth is that different than 50% of (citizen) law students? you couldn’t afford to go to the colleges you got into? again, while that’s unfortunate, it’s by no means a problem only illegal immigrants have. and i know lots of people who didn’t qualify for federal loans for graduate school. and you came here legally at 14, are a student as well, and can’t manage to get a visa or extension? either you have a really bad immigration lawyer, or there’s a lot more to your story that you’re not telling us. either way, it’s not some grand injustice on INS’s part, nor is saying that at 21 you’re legally an adult and not a dependent of your parents.

    and so much of her argument makes absolutely no sense–she doesn’t identify as south asian but she isn’t interested in being part of white gay activisim that isn’t really seeking human rights for all, she’s upset that she pays (sales) tax to the states and doesn’t get federal money, she’s angry she’s getting deported but america hasn’t proved its worth to her,she thinks its ridiculous for the INS to treat her as an adult at 21 but she’s an advocate trying to change the world, she’s “highly educated” but doesn’t even seem to know the basics of our legal system and going to law school so she can be a novelist (btw, i don’t think you can be undocumented and actually be admitted to the bar in any state), she’s upset at the treatment she recieves for being undocumented but says immigrants shouldn’t blame their parents for any part of their situation, and what on earth does “the millitary-industrial” complex have to do with citizenship status.

    i have a lot of sympathy for illegal immigrants, but absolutely none for this particular one. And i’m kind of offended that SM/taz thought that just because the readers are brown, we’d be sympathetic to this brat. I’ve never understood why most SM posters seem to assume that all browns are in favor of some sort of amnesty (after all, those of us who are here legally are here because our parents had to wait a long freakin time to come over, and had our family members have to wait 10+ years to come over as well, and we paid federal taxes) but assuming, on top of that, that this is a story or individual that deserves support, is really skewed.

  26. Agreed with the comment above mine. I’m brown, and a legal immigrant, and the child of legal immigrants – and a law school graduate to boot – and I have zero sympathy for her. Good riddance.

  27. The comments are typical privileged desi crap. The fortunate kids of parents who came in as doctors and professors have no care for those who find themselves less fortunate. This is the same back in the desh, where 500 million Indians subsist on less than 2 dollars a day, and there are slums lining all the towering buildings, and while India’s middle class booms, they are still hiring little kids are still sweeping their houses. Their betas drive off in fancy cars to schools, while their nanny’s kid lives in a thatch house.

    This is no concept of charity in Indian culture. It’s all about self.

    That’s why there are comments like, “a legal immigrant, and the child of legal immigrants – and a law school graduate.” Good for you, asshole. I hope misfortune hits you so you can learn some way to look beyond yourself and your lucky breaks.

    Prema Lal’s case is a perfect example of how messed up the immigration system is. The fact that she is “illegal” is a technicality and fault of INS/USCIS, that drags on cases for decades, essentially leaving people in a no-man’s land.

    Best of luck to Prema. My advice to Prema would be to get in touch with LBGT community for support as well as her senator.

  28. Wow, a couple of really harsh anonymous comments here. I don’t feel that to that extreme. Though to be blunt, I can’t blame them. I think in the future, Taz should assess if the subject can take the open feedback one gets on a blog like this. It is clear that Prerna Lal cannot handle any kind of feedback. Her tweets with Taz are one of dismissiveness about our attitudes and ignorance and taz hasn’t helped her out by patronizing her at our expense. Maybe these kind of puff pieces need to be on the uncommented RIGHTSIDE section of this blog so we don’t have an opportunity to accidentally offend friends of the blogger. Looking at lal’s blog, it is clear that she has a lot of emotional problems. Why Taz would want to expose her friend/acquaintance in such an emotional state to that scrutiny by linking that blog here without preparing her for what could arise, I do not know.

    FWIW, she does address the Canadian issue in some sfweekly article(if I remember correctly). The law school of a top Canadian university of her choice accepted her but then Canada denied her a visa because of fears she might overstay because of her lack of a permanent residence. Well , I guess US is not the big evil country some activists make it out to be. So that mystery is solved.

    She needs to distinguish the feedback she gets from liberals and moderates from the one she gets from rabid right wingers. She just whines about it in her tweets. Even now, I truly hope she gets a a legal visa because of so many of the points raised in this thread, not because she has a fundamental right to it. Hell, I will even sign a petition to show my support based on humanitarian grounds. But I won’t have much sympathy if she continues to self destruct and messes up her case. She said she wants to be a tenured professor. I hope she won’t become one of those my way or the highway tyrants who remain bitter in academia. She is still young. She is studying law.PArt of her job will be to convince the other side to agree to her line of reasoning. I don’t see any evidence that she is emotionally ready to do that.