Legal immigrants in Kentucky face deportation and family separation

FRANKFORT, KY. (WKYT) - Dozens of immigrant families, living in Kentucky on legal work visas, took to Frankfort on Saturday, calling the federal immigration system broken and unfair.

That's because even though they are living in the United States legally, they are still facing the threat of deportation, separated families, and stunted career opportunities.

"We are all legal immigrants. We pay taxes. We all came here legally," stressed immigrant Mahesh Devata, who led the weekend rally.


Congressman Andy Barr, who represents Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District in Washington, joined the large crowd on the steps of the Capitol this weekend. He addressed federal regulations that may be causing the problem.

According to local activists, Kentucky is currently home to thousands of men, women, and children from India. The immigrant families are legally living in the United States on work visas, but hope to get Green Card approval for more stability.

However, due to certain employment-based immigration laws, the federal government has set a cap of 7% for each country. This has left many immigrant families in Kentucky waiting for years, and even more than a decade in some cases.

"These legal immigrants are the victims of an arbitrary per-country cap on Green Cards," said Congressman Barr.

Members of Congress are currently working on a piece of legislation in Washington that directly addresses that cap. More than 300 lawmakers from across the country hope to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, also known as H.R. 392.

There are five, H.R. 392 cosponsors from Kentucky, which include representatives Andy Barr, John Yarmuth, Brett Guthrie, James Comer, and Harold Rogers.

The bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to, "eliminate the per country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants."

"These are engineers, these are architects, they're doctors, they're nurses, they're IT professionals, and they can contribute enormously to our community and to our economy,. When we talk about immigration reform, we can not forget fixing our broken legal immigration system," said Barr.


WKYT's Emilie Arroyo spoke with multiple immigrant families from India at Saturday's rally in Frankfort, including a man named Rajagobal Katanguri.

Katanguri has lived in the United States on work visas for nearly 13 years, but is hesitant to call America his home. That's because his legal status is temporary, and dependent on his job.

Despite applying for a Green Card nearly a decade ago, Katanguri has yet to receive one. He says living with a legal status that could change any moment has prevented him from buying a home in the Commonwealth.

Katanguri explains that if he looses his job and can't find a new one quickly, he and his wife could be deported. Even though his children were born in the U.S., they are minors.

"My two kids are U.S. citizens and if I have no status, I have to go back with my wife, I have to take my kids back," said Katanguri.

WKYT's Emilie Arroyo also spoke with a newly-wed couple who is battling a different issue with the system.

Husband Saurabh Sundriyan has lived in the U.S. for the last five years on a High-Skilled visa, employed as a technology engineer in Frankfort. He frequently works on government and state projects, helping the community in which he hopes to build a future.

"I am living my American dream. I came here for the pursuit of happiness," said Sundriyan.

Last year however, Sundriyan married his wife Shailja in India. While she was allowed to come live with him in Kentucky on a dependent visa, current regulations won't allow her to work.

"She's talented. She's an architect in India, but she can not share her talent with the society here," he explained.

"Women like us, women like me, we are living here with our spouse and we are highly educated. I believe that we do need a fair chance to work as our spouse," said Shailja.

"I am a licensed architect in India, and here I am just a home worker. I want to work. I want to pursue my own dream, and I feel like it's a human right," Shailja continued, "I don't see myself staying in home and being a home worker. I see my spouse every day, going [to the] office and working. I dream same for me."


In addition to putting strains on families, some say issues with the legal-immigration process are also taking a toll on the U.S. economy.

Like many others, technology expert and Kentucky resident Sujidh Kumar says he sends money back to India rather than investing it in America.

For the last 12 years, he has sent anywhere from $35,000 to $45,000 overseas, each year. Kumar says he wanted to invest that money in his Kentucky tech company instead, however, his work visa restricts his ability to expand.

"There are several people like me who have ideas and who want to do some kind of business or investments, apart from our daily jobs." Kumar explained.

"We are earning a decent salary, but the thing is, we don't know when we are to go back. We can not think of buying a house and investing," explained fellow immigrant Sandeep Gupta.

Computer science expert Sandeep Pothuganti experiences the same career constrictions as an Information Systems Consultant in Louisville.

"I can not invest here, whatever I earn, a majority of my huge savings, go back to India," he said.

Pothuganti completed his Master's degree in New York, and has lived in the U.S. since 2006. Like many others, he is also waiting to receive his Green Card.

The temporary nature of his work visa has made it difficult for him to change jobs, invest his money in Kentucky, and travel back to India to visit friends and family.

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