A Gift From Gandhi

The flowers sent to USCIS were transferred to U.S. soldiers recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The flowers sent to USCIS were transferred to U.S. soldiers recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. (By Xiyun Yang -- The Washington Post)

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By Xiyun Yang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shyam Bindingnavale had spent years of anguish in pursuit of permanent residency, so when the government offered him an opportunity to apply for it and then abruptly snatched it away, he was furious and deeply disappointed.

Bindingnavale, 36, a Gaithersburg resident and financial analyst working here on an H1B visa for skilled technical workers, struck back the most effective way he could imagine: He sent flowers to Emilio Gonzalez, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. So did about 200 other green card applicants, most of them professionals, natives of India and working legally in this country.

They did it because that's what Gandhi would have done.

Yesterday, their bouquets of purple roses, pink lilies and yellow daisies, which cost about $40 each and which were sent from all over the country, piled up on the immigration office's loading dock at 20 Massachusetts Ave. NW, addressed to Gonzalez and stacked in columns taller than people.

The agency forwarded them to soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"We know the reason behind it and understand the symbolism. We donated them in the same spirit in which they were provided to us," said an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lawsuit over the matter filed by an advocacy group.

The idea for the protest began with the Indian immigration community on the online forum Immigration Voice, a site devoted to issues facing skilled, legal workers seeking permanent residence in the United States. Their method was inspired by Mohandas K. Gandhi, who spent years campaigning nonviolently for India's independence from Britain.

Green card applicants were given hope on June 12, when the State Department posted a bulletin offering H1B visa holders who had been stuck in a bureaucratic logjam an opportunity to take that last step needed to apply for permanent residency.

Thousands of engineers, doctors and other educated foreigners began a mad scramble to file their applications before the July 2 deadline.

Vacations were canceled, and lawyers were called in. Elderly parents in far-flung corners of the world stood in line for hours to get copies of birth certificates and immunization records.

Then, on the day of the deadline, the State Department retracted the bulletin. The USCIS, which processes the applications, said it had already met its 140,000-person annual quota for employee-sponsored applicants.

Those who tried to apply were told they had to wait. Some new applications may be considered again starting Oct. 1, but others may have to wait for years. The wait has become even longer after a surge in green card applications, amplified by a provision in 2001 that allowed undocumented immigrants or immigrants who had overstayed their visas to apply for green cards. The problem was exacerbated by the increased FBI security checks required after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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