“Immigrants must be part of rebuilding the US”

“Immigrants must be part of rebuilding the US”

In the run-up to the most important election for generations, we ask women voters how they feel about the choice that lies ahead. 

Tahmina Watson is a British-born immigration lawyer living in Seattle. 

Tahmina Watson

Until I moved here I didn’t really think of myself as an immigrant. I was born in London, I have a Muslim background and I lived in Bangladesh for a while, but London was always home.  Now as a person of color, I call myself an immigrant, but if you speak to somebody who’s white, they’ll call themselves an expat.  

In the UK I was a barrister, doing criminal and civil law. Here I had to figure out what to practise. Immigration law wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I fell into it. I found that I have a knack for it, whether it’s helping the CEO of a company to hire staff, or helping a battered woman who needs a green card. It’s dealing with the most important things in people’s lives  – their livelihoods and their loved ones. Under the Trump administration both of those things have been rocked to the core. 

As an immigrant, and an immigration attorney, this election is everything. Immigrants are a key target for this administration’s hatred.  Islamophobia has increased. My husband is Caucasian so my children are mixed race, and that means their futures are in question. 

There are almost 40 million people out of work. The US is a very difficult place to get any type of benefit, and  even if you do it’s stigmatised, it’s not for long and it’s not a lot of money.  

There is a housing and a homelessness crisis here in Seattle. Some very fundamental basic things in the US are at stake. When Donald Trump had his tax code changed early on in his term, it really benefited  the mega rich. There’s no trickle down. 

We need a national coordinated effort to deal with this pandemic, because we have absolutely no leadership. I’m very lucky to live in Washington State, where we have Governor Jay Inslee, and every level of leadership is listening to the medical profession and believes in science.  If you don’t have leadership coordinating a national strategy, you’re going to have the naysayers, the hoax thinkers and the no-maskers affecting the  population that is trying to adhere to the rules. 

Education must be a priority for the next administration. The inequities of the internet are making the gaps in education grow, because if you’re in a rural area, or you’re from a low income background your internet is going to be subpar if you have it at all. 

Over the last four years  the divide between the red and the blue has become so wide. We not only have a pandemic this year, we also had a summer of violence. One of the problems at the forefront of everybody’s mind is November 4th onwards. Trump has already said ‘standby’. He is adding fuel to fire. Unless Biden has an overwhelming win, the election is going to be contested. They’ll need evidence that some of these mail-in ballots were fraudulent or wrong in some way. Now they have Amy Coney Barrett in the Supreme Court they’ve lined up all their pawns. 

There’s no question that the pandemic has to be the number one priority, but if we want economic recovery, immigration has to be part of that equation. With millions of unemployed people, how will they get work? It’s not like you can do it in the old way – the pandemic has put incredible obstacles in what you can and cannot do. Immigrants are innovative and hardworking and creative.They go to another country, not looking for a handout, but to build.  They must be part of rebuilding the US. 

Trump wants a points system that doesn’t let anybody win points, frankly. His administration has introduced bills towards this called the RAISE Act. Really it’s a disguise, as nobody will ever meet these requirements. 

I keep thinking the worst has happened, but unfortunately every day something else even worse appears. The H1B visa is the most popular work visa, and that’s something I help clients with. Trump signed an executive order in April 2017  called Buy American Hire America, that didn’t really say much other than ‘we’re going to hire the brightest minds and the highest paid people’. As lawyers, when we saw that, we thought it wouldn’t amount to much – but things have changed since. 

Trump has signed executive order after executive order. Normally there’s a time period of 6-8 months to process these, but in the last two weeks he’s said there won’t be time, these are final because they’re in the national interest. The rhetoric that you hear in the news is that immigrants take jobs away, we’ve got 40 million people out of jobs, this is why we need it. But really what he’s doing is using COVID as an excuse to make the changes he wants. Shortly after COVID hit, I think it was between April and June, one of his executive orders said no green cards for parents and siblings. COVID has given him the pathway that Congress wouldn’t give him.  

Part of what has saved us so far is the rule of law. I live in Washington State, where the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is.  It has taken the wrath of the administration because it’s generally looked upon as a liberal, progressive circuit. We’ve been able to get a lot of good results because of the judges, but one of the strategies of the Republican party has been to select potential nominees for federal courts. It’s been a strategy for a long time, and because they have the Senate, if Trump comes into office again, and we do litigate these executive orders, we will likely not see good results. 

Wherever you were in the world, America had always been a beacon of hope. America’s rule of law program has gone to different countries. But what’s happening here now? Democracy truly is at stake. From a global perspective, what happens here really matters. 

I never thought that the rule of law would be in question, and what is the right and the wrong rule of law.  Now with three Republican Supreme Court judges it’s up for interpretation.  

It’s becoming a cliche because we’re saying it so much, but this truly is one of the most important elections in American history. Either the country’s going to go far right and stay there forever, or it will try to turn back. Four years is not going to be enough to put it back in place, but at least we’ll know that we will get there. 

More on the US elections: Election 2020 series

Featured image America vector created by pikisuperstar – www.freepik.com

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