Immigrants protest with flowers after green card mixup

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The Department of Homeland Security is being showered with flower deliveries, a very peaceful protest over a major snafu that has left thousands of immigrants in limbo.

The problem began on September 9 when many immigrants checked the State Department's website for its "Visa Bulletin," which is updated monthly and which immigrants monitor closely.

That day they got an amazing surprise: Far more people discovered they were eligible to file for the last step of the green card process.

This step in the green card process grants flexibility to change jobs or travel outside the country.

The change impacted thousands of immigrants in the U.S., most of whom are on H-1B visas -- the most common visa for high-skilled foreign workers.

On September 25, the State Department issued a revised bulletin: It flubbed and thousands of immigrants would no longer qualify. Immigration lawyers say as many as 50,000 applications were no longer eligible with the change.

Nearly two weeks later, the State Department has given little explanation other than to say the change came after consultation with the Department of Homeland Security.

According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, "Further analysis of a recently published Visa Bulletin, intended to improve the issuance of green cards, showed that some of the new filing dates in that bulletin did not accurately reflect visa availability."

Unsatisfied, the affected immigrants are protesting.

The flowers are just one form, with a card to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, that read: "Dear Honorable Jeh Johnson, DHS Visa Bulletin reversal has caused irreparable harm to our families. We ask you to not inflict injustice on us (legal immigrants) for no fault of ours. Please fix October Visa Bulletin. We wish you the very best."

The effort is meant to channel the nonviolent protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi.

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Thousands of flowers have been delivered to the Department of Homeland Security, according to Immigration Voice.

There is also a lawsuit. Three lawyers filed a class action complaint last week against the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The cost for affected immigrants is real. Families spent anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 each preparing applications, which would have been due last week.

"We started making plans," said 45-year-old Sridhar Katta, a mechanical engineer and M.B.A. who lives in Seattle with his wife and 16-year-old twin boys. "All our hopes were dashed within a matter of days."

According to Vikram Desai, co-founder of a nonprofit group called Immigration Voice, over 150,000 people -- including himself -- were impacted by the revised bulletin because family members should be counted too.

Desai said the impact is even greater: "The total number of people stuck in green card backlog is over 1 million ... there's something fundamentally broken."

The green card backlog can mean that it takes some immigrants anywhere from 10 to 70 years before obtaining citizenship. Each year, there are just 140,000 green cards available for foreign workers in the U.S. There are quotas for certain countries and skill levels. The backlog is particularly high for Chinese and Indian citizens.

"The lack of transparency in how [the government] is reaching a decision and managing this process is a significant frustration for the immigrants," said Lyden Melmed, a partner at Berry, Appelman & Leiden in Washington who previously was Chief Counsel of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "They absolutely could and should release all of their calculations."

Desai said they are hoping for a statement from the Department of Homeland Security as soon as this week.

"I don't know what the consequences were that they have to backtrack," said Tahmina Watson, an immigration attorney in Seattle. "This is the worst miscalculation they could do ... Don't say anything if you're going to change it."

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