Uncertainty After the Earthquake: How the Administration Is Putting Nepalis in Jeopardy
By Prarthana Gurung, Campaigns & Communications Manager at Adhikaar
A paralegal in Nepal, Ramita* studied law and worked her way up from working in administration in the court system — and eventually opened her own legal service association. But the state of the country and its unstable political climate forced Ramita to decide that perhaps she should go to the United States to seek new opportunities. This was 2014.
Not even a year later, the April 2015 earthquakes rocked the country, and deeply impacted Ramita’s home of Okhaldhunga, a district in eastern Nepal. “When the earthquake happened it was a Saturday, and my two daughters were at home, one of them was doing laundry on the roof and the younger one was watching T.V. downstairs. My husband was at the office that day.”
As for many families on that day, chaos ensued during the earthquake and soon after for days. “My husband was on the top level of his office and jumped out of the window during the earthquakes. It took him an entire day to return home, and he was so afraid that the girls were injured, or worse, dead. My daughters thought that their father was dead.”
Ramita was only able to contact her family almost three days after the quakes. “I wasn’t able to eat for two months thinking of my daughters and my family back home. I wanted to go back so badly and be with them, but when I talked to them on the phone, my daughters would tell me again and again that it was not safe to return.” The hundreds of aftershocks that followed the April 25 earthquakes also made Ramita realize that perhaps now was not the time to return.
However, almost three years have passed since those earthquakes, but it is still not time for Ramita to go back. “My daughters are in Kathmandu, but the rest of my family is living in temporary housing in Okhaldhunga. They are living on a floor above our farm’s livestock, and I especially think about my elderly in-laws for whom it is difficult. We want to rebuild our home, but the situation is such that we are still working to earn enough money to rebuild. Even if we did have enough money to start reconstruction, the roads are not paved and last year’s floods have made it nearly impossible for people to transport construction materials.”
When asked how life separated from her family has been, Ramita said, “We are all separated, my husband back home, the kids in the city. I think about my daughters and how important a mother is to them. There are so many things a father can not do for them, but I comfort myself in knowing that before I left, I taught them to take care of themselves.”
Ramita has been able to continue living in the United States and working as a domestic worker to support her husband and two daughters back home thanks to temporary protected status or TPS. A provision created by Congress as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS was created to provide humanitarian relief for nationals in the United States of countries temporarily unable to return safely home due to conditions such as an ongoing armed conflict, or, in Nepal’s case, an environmental disaster. TPS includes over 430,000 immigrants from 10 countries (including terminations that have not yet reached their end date): El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. According to the Congressional Research Service, as of October 2017, the total number of Nepali nationals who have benefited from TPS status is 14,791. TPS has been terminated under the Trump administration for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador in the last few months — affecting over 300,000 people.
And now Nepal is next up for renewal. Thousands of Nepalis like Ramita wait in anxiousness for April 25, when the Department of Homeland Security will announce their decision.
Back in 2015, Ramita was working as a live-in domestic worker in New Jersey and didn’t even know about TPS until it was too late. As with many domestic workers who do live-in work, she was isolated and disconnected from both her community and access to information. “My employer knew that I didn’t know English well and would use this to dominate me. They would make me feel bad and speak English to me in front of guests. It was humiliating and it made me so angry.”
Ramita left that job and eventually began to work as a live-out nanny. This freed up her time to come to Adhikaar, a worker and community center in Queens that organizes and serves the Nepali-speaking refugee and immigrant community. Slowly she has become more involved, and now, she is an active worker leader among her other domestic worker peers and TPS recipient peers. “With TPS and with my involvement with Adhikaar, my work environment and the way I interact at work has completely changed. I know about my rights, things like vacation and pay. I am more comfortable negotiating with my employer and feel more confident after taking trainings like the nanny training.”
Having TPS has impacted Ramita in more ways than just in the workplace, it’s transformed her life. “When I received TPS, I felt so light. I finally felt happier than I’d been in so long. I developed this confidence and it was like a weapon that I could use to fight for myself and my family. TPS has been like a safety blanket, and a reassurance that I have the right to stay in the U.S., work, live here, support this country as well as back in Nepal.”
Adhikaar led the campaign for TPS back in 2015 and is now actively spearheading the campaign for renewal. The campaign is advised by a group of TPS recipient members who make up the TPS Core Committee. These members come from the community and represent nail salon workers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, students and others young and old. As a member of the TPS Core Committee, Ramita has flourished into a vocal leader who takes time to teach others. “I want others to realize that even if you don’t have TPS, you can support us by understanding our struggle. I want the administration and others to know that we are not taking government benefits for free like some people think. We work hard, we deserve these things. I am not afraid to tell the truth, I’ve spent my blood, sweat and tears to rebuild my home back in Nepal and create a life here as well. TPS must be renewed.”
*name changed to protect identity
Are you interested in getting involved and helping the campaign for Nepal TPS? Like Adhikaar on Facebook and visit their website here to find out what you can do in these next few weeks to support individuals like Ramita.
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