Saritha had set out to achieve her big American dream in 2015 by signing up for a master’s programme at the Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU). She then went to the University of Farmington. After initial phase of uncertainty, just when she thought she was finally inching closer to it, her pursuit hit a major roadblock
on January 30
+ when officers from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), came knocking on her door.
“They woke me up at 6.30am and asked me to accompany them to their office. I was interrogated till 8.30pm and told to report at the Intensive Supervisor and Appearance Program (ISAP) office the next day. That’s where they radiotagged me. I was instructed not to leave California, pay them a visit every Thursday, not change my postal address and not go back to India,” she said, speaking to TOI over telephone from the US.
The anxiety and distress evident in her voice came as no surprise from the Hyderabad girl who joined the sham varsity on the advice of an anna (brother) and has no friends or relatives in the US. “When I spoke to DHS officials today, they said they had a very strong case against me. According to them, even if I opt for voluntary departure now, I will be banned from the US for 10 years. I have no choice but to wait and see what the judge says,” Saritha said, confessing that long ban will push her family into a terrible monetary crisis.
“My father (a lecturer by profession) loaned over Rs 20 lakh to fund my travel,” added a distraught Saritha. “At NPU I did not manage to get a job even with an OPT (Optional Practical Training). Only three months ago – with my CPT (Curricular Practical Training) from Farmington – I found employment with a monthly salary of $4,000. Unfortunately, the firm hasn’t paid my last month’s salary. So, I still haven’t repaid even five per cent of the loan.”
But staying back to fight the case might not be an option for Saritha either. Reason: the high cost of hiring an attorney. “Even to take up her case, they’ll charge no less than $1,000 to $2,000. Then, for every appearance in court, there’ll be an added cost. Her father might have to loan another Rs 20 lakh or so to fund it and it isn’t easy,” said Naveen Jalagam, US-based TRS representative assisting these students.