Winter 2020

Obama-era work rule may end, Indian immigrant women to be most affected

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

Moumita Chatterjee moved from India to Chicago with her husband nine years ago right after she graduated from college. Even though she had a degree in sociology, she wasn’t permitted to work here because she didn’t have the right visa.

In 2014, her husband, a software engineer, was sponsored for permanent residence in the U.S., allowing her to take advantage of an Obama-era rule that facilitated work permits for immigrant spouses of to-be green card holders.

She finally received her work permit a year ago, but the 31-year old is already in danger of losing it as the Department of Homeland Security considers whether to revoke the rule in March.

“I haven’t even started looking for jobs,” said Chatterjee, who gave birth to her second daughter last year.

A wall painting on Devon Ave. Many Indian families live in the area. (Madhurita Goswami/MEDILL)

The Obama Administration passed the rule in 2015 because foreign workers from some countries have to wait for years before they get their green cards. Chatterjee’s husband still doesn’t have one. Meanwhile, spouses can’t apply for green cards or jobs.

The rule benefitted Indian spouses the most because Indian nationals are the biggest group of foreign workers, who are issued temporary H-1B visas. In the first three years of the rule change, nearly 93% of the dependent work permits were issued to Indian women, according to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, which administers the immigration system.

Now, however, the current administration is contemplating revoking the rule after President Trump issued an executive order to create more employment for U.S. workers and protect their economic interests through stricter immigration laws.

The change will hit Indian women the hardest, said Tejas Shah, an immigration lawyer with Barnes and Thornburg.

“It will prevent them from working legally and make them vulnerable to exploitation,” Shah said.

If it comes to the worst, Chatterjee said, she would continue giving music lessons to children, which she started in 2012.

“However, I can only teach a limited number of students without a work permit,” she said.

Some women like 38-year old Madhumita Chakraborty volunteered as a way to stay busy before she received a permit that allowed her to work as an IT consultant. She recalled being lonely before she volunteered for All Stars Project, an organization that works with young people from neighborhoods hit by violence.

Chakraborty, who has an MBA, said she valued that experience and still keeps in touch with her friends from All Stars. However, having the choice to take up a salaried job gives her a sense of accomplishment.

“We have the background to do these jobs and want to do them,” she said.

South Asian women’s advocacy groups Apna Ghar and Sanjeevani said they were concerned in particular about women losing their ability to be independent, which might expose them to spousal abuse.

“A woman will be hesitant to complain against an abuser who is the only family member authorized to work,” Apna Ghar’s outreach manager Radhika Sharma said.

Women on dependent visas don’t even get a social security number or a permanent driving license and can’t access services that require identification, Apna Ghar executive director Neha Gill said.

“They are forced to depend on their partners,” she added.

Some women take up jobs that pay in cash, but they are vulnerable to theft and exploitation, Sanjeevani’s executive director Promila Kumar said.

Regardless of whether the permit rule is revoked, the processing times for work applications have increased, according to some women’s advocates and immigration lawyers. Every application undergoes additional vetting, and the backlog is building up, said Shah, the immigration attorney.

He said he is continuing to encourage women to apply for work permits until the rule is actually overturned. Everyone is prepared for it but there is a “good basis to challenge the move.”

Photo at top: Most of the dependent work permits are issued to Indian women. (Madhurita Goswami/MEDILL)

No clear home for Yang Gang

Seb Peltekian
Medill Reports

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Venture capitalist Andrew Yang announced the end of his run for the Democratic presidential nomination after mustering minimal support in the first two contests of the year, Iowa and New Hampshire.

So where will his supporters, affectionately known as the Yang Gang, turn?

“My heart’s broken but I’m probably going to have to support Tulsi because she supports UBI also,” said Nate Gallian, 19, a student at the College of Charleston, referring Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Universal basic income, or UBI, was Yang’s proposed “freedom dividend” — $1,000 a month to everybody in the country. Yang said that it would combat economic stagnation caused by automation.

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Medicare for All attracts support for Bernie Sanders

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Corina Pittman, a college student with severe allergies, once bought two epi-pens that were each $200. She called this price “crazy.”

She is passionate about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal, which would end private health insurance and institute a single-payer health insurance system. That means the government would pay for everyone’s health care.

“I think it’s obviously ridiculous how much money we spend on health care,” said Pittman, who grew up in Pennsylvania and attends college in North Carolina. “My parents spend so much money on health care for our family.”
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“The Game Changers” movie may be a lifesaver

By Roderick Diamond II
Medill Reports

In a world where food affects so many aspects of life and the planet, what difference can a meat-free diet make?

The current Netflix film “The Game Changers” debunks myths, research and misconceptions presented about such diets. Dr. Terry Mason, COO of the Cook County Department of Public Health, drove home these points during his talk before the recent screening at DePaul University’s Center for Animal Law and  Animal Legal Defense Fund Student Chapter. Continue reading

Coaches and PT’s work together to keep athletes strong after injuries

By Zoe Collins Rath
Medill Reports

Despite hours in the gym and weight room, practices and taking good care of their bodies, elite athletes still sustain physical injuries that can take them out of their sport for as much as a year.

One of the most common injuries is a torn ACL, one of the four crucial ligaments to stabilize the knee. Girls of all ages and women are more prone to ACL tears. The focus for these injuries are often seen in basketball and soccer players, but gymnasts need to be included more in the conversation.

“My concern is watching a kid who doesn’t fully understand their body and the way to properly land,” said gymnastics coach DeAvera Todd a coach in Atlanta but a former UIC Flame. “They could blow their knees out because there is no strength in the quads and glutes to protect them from extremely hard skills.”

Video: Exercising and strengthening the glutes is one way to help prevent ACL tears. (Courtesy of DeAvera Todd)

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Chinese in US fight the coronavirus at home with charter plane of medical supplies

By Yun Hao
Medill Reports

Chen Cui, a volunteer from Seattle and CEO of marketing company Matone, burst into tears as the plane finally started to pull out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at about 10:30 p.m. on Jan 28. He and other volunteers had worked hard to collect the medical supplies on the plane.

For several days before, fewer than 20 Chinese volunteers managed to get a Boeing 747 plane that flies to China filled with medical goods that the Chinese hospitals urgently need to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Most of the volunteers work or are attending college in the U.S.

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Heart of glass: Artist Pearl Dick explains how glassblowing can spark creativity and hope

By Maura Turcotte
Medill Reports

At Project FIRE, artist Pearl Dick teaches students how to use glowing furnaces, scorched metal rods and molten glass to craft more than delicate sculptures. The studio’s 23 participants, who were all shot in Chicago as teens or young adults, also learn how to build relationships and heal. Dick cofounded Project FIRE, or Fearless Initiative for Recovery and Empowerment, with clinical psychologist Brad Stolbach in 2014 to address trauma from gun violence. Six years later, the organization in Chicago’s East Garfield Park continues to expand. This year it will collaborate with Therman Statom, a prominent black glass artist, on a potential 2021 show. “I’ve just seen such dramatic change in people’s willingness to be a part of a community and contribute to that community,” says Dick, 43. “It’s unreal.”

How do you encourage creativity in Project FIRE participants?

We’ll brainstorm different things that we’re feeling and thinking about as a group and as individuals, and then we’ll talk about ways to express those things with glass. And it just flows. A lot of people don’t think that they’re creative or don’t do things creatively because they don’t know that it’s a possibility. It’s incredible what people come up with when they have that encouragement.

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Former Chicago Luvabull dances her way through an ever-evolving career

By Michaela Schirra
Medill Reports

Every day is different for Amelia Carpenter. From teaching fitness and dance classes to coaching a high school dance team, Carpenter has chosen to pursue her passion through varied paths.

Carpenter, 30, currently works as a professional dancer, coach and teacher in Chicago and will continue to host private dance intensive programs to inspire dancers.

After balancing multiple jobs in order to live her dream, Carpenter jumped into dance full time in September. While her dance journey continues to evolve, it began when she wanted to join her high school’s dance team. Continue reading

Sanders rally in Charlotte draws a mix of committed, undecided supporters

Maura Turcotte
Medill Reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sen. Bernie Sanders left his rally to a standing ovation. Macasha Campbell left undecided.

Campbell, 29, voted for the progressive candidate in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and said she might vote for him again. Marijuana legalization, student loan forgiveness and health care expansion — some of Sanders’ key issues — are also some of her key issues in this year’s presidential election.

But, she added, she’s also interested in Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota moderate who scored a surprising third-place finish in New Hampshire, finishing behind Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“There’s a lot of bills that she has championed and gotten through,” Campbell said at Sanders’ Feb. 14 event in Charlotte. “There’s something to be said about results, and she totally has gotten results.”

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Chicago’s Latinx community struggles to find answers to mental health

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Linette Aleman, 20, rubbed her hands together as she sat in Los Gallos restaurant on Nov. 17, 2019, recalling the first panic attack she had 11 months ago.

Aleman vividly remembers the episode. She described the feeling of her shoulders rising up uncontrollably, and what followed was a series of physically uncomfortable sensations her conscious mind couldn’t control.

Sitting in the back seat of her dad’s car, she felt her neck tighten, stomach twist and temperature heighten. She managed to mumble, “I don’t feel good,” over and over again until her dad finally pulled the car over. Continue reading