It was 8 a.m. on Jan. 28. Mampi Ghosh, 32, a Nepalese paralegal and a resident of Queens woke up to the ringing of her phone. Normally, she didn’t get calls on weekend mornings. This time, it was different. She checked her phone. The call was from a friend and former client of her office, Bhatta Law and Associates in Manhattan.
Her friend, a green card holder from Bangladesh, asked: “Am I allowed to travel back to the USA?”
Ghosh had no idea what her friend was talking about. “Wait, what?” she said.
Sick in bed the day before, Ghosh had no clue about Donald Trump’s executive order of banning entry to refugees and other travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations.
“I am talking about Trump,” he said.
Ghosh said, “I will get back to you as soon as I can. Let me talk to my boss first.”
She scrolled through her news feed and quickly called her boss, Attorney Dilli Raj Bhatta, who told her to stress to her friend that Bangladesh was not on the list and he did not need to be scared.
She conveyed the message. But the phone calls kept coming – from Nepal, New York and other places. Ghosh, a celebrity media figure in Nepal before she migrated to the U.S. and joined a law firm, seems to be widely viewed as a good source of information for people.
Most of the clients in her office are Nepalese, and following Trump’s executive order, the inquiries from Nepalese concerning their immigration status increased dramatically.
“We are getting at least 20 phone calls a day from Nepalese inquiring about their immigration status post-Trump’s decision,” said Attorney Bhatta. “Most of them inquire if it’s safe to travel to Nepal or not. They are really panicked.”
Attorney Khagendra G.C., with Chhetry & Associates P.C. in Manhattan, says his firm is getting 50 inquiries a day, between phone calls and walk-ins. He added, “For those visitors with advance parole documents, I suggest they not leave the country. For green card holders, legally, they should be able to visit and come back.”
In order to give proper legal advice and to minimize the fear among the Nepalese, G.C. frequently goes on Facebook Live to answer their questions. His Facebook Live videos on Khasokhas will normally have more than 11,000 views.
A Facebook Live interview he did on Jan. 30 with Ang Chhiring Sherpa, editor-in-chief of Everest Times, generated more than 21,000 views.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year estimates, there are about 142,000 Nepalese living in the U.S. and about 14,000 Nepalese living in New York. But other estimates are higher.
The recent report published by the Non-Resident Nepali Association National Coordination Council (NRN NCC USA), the organization which has more than 10,000 Nepalese members living in the U.S., estimated that the population of Nepalese living in the U.S. numbers more than 251,000, with 48 percent being permanent residents here.
“I have always advised them not to panic,” G.C. said. Inquired about the green card holders’ fear, he said, “I don’t see any problem in going to Nepal unless they have a pending criminal case or serious conviction.”
On the other hand, Binod Roka, a Nepalese attorney at Binod Roka and Associates P.C. in Queens, advises green card holders not to travel for the time being. “I suggest they ‘wait and watch,’” he said, adding that it’s best for them not to travel unless there is an emergency.
Roka said that he was surprised when he received phone calls from Nepalese-born U.S. passport holders. “Three Nepalese U.S. passport holders asked me if it was safe to travel to Nepal,” he said. “Trump’s decision has really shaken Nepalese living here.”
Adhikaar, a nonprofit organization working with New York’s Nepalese community, quickly did a program with undocumented immigrants on Jan. 29. They invited an immigration lawyer from The Door, a nonprofit organization based in Manhattan.
“I was getting lots of phone calls from people inquiring about what’s going to happen,” said Narbada Chhetri, the director of organizing and advocacy at Adhikaar.
She recalled one specific phone call when she was about to go to the JFK airport protest on Jan. 28.
“I got a call from a Nepalese guy who was holding a travel document and was planning to fly from the airport soon. He asked if it was safe to go to Nepal,” she said. “I was not a legal expert so I couldn’t answer him.”
She added, “I realized that people were confused. I dropped the idea of going to JFK on that day and planned for the immigration awareness program.”
She quickly wrote emails to her nonprofit organization contacts about their availability to do an immigration awareness session with Nepalese living here. She got positive responses from some of them. She used social media like Facebook to call on people to participate in the event the next day. About 50 people showed up at their office in Woodside, Queens.
Facebook news feeds of Nepalese living here are flooded with news about Trump and like the whole world, Nepalese are also closely observing U.S. politics.
Suddenly, a news report concerning a Nepalese student from Wesleyan College in Georgia added more drama. The story published on Jan. 31 said that somebody wrote an anti-immigrant message, “Go Away Immigrant #Trump,” on the dorm room door of Nepalese student Riya Adhikari.
Before the incident, there had been no reports of Nepalese students being treated like this so far.
In addition to this, fake news about Trump’s remarks about Nepalese living here has been circulating on social media a lot. One fake news headline said, “U.S. President Trump has said to Nepali to ‘go make their own country and develop it.’” This item has generated more than 74,000 views on YouTube since its publication on Feb. 2.
Seeing the concern among the Nepalese living in New York about Trump’s executive decision, community organization Prawasi Nepali Ekata Samaj, which loosely translates to United Nepalese Society in Foreign Land, organized a community interaction program on Feb. 5 at Sherpa Kyidug Hall in Elmhurst, Queens.
About 80 people showed up for the four-hour long event. Most of them were undocumented immigrants. They were especially concerned about their immigration status and wanted to find out if it’s safe to travel to Nepal.
Most of them didn’t reveal their names.
Some of the questions they asked were: “My friend has TPS [temporary protected status, granted to Nepalese here after the 2015 earthquake] and has an ‘advance parole’ [a special permission to reenter the U.S.]. Do you think it’s okay for him to go to Nepal right now?” “I got a green card through political asylum. Do you think it’s safe for me to travel outside the U.S.?”
Nepalese attorney Basu Dev Phulara answered those queries and explained what Trump’s executive order was and the ongoing tussle between the court order and the Trump administration.
Nepalese attorneys are not the only ones who are getting lots of inquiries. The Nepalese consulate office at East 49th Street is getting lots of inquiries too.
Krishna Kumar Subedi, consul general of Nepal in New York, said, “We are getting at least 22 calls related to it. At least 15 people call me on my personal cellphone daily.”
Subedi said he understood the fear and confusion for Nepalese, especially undocumented immigrants. “There are lots of things going on in the U.S. right now,” he said.
“Not only the Nepalese, but the whole world is confused seeing the situation here.”