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US Tibetan Immigration: Of Brokers, Bribes and Green Cards

posted Oct 25, 2012, 6:38 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Oct 25, 2012, 6:39 AM ]
By Pema T. Gashon
New York
October 19, 2012

Lately relatives and friends from far and near, both former and current Working Committee Members of RTYC and Tibetan Association of NY&NJ including others questioned me why Ms. Maura Moynihan made such defamatory charges against me in two articles including “Tibet in Exile: Refugees or Citizens?”  Some were shocked and urged for a rebuttal through legal actions. While I appreciated their sensitivities, like themselves, I had no answers as to why Ms. Moynihan made such unkind and irresponsible journalistic remarks. I am deeply shocked! Questions are still coming in. Thus out of respect for their concerns, and in order to make things clear for all, I wanted to set the record straight from the beginning. So please be patient. 

A mini landmark exodus of exile Tibetans began with the departure of the first batch of the 1000 US Tibetan Resettlement Immigration lottery winners to the USA in 1992. Soon those who did not win the coveted lottery and others started seeking asylum opportunities in the USA and Canada in the West, countries like Belgium in Europe, and then some tried their luck and trickled into Taiwan and others in the East. And, I believe, this trend is still continuing although in a dramatically decreased number.

The US State Department sanctioned visas for 1000 Tibetans under persuasion of The US Tibetan Resettlement Immigration Project. This Project emerged out of sincere concerted efforts of a coalition of Tibetans already residing in America and American supporters of Tibet. Their dream was to resettle a sizeable and vibrant Tibetan community that would work for the cause of Tibet in the West. Till now their dream opened the door of the land of opportunities to more than 10,000 Tibetans who are doing well for themselves, for their children and for the cause of Tibet. So we should never forget the far sighted and significant impact of the work of this Project. 

With the commencement of the lottery process, Tibetan exile communities started talking about the US immigration. Their initial doubts such as the authenticity of the lottery and conflicting opinions whether such a resettlement would be helpful or harmful in the long run gradually gave way to excitements, expectations and hopes as the day of the first lottery draw drew closer and became imminent. One could hear people talking about it in the narrow streets, stores, restaurants and teashops of McLeod Ganj. And, when the result of the first round of the lottery draw was announced, the news spread out like a wildfire. By the way, I was one of the first lotto winners.

Within a few days, I was called to drop in by the Tibetan Youth Congress Centrex Office, Dharamsala.  After a hearty congratulation from Mr.Tashi Phuntsok la, the then G. Secretary, asked me to do a great favor once I reached New York. In essence, he asked me to revive the then, dormant, so called “New York Tibetan Youth Association”. I told him I will do my best.

So the first batch of the US Tibetan Re-settlers, 75, left New Delhi on April 17th, 1992. But, before their departure, they faced a major unexpected barrier. The USA Embassy called a couple of representatives of the immigrants to collect visas for the first batch. Mrs. Lhakpa Dolma la, Chimey Wangchuk la, in California, and I went to the Embassy with great excitement. But, to our dismay, our visa categorized us as Chinese nationalities. Obviously, it was utterly unacceptable to us. The three of us soon returned to Majnu Ka Tila and summoned an urgent meeting to discuss the status of the visa. In the meeting, everyone expressed a tremendous disappointment. The meeting unanimously and spontaneously rejected the US offer. Everyone asked how could they compromise their national identity and fight for Tibet’s freedom with a mere resettlement in the United States. All preferred staying in India to going to the USA. When we reported our resolution the US Embassy said it would get back to us 15 days later. With that we went back to Dharamsala.

In Dharamsala, while waiting hopefully for a positive response from the US Embassy, we spent time holding a couple of meetings and also eagerly waiting for his HH the Dalai Lama’s return from abroad. In that interregnum I composed a pledge letter, in Tibetan, of course, to be presented to His Holiness on behalf of the 1000 immigrants. In essence, it expressed, “Although we are physically leaving far away from you, no matter wherever we may be, we will always be with Your Holiness in spirit and we will never forget your immeasurable kindness and our cause. We’ll always cherish your wishes in our hearts and work relentlessly towards achieving them. We will work towards preserving and promoting our culture, religion and language. We pray from the bottom of our hearts for your longevity and fulfillment of all your noble wishes”.  I still have the copy of that letter with me.

The Embassy’s response came just a few of days before our audience with HH. It now put us in the category of “Displaced Tibetans”.  On the day of our audience, we presented the pledge letter to HH, with a symbolic Mandala Offerings; a Jaldhar along with Rs. 111.00. His Holiness read it and said that basically the letter contained almost everything he wanted to say to us. However, HH emphatically told us, “Now you are the Ambassadors of Tibet. While earning your own living in a decent and dignified way, you can and you must work for your people and your country. Preserve your rich culture and promote it. After all we are all followers of “Thub-pa-Chom-Den Dhey”. (Thub-pa, the Abled One, Buddha). Therefore, you can endure and succeed in whatever you do if you put your heart and soul into what you do with determination. My prayers are always with you”. Many were in tears!

The first batch arrived America on 18th of April, 1992. The East Coast re-settlers were welcomed at JFK Airport by the Tibetan Community of NY&NJ along with representatives from other neighboring States like Boston and Connecticut. Also, there was a media crew like CNN to interview us. From JFK, Ed Bednar, who briefly oversaw the immigration process in India, drove Tashi Dorjee and me, the first two immigrants in New York, to NYC. As we passed through a forest of skyscrapers, which seemed endless, my frights and wonders which I developed by reading comic-books about those sky-touching buildings during school days flashed back. Suddenly Ed said, “That’s Tibetan Kitchen” pointing at a wall from some distance. What a nostalgic sight!  I saw Sogpo Tag-ti painted on the outer ground level wall of the restaurant right in the middle of NYC. That evening, a hearty reception party was organized by the Community for us at the Tibetan Kitchen, in a total Tibetan atmosphere. It was an incredible moment! I was especially touched by my cousin S. Zoksang, who sang a welcoming song. Besides traditional Tibetan and some Hindi film songs, Gyatso la’s Arabic song was uniquely a striking one! I have no idea if he mimicked it as he seemed a talented person or it might very well have been a genuine one, I never asked about it.

For a few days media people came to interview us. Then one morning Ed called and said, “You were in CNN News, now in New York Times. Go grab the paper. You are a celebrity!  All these seemed like a dream in the true sense of the word.

After the fleeting euphoric, the common experience of all was that the initial months were no fun for most of us. Some thought they made a mistake by coming here. We used to hear all kinds of stories about each other in different States, mainly difficulties with adjustment. Many shed tears in public and others sobbed in private. In New York itself, one gentleman returned to India within 2 months of his arrival and another became alcoholic and so on.  Such things were issues related to cultural shock, separation from families, fear of the unknown and uncertainty of a sound future in this fast, competitive and a very different new “world”. Yet there were a few others who thought this country to be the ultimate paradise for them. Their minds still remain unchanged, good for them. Positive attitude makes all the difference in one’s life.

Then we started worrying about our people back home and jobs and future here. My mind was focused on one more issue. That was my promise to revive the NY&NJ “Tibetan Youth Association”. With cooperation from some, the current NY&NJ Regional Tibetan Youth Congress got revived from the scratch.

And, in 1997, after completing my master’s degree in social work, I became the president of the 3rd RTYC of NY&NJ Working Committee. By this time there were already about 500 vulnerable Tibetans in NY without legal documents. They were desperately seeking asylum. A particular asylum broker was charging them up to $5,000 and others were charging as low as $2,000. Those who profess concern for the plight of those asylum seekers cannot pretend not to know those brokers. They ought to know and dare name them right instead of pointing fingers at wrong entities.

Out of concern and a wish to free those fellow Tibetans from their vulnerability, and to deter those brokers from taking advantage of them, the RTYC of NY&NJ brainstormed to find a solution. After much careful exchange of minds and deliberations, we consulted TYC Centrex, which approved and fully supported our plan to help those who were in need of our help.

Immediately, successive meetings were held with asylum seeking Tibetans. We listened to their problems and expectations. Many thought we would provide them individualized case stories. But that was what we did not want to do. Therefore, we told them that we would issue a compiled blanket/uniform petition to all mainly base on two factors: a) The national tragedy of Tibetans since the PRC’s occupation of Tibet and b) the actual facts of Tibetan refugee status in India and Nepal substantiated and evidenced by paper clips. In fact, the 1000 visas for Tibetans were also based on these two factors. Therefore, we would neither fabricate anything nor help write falsified individual stories for we would have to take responsibility for our actions. Yet, if anyone had valid and strong cases in their favor they may present them along with the RTYC petition. By the way, our petition was reviewed by the late Tibetan Review Editor, Tsering Wangyal la, who said, legally, we were on the right side of the fence, so to speak.

Our service was called Political Asylum Petition Service for Tibetan Refugees. Each applicant was asked to contribute $500. It was like a pool of mutual fund that would cover their asylum petition fee and, at the same time, enable RTYC to rent a temporary office, hire one or two staff and buy supplies needed for the free help we would provide to them. It was also explained explicitly thatwe could not and would not guarantee green cards to anyone. However, on the other hand, we pledged that we would do everything possible to secure all available legal, governmental, individual and organizational help to make their petition a success. By the way one should know lest one doesn’t, TYC, TWA, TA and members of Kyidugs get not even a Penny for personal gain, instead we happily bear our own expenses and spend time and energy for our cause, that’s the beauty of it. Some tend to say it’s a thankless job. So be it.

275 Tibetans applied and registered for RTYC service. But many of them withdrew including those who sought asylum in Canada. We returned their money with a minimal percentage of fee based on the duration of service they received from us. To those who stayed with us we requested them to report back their asylum interview results to us but not many did rendering RTYC unable to provide an accurate account of them. Despite of it, my estimate was about 100 of them got green cards.

As per our pledge we sought support from many including Ms. Moynihan by writing her once and making a follow up call. She was kind enough to say she would get back to me she never did but Vise President Al Gore responded promptly. Now, after 15 long years later she publically accused me of “bribing” her. Why did she not confront me at the time? Instead she stated that she urged certain CTA officials to investigate me about the “bribe” but nobody did, why? Bribe was never in our minds. RTYC was at its nascent stage, just taking root, and had no fund. Even if we had the means and wanted to bribe, it would have been sheer foolish to bribe the daughter of a great US Senator to secure support of the Congress and that of President Clinton himself, and bribe to obtain falsified information about India! How dare a law breaker self-expose to the law makers? The height of paradox!

The truth of the matter was we offered to reimburse all expenses that she might incur in the process, if she chose to help us, just as we would offer to anyone. Would you call it a bribe? Regarding false information about India, it’s untrue, facts were twisted or was there a misunderstanding? What need did we have for that? Our petition was based on the two factors stated above. She implied she would not do anything against India because she lived in India for some years. I respect such principles and loyalty. If her loyalty was such, what can one say about someone who lived in India more than 30 years? In fact, 99 percent of the Tibetans, who lived or live in India love and respect India as their second home, and HH proclaimed himself a son of India. Personally, I also know how to be loyal, grateful and repay kindness of others. Besides, Ms. Moynihan accused me of receiving large sums of cash from asylum seekers but gave them no papers. This is a serious embezzlement charge!All monetary transactions were directly done with the designated cashier and bookkeeper and I received not a Dime from anyone. I challenge Ms. Moynihan to name just one person who was taken advantage of by me. Instead, on a personal level I took days off from work, paid my own expenses and helped to interpret for Tibetans who got green cards.

Now the record is straight as you can see it. Yet, Ms. Moynihan portrayed me as the ugly guy, who bribed, who embezzled and who cheated Tibetan asylum seekers. In fact, by naming me and by using an unauthorized photo of mine, because a picture can speak more than thousand words, Ms. Moynihan gave readers the impression that I was the center theme of her article. As if not enough, she even went one step further by saying that I bribed her, in writing, to “lie” about India’s treatment of the Tibetans in her “Tibetans in India: The Case for Citizenship”. Can you believe it?  This is sowing a seed of discord, not because I am an important person but because it involves the TYC, Tibetans and the Government and the people of India. Why did Ms. Moynihan make such baseless and unkind remarks to tarnish my integrity? I am deeply shocked and hurt. I ask Ms. Moynihan to publicly rectify her accusations against the Working Committee Members of the 3rd RTYC of NY&NJ and against myself.


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