Baltimore Nepalese Non-Profit Hands Out Groceries to Struggling International Students

Ashish Kandel, a Nepalese international student at Wilmington University carts groceries provided by SAATHI Baltimore and Mount Everest Grocery LLC on May 16, 2020. (Photo/Athiyah Azeem)

BALTIMORE, M.D. – As aid slowly rolls out for small businesses and families in Maryland, one demographic has been left hanging: international students. In the absence of government help, Baltimore’s Nepalese community came together Saturday morning to distribute groceries to these struggling students.

SAATHI Baltimore is a volunteer-run non-profit dedicated to aiding Nepalese international students in Maryland. Baltimore boasts the fifth-largest Nepalese community in America, with Washington D.C. at third-most.

SAATHI, the Nonresident Nepalese Association (NRNA) and the Nepali American Community Center (NACC) partnered with Mount Everest Grocery LLC Saturday to hand out carts of rice, oil, spices and even Parle-G (a popular Indian biscuit) to students. Most signed up to receive groceries prior to pick-up through SAATHI’s Facebook page.

“We already have 42 students who signed up,” Ramesh Bhatta, a founder of SAATHI Baltimore told The Immigrant’s Bay a day prior to the grocery pickup. By Saturday noon, a member of SAATHI stated they served up to 30 students. 

SAATHI will be doing a second grocery pick-up Sunday May 17, from 1pm to 4pm at Swadesh Grocery.

Ashish Kandel (left) and his roommate pack groceries they received from SAATHI Baltimore and Mt Everest Grocery LLC into the trunk of their car, on May 16, 2020. (Photo/Athiyah Azeem)

“The jobs are closed, even in our home country,” said Ashish Kandel, a Nepalese international student at Wilmington University, who received a cart of groceries from Mount Everest’s door step. With parents unable to work back home, and he himself unable to work in America, his sources of funding are limited. 

Currently, stimulus checks do not extend to foreigners in America without social security numbers, which includes international students.

Additionally, the CARES Act that provides aid to American college students does not extend to foreign students either. The latest HEROES Act succeeded against Republican backlash, to include immigrants of any legal status to receive stimulus paychecks. It still needs to pass the Republican-dominated Senate.

With no federal aid going to international students, SAATHI used funding from the Baltimore Rotary Club and NRNA, which contributed $2000 and $1000 respectively fuel the weekend grocery pick-up program. The Nepalese-run Mt Everest Grocery store gave SAATHI Baltimore a 15% discount.

Owner and his son, Apar Shrestha pose in their grocery story, the Mt Everest Grocery LLC on May 16, 2020. (Photo/Athiyah Azeem)

“Getting groceries right now is really hard,” said Apar Shrestha, son of the owner of Mt Everest Grocery. “The vendors are increasing their prices on us.” 

Regardless, they are attempting to keep their prices low–Shrestha stated they are selling rice at almost cost price. The 15% discount is on top of that.

“It’s not about making money you know,” said Shrestha. “It’s about helping the community.”

While some students picked up groceries at the door, several requested deliveries. Volunteers made longer trips around and outside of Baltimore to deliver.

*Anjali Lama, Nepalese international student at Baltimore City Community College receives a carton with groceries at her doorstep, from SAATHI Baltimore founder Ramesh Bhatta, May 16, 2020. (Photo/Athiyah Azeem)

“We really don’t know the situation, how long it is going to be,” said Anjali Lama, a Nepalese international student and recent graduate at Baltimore City Community College. She said her grocery delivery alleviates one of her fears. At the moment, she is applying to transfer to a university.

“Today we met with someone from Towson University,” Bhatta told Lama after dropping off her groceries. “He got some kind of scholarship there.”

“But Towson is really expensive, I guess, for international students,” she replied. International students can never get in-state tuition, as they are considered nonresident aliens by the government and universities. Bhatta and Lama discussed resources she could use to access scholarships and aid.

“I was an F1 student myself,” said Bhatta, as he drove away from Lama’s residence. “So I understand how hard it is.”

The group’s founders and volunteers are either current or previously F1 international students. SAATHI, which means ‘friend’ in Nepali, was founded as a way to bridge the gap between former and current F1 students.

“This started as a soccer program,” said Pravin Khadka, another founder of SAATHI. Soccer is a popular sport for the young and old alike in Nepal, and the founders believed it would be a good way to connect with the growing young Nepalese international student population in Maryland. 

SAATHI took two years to conceptualize, founders busy with work and life. It slowly began to evolve into a resource and help group to current Nepalese international students.

COVID-19 was the kicker. Seeing the pandemic’s effects upon the Nepalese Maryland community, Khadka said they began several programs on their Facebook page, streaming immigration law webinars and unemployment filing training videos to its Facebook page.

“We as being graduates from this university system, we know what is right and what is wrong,” said Khadka. “Because we have been there. We have experience.”

SAATHI itself comprises several task forces, one of them being the F-1 Student Task Force, with about 10 to 15 volunteers. 

Chandani Lama, a SAATHI Baltimore F1 Student Task Force member poses inside the Mt Everest Grocery LLC shop, May 16, 2020. (Photo/Athiyah Azeem)

“I didn’t expect all this response,” said Chandani Lama, an F1 Student Task Force member, about the response from grocery stores in helping international student communities. “I thought the federal will be helping us, rather than the local.”

Lama states the next step is to address rent, and to appeal to universities and the government to give aid. SAATHI may provide a resources for international students, but it is still small, she stated, and depends on the pockets of the Nepalese community.

“We really want to survive, and we want to get a degree,” said Lama, who is doing her Bachelor’s in Environmental Science and Policy Making at Wilmington University.

“You know, this time, I thought I would stay away from politics,” Lama said. “But in this environment…it’s just impossible to really ignore it at all.”

*Editor’s note: Anjali Lama was at her home when the picture was taken, and thus did not break the law for not wearing a mask. She and SAATHI volunteers largely kept six feet of distance between her and others around her.

Betsy DeVos’ New Title IX Guidelines Give More Grief to Noncitizen Survivors

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled her final new Title IX guidelines Wednesday, adding more barriers to justice for already vulnerable noncitizen survivors of sexual assault.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo/Gage Skidmore)

By Athiyah Azeem

SILVER SPRING, MD — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled her final new Title IX guidelines Wednesday, adding more barriers to justice for already vulnerable noncitizen survivors of sexual assault.

These guidelines to the federal statute governing sexual misconduct on campuses would give more protections to those accused of sexual assault. They would be presumed innocent throughout trial and given the right to view all evidence against them.

It also narrows the definition of sexual assault to “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.”

By contrast, the Obama era definition was kept broad, as an “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

Colleges and schools K-12 can also be only held accountable if they handled sexual assault reports with “deliberate indifference.”

The changes will take effect August 14.

“If this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. The Center announced it will be taking these new guidelines to court.

“We are also concerned about the impact on noncitizen students,” Lisae Jordan Esq., Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault told The Immigrant’s Bay. 

She believes while the new Title IX regulations will affect students across the board, “noncitizen students are often at higher risk of violence and more reluctant to report.”

“Often perpetrators will use a survivor’s legal status as a way of exerting power and control and make a survivor more likely to be victimized,” said Meredith Varsanyi, a Training Program Coordinator at MCASA. She spoke at the University of Maryland’s annual Sexual Assault and Vulnerable Populations (SAVP) webinar on Wednesday.

Varsanyi states undocumented students and U.S. citizens of undocumented parents are also confused on how confidential their sexual assault report would be, and “what may put them in danger of being deported.”

International students would also have to tough through the process on their own, far from home. They may also be reluctant to report, if they are in the U.S. for only one semester or graduating soon. 

According to Andrea Finuccio, Staff Attorney at MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute (SALI), there are special visa options available for foreign survivors of sexual assault — as long as they cooperate with the police. 

The U nonimmigrant visa, commonly known as the U visa, was created alongside the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2009. It grants a three-year stay with work authorization to noncitizen victims of violent crime, provided they aid the police in a criminal investigation.

After three years, U visa holders can apply for a green card. Similarly, there is a T nonimmigrant status, or T visa, that is specifically given to victims of human trafficking.

Undocumented survivors can file for a waiver of inadmissibility, essentially apologizing for their status. They are then able to apply for a U or T visa. An undocumented parent of a U.S. citizen can do the same, as long as they can prove they are cooperating.

But to even obtain an U visa is another question. 

According to Women’s Law, as of January 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is reviewing applications filed in August of 2014. USCIS only grants 10,000 U visa applications a year, so now there is a backlog of almost 240,000 pending U visa applications, with a wait time of up to five years.

“I do not think they anticipated the amount of people that would be applying for the U Visa,” Finuccio told attendees of the SAVP webinar. When the visa was first introduced in 2009, USCIS received about 11,000 applications from foreign-based U.S. consulates. Now, according to USCIS U visa statistics, there were almost 59,000 applications made in 2019 alone.

While U visa applicants have a path to citizenship, it can take up to 13 years before they can apply for citizenship.

Before the current administration, work permits would be given to applicants before their U visa came. Now, work permits come jointly with the visa, but according to Finuccio, applicants may receive delays between receiving both, “which is a problem that doesn’t allow people to work and make a living, in a way that people see as legally valid.”

Alternatively, women sexual assault survivors of U.S. citizen or permanent resident relatives can self-petition for a green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). There is no known wait list for VAWA, and is approved within six months to two years.

SALI provides legal aid to noncitizen sexual assault survivors, and helps them apply for VAWA self-petitions, U or T visas.