Sunayana Dumala left for the nation's capital Monday evening. U.S Representative Kevin Yoder invited her to attend President Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union address.
“The very first time I read it, I was kind of surprised," Dumala said as she waited to board her flight. “The fact that each Congressman gets just one person to pick and Mr. Yoder chose me, from his entire district, was definitely a surprise for me.”
Dumala received the email invite on New Year’s Eve. She said Congressman Yoder has been an advocate for immigrants since her husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was killed. He died after being shot at an Olathe bar.
“When I saw that email I could sense that this was an invitation to an extension of that friendship, to the immigrant community and especially to the Indian community,” Dumala said.
She not only lost her husband but also became a victim of the U.S. immigration system. She said her status was dependent on her husband’s work visa and that it took her months, after his death, to finally be approved for her own work visa.
“The struggle that I had to go through to get my H1B visa approved and the long struggle I still have to get that permanent residency will take time,” Dumala said.
Dumala wants to help spread the word about Yoder’s bill, H.R. 392, which would get rid of a 7 percent cap on the number of high-skilled green cards issued per year.
“It addresses the green card backlog that immigrants from certain countries are facing like India and China and focuses more on eliminating the country’s cap, making it a more fair-base system,” Dumala said.
Dumala hopes Trump’s speech will send a clear message on how to fix the U.S. immigration system.
“Hopefully, he addresses immigration and why there is a need to fix a broken immigration system because there is a lot of need for that,” she said.
More importantly, she wants her presence at the president’s speech to remind people to be accepting of others.
“I will use this opportunity — this one-time opportunity that is given to me — to put emphasis on my message: the message of being welcomed, the message of being accepted and the inclusion of everybody.
On Tuesday morning, Dumala is slated to speak on a panel focusing on hate crimes. She will also briefly meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan and members from both parties before attending the State of the Union address.