We all look the same to the ignorant

Quick post on something that’s been stewing in my head for a few days. I’m a legal immigrant, became a U.S. citizen in 2002, and was an ‘American’ kid long before that since the early 80s. I want refugees here and think undocumented immigrants have rights as well because they are human beings, too. I think the US-India relationship might be a decent example of what happens with more open immigration.

NOTE: I’m by no means pushing a ‘model minority’ narrative here. It’s insulting to do so, imho. We don’t need good relations with a country to treat their citizens as human beings when they come to the US. It’s just an example of what *could* happen between two countries with common people.

The last week has been a heady mess of executive orders with purposefully vague enforcement built in, leaked drafts with incendiary language, and overall just chaotic.

So of course this is the perfect time for someone to bait me on Facebook.

The comment read (and I’m paraphrasing somewhat): I figured as a legal immigrant who waited a long time to become a citizen, you of all people would want to halt illegal immigration and vet refugees.

Flawed logic, to say the least.

It’s *because* I’m a legal immigrant, because my parents had some choice to come here from their quite comfortable lives in Bombay, that I understand why these people should be allowed to come to America.

First, Syrian refugees and any refugees for that matter are vetted thoroughly. It’s something like 30 interviews over 12 months, with waiting periods up to several years before they even get to that point. Many are families with children, just looking for some semblance of a normal existence free from bombs, executions, blood, drowning, food insecurity.

No refugee that comes here has not paid their dues — some of them literally, having worked for the U.S. as interpreters and translators (and protectors and friends) for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Asylum seekers face book-length applications that must be drafted in English, rounds of interviews, background checks, and require people in the U.S. who will vouch for them as well.

To be honest, I could possibly go years without ever crossing paths with a Syrian refugee or knowing someone was one. Why would I shout so loudly to keep them out? They’re just trying to do the same thing my parents did: have a better life.

Second, because I am a legal immigrant and had the fortune of becoming a citizen after September 11 — I know what immigration does.

Their lives won’t be easy when they come here. It wasn’t for those of us that had the choice either, but to be torn away will wear on them psychologically, socially, financially. Right now, it’s a vast, dark, unwelcoming, unknown. They’re willing to bring their kids into it because it’s better than whatever hell they left behind.

But in doing so, it makes the next generation better and more enriched than the last. It’s part of how we move forward, with more substantive ties and understanding, in this world.

All the sentimentality aside though, and to put it quite clinically: immigration is also a soft power diplomacy tool.

India, in part, has a far, far better relationship with the US and the West in general because of my parents’ generation of immigrants.

Think about where we were as a world geopolitically and economically just 40 years ago. India was still considered, for good reason, ‘third world.’

Salaries for employees at Air India and the Indian consulate in New York were priced accordingly. It was still a monumental thing to come to America and see the Empire State building, mostly because not many people could receive international calls back home for you to tell them about it at the end of the day.

Indira Gandhi had fostered a cold reception during a Cold War by siding with Russia instead of the West. It made sense to her politically, but perhaps pushed the U.S. closer to Pakistan.

Less than 40 years later and Bollywood movies play in ‘regular’ movie theaters on Friday nights, not just a matinee showing at that one place in Edison or Devon Street in Chicago. Students come and go in STEM Master’s programs. The ‘ultimate’ ‘integration’ has been reached: the cultural appropriation of turmeric and yoga.

Beyond that, India’s economy is booming and Singh and Modi were on friendly terms with Obama. What changed?

Well, thousands of people like my parents came to the U.S. and built full lives here, paving the way for kids in Silicon Valley and engineering programs around the country. India wasn’t just a country with cow worshippers — they were your neighbors and doctors.

Politics changed because people changed. The thaw of the Cold War happened. Indians sent money back home. Doors didn’t just open up for immigrants, but for home and host countries alike.

Old prejudices still exist though.

The RHC’s Trump support has possibly backfired

We all know you can take the uncle out of the subcontinent, but you can’t take the subcontinent out of the uncle. It’s what made Khizr Khan’s holding up of the pocket Constitution during a speech at the DNC so very ‘immigrant dad’ and endearing. The uglier side of that is chair of the Republic Hindi Coalition Shalabh Kumar’s comments about Clinton aide Huma Abedin, of Indian and Pakistani descent. He claimed she was a terrorist because she was Muslim.

I remember the spectacle that was the Republican Hindu Coalition’s fundraiser for Trump held in New Jersey ahead of the election. They had every right to put on the ‘show’ and donate money to the candidate. I have every right to think it was utterly embarrassing, a nod to the neocolonialism of Fair & Lovely skin whitening cream as Trump’s outright racist comments were all over the news. It was a ‘logic’ that said ‘well, we’re not Muslim or Mexican. He likes us because we’re the good immigrants.’

In doing some informal questioning, it became clear Indian-Americans supported Trump for a variety of reasons but Islamophobia and easing visa restrictions, a promise made by Trump to the RHC, were two of the top reasons besides economic prosperity.

The wording of the recent executive order seems to have ignored all the fanfare of the RHC, though.

I heard the story of an Indian-American woman in Baltimore being stopped by police and asked if she was ‘illegal.’ Then there’s this: a draft order that would reverse Obama’s extension of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) visas and limit the work visas given out to spouses of H1B visa holders. Both are the cornerstone for most Indian-origin STEM grad students and workers in the States. A careful read shows that the EO could severely limit the advantage of coming to the U.S. and studying while driving up costs of tech companies.

Here is a full explanation of the draft order regarding OPT and H1Bs. If you are someone who will be impacted, feel free to reach out and tell me your story. I may openly express my annoyance with much of the ‘Silicon Valley set’ of Indian engineers, but i’ll fight for your right to stay here and annoy me.

So you see Shalabh uncle, we all look the same to the ignorant.

We might as well fight for each other’s rights to make better lives for ourselves rather than fight with each other.

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