External Affairs

Indian American Leaders Come Out Strongly Against Trump Travel Ban

The passionate opponents include two newly elected members of the US Congress – Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi – and Nisha Biswal and Manpreet Anand, who served as diplomats in the Obama administration.

From left to right: Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Sekar Narasimhan. Credit: Wikimedia

From left to right: Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Sekar Narasimhan. Credit: Wikimedia

Washington: Indian Americans today showed their faith in an open, inclusive America by coming out strongly against President Donald Trump’s sweeping ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, calling it unethical, unjust, unconstitutional and un-American. 

Widespread protests against Friday’s controversial executive order have roiled cities across the United States, with ordinary Americans flocking to major airports in support of travelers who have been stranded or turned away despite having valid visas and green cards.
 
Incredible scenes of people walking in extreme weather to register their opposition to Trump’s hastily crafted order are unfolding daily. Immigration lawyers are offering free services at airports, setting up desks on luggage carts.
 
But the ban has also unleashed new anger against non-white immigrants, including Indian Americans who have lived here as citizens for decades. Reports have come in about a 70-year-old Indian American citizen being strip-searched after a domestic flight and a grandmother being asked to show her “papers” as she walked in her neighbourhood. 
 
On Tuesday, key Indian Americans decided to speak out. The passionate opponents included two newly elected members of the US Congress – Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi – and Nisha Biswal and Manpreet Anand, who served as diplomats in the Obama administration.  
 
Biswal said she “speaks as a practicing Hindu, as a proud American and as a former State Department official” that this ban will not “make us safer.” As assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, her portfolio included many Muslim-majority countries whose cooperation was crucial in the fight against terrorism.
 
Recalling the recent incidents where a long-time Indian American woman in Maryland was asked to show papers after a neighbour called the police about spotting a ‘suspicious’ person, Biswal asked, “Is this what we want for our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and fathers?”
 
The Chennai-born Jayapal, a fearless spokeswoman for progressive causes and a US representative from the state of Washington, said she will fight the “demonising and other-ising” of people with every tool in her toolbox as a Congresswoman. She said she fought to be on the House Judiciary Committee to make sure her voice is heard in Congress, where 240 Republicans outnumber 193 Democrats.
 
“People in my district are terrified. Anyone who defends this ban will be on the wrong side of history,” she said. Jayapal described the chaos at Seattle airport on the weekend where she helped legitimate travelers and immigrants. In one case, she said they had to literally stop a plane from taking off to rescue a Yemeni man who was being deported.
 
“I know what it’s like to fight for citizenship, to be denied a room because of the colour of my skin,” Jayapal said. The early-morning press conference against Trump’s executive order was the first expression by the 3.2 million-strong Indian American community that largely supports the Democratic Party.
 
It was also timed to pre-empt the Republican Hindu Coalition’s announcement of support for the ban expected on Wednesday. The RHC, led by industrialist Shalabh Kumar, has emerged as a key group in the new administration because of Kumar’s perceived proximity to Trump and large campaign donations.
 
“To the group calling itself the Republican Hindu Coalition, I say: shame on you. This group doesn’t honour Hindus. It doesn’t represent us,” Jayapal said.
 
Many community leaders point out that Indian Americans or Hindus are not insulated from this ban and the overall climate.
 
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, one of five Indian Americans now in Congress dubbed the “Fabulous Five,” said he was “sworn in to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to unify our country.”
 
“This executive order is an assault and serves only to divide Americans,” he said. He worked at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Saturday night to “free a dozen green card holders” from custody.
 
“It is appalling and shocking that legal residents would be stopped.” A person who had been here for 20 years and never left the US, went for a wedding and was stopped at the airport, Krishnamoorthi recounted.
 
The Department of Homeland Security has since clarified that green card holders are exempt from the order but the two days immediately following the order Friday caused enough misery for legitimate US residents returning home. 
 
The Democratic Party and especially its younger representatives have seized on the controversial ban to rally people and mobilise support. As Krishnamoorthi said, “This is not a time to agonise but to organise.”
 
Shekar Narasimhan, chairman of an organisation of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, said community leaders are planning to “demand” that the US Congress deny Trump the funds to implement the ban.
 
“This executive order is an American issue, not a partisan issue or a progressive issue,” he said.