I have often said that I strongly support immigration for the diversity it adds to the nation. Some, however, counter that once diversity passes some critical mass level, we lose our sense of national unity. This article from the Financial Express, an Indian publication, raises questions in that regard. (As many readers of this blog know, there is often better coverage of H-1B issues in the Indian press than is the case in the U.S.)
The article, headlined “H1B visa: US Congresswoman warns Trump administration against hasty changes,” reports the thoughts on H-1B of Rep. Pramila Jayapal of the Seattle area, herself an Indian immigrant. While I think immigrants’ keeping ties to their home countries is highly desirable, a public servant has responsibility to put the welfare of her fellow Americans as top priority. Unfortunately, Jayapal seems to be skating rather near the boundary in this, in spite of her disclaimer to the contrary (here and below, boldface emphasis added):
She is also hopeful that the Trump administration will continue to prioritise India though there are concerns about the growing process between the US and China and US and Russia but she feels that India “should be right in there”…
Stating that every country has to make sure that it is taking care of its workers, Jayapal, however, said that the H1-B visa programme “is incredibly valuable”. She said that there has been some abuse of H1-B visas and that needed to be addressed.
“But I really do believe that there is a lot of bipartisan support for continuing the H1-B visa programme, perhaps with come changes,” [says] the Chennai-born former pro-immigration advocacy activist.
Stating that she is on the [House] immigration sub-committee that is chaired by Jim Sensenbrenner (Republican, Wisconsin), who is also a part of the visiting delegation, she said: “He (Sensenbrenner) raised the issue of H1-Bs in an internal meeting and you know, I think again that there is a lot of support for an H1-B programme that provides opportunities for Indians to come to the United States, provides opportunities for them to stay and also benefits India and Indian companies.”
Regarding India-US ties following the transition from the Democrats to the Republicans in the White House, the Congresswoman said she hoped that the Trump administration would continue to prioritise India.
Asked about Trump’s policies on South Asia and Indian Americans, she said that there are now five Indian-origin members in the US Congress — Senator Kamala Harris and Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Ami Bera, apart from her.
A few weeks ago I reported here on the protests by UC San Diego students from China over the university’s decision to have the Dalai Lama give the commencement address. The UCSD Chancellor, by the way, is also an Indian immigrant. (See a recent New York Times piece on other such actions by Chinese students.) Yet many of those students from China will also eventually become immigrants in the U.S. So, not only do we have immigrants vociferously supporting the policies of their home countries, but also we are now seeing clashes in that regard between competing immigrant groups.
Jayapal says, in the above article,
Asked about China’s criticism of the Congressional delegation’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, she said that “we know that China would not be happy”.
“It has not changed our resolve to really make sure that we address the issue of an autonomous Tibet and the United States I think in a bipartisan way continues to be deeply committed to speaking for autonomy for Tibet and the ability to practise their religion and their culture and their philosophies freely.”
What was also interesting about that UCSD protest is that the Chinese students were portraying the invitation of the Dalai Lama as anti-diversity, in that it was counter to Chinese culture. Of course that was incorrect — the students were raising a political issue, not a cultural one — but Jayapal also seems to have made student-protest-like advocacy of diversity the centerpiece of her view of who her constituents are. Here is an excerpt from a January 20 article in the International Examiner, an Asian-American activist publication:
Early in January, Pramila Jayapal—Seattle’s newly-elected Congressional representative—decided she wouldn’t attend Donald Trump’s inauguration, and would instead meet with immigrants and immigrant advocates in her district. “I recognize that President-elect Trump will be sworn in and he will be the president of this country, whether we like it or not,” she wrote in a January 15 press release. “But I believe my first responsibility is to listen to my constituents and to be with them, through the darkest of times.”
To be sure, I have not seen statements like this from the other Americans in Congress of Indian background whom she mentions above, nor do I expect to. Recent statements by newly-elected Rep. Ro Khanna of Silicon Valley read pretty much like those of any other American politician. That’s unfortunate — Khanna basically takes the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad view — but there is nothing there like Jayapal, whose rhetoric is troubling.
It happens that Seattle is the site of considerable union activity over the years promoting a tightening of H-1B law. I hope Rep. Jayapal will meet with them and take their concerns seriously.
Update: After I first posted this, a reader who described herself as Latina commented
I’m a native New Yorker and got tired of hearing local politicians advocating for Israel, Mexico, Cuba and China over three decades ago. Now that they are advocating for India,
Here are my thoughts in the case of Israel. First, a relatively minor point: Americans who advocate for Israel (Jews, fundamentalist Christians) are not immigrants, so it is a different situation than that of Rep. Jayapal. But much more important from my point of view, if immigrants find that their homeland is under siege, I believe it is fine for them to petition their adopted nation. the U.S., for help. For example, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, I had no problem with Crimean immigrants in the U.S. asking the American government for help. To me, the situation with Israel is the same.
That’s entirely different from what Rep. Jayapal is doing, which actively helping Indian companies, the Indian government and would-be economic immigrants from India, especially given that the latter threaten the livelihood of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Remember, in the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Barack Obama heavily criticized fellow candidate Hillary Clinton for joking to a Indian-American group that she is “the senator from Punjab.” Jayapal has been saying things along those lines, and she’s not joking.