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End of Indian-American dream?

Basab Dasgupta |


Ever since I came to the USA in the early 1970s I had been anxious that one day there would be a backlash against the Indian immigrant community in the USA. The reason was the observation that Indians were almost all very well educated, lived in decent houses in upscale neighbourhoods, drove newer cars, had professional jobs and even their children did very well at school. I was worried that some lunatic AmeEver since I came to the USA in the early 1970s I had been anxious that one day there would be a backlash against the Indian immigrant community in the USA.rican would declare one day that these Indians must be doing something unethical, if not illegal that enabled them to live such a good life.

This anxiety subsided over the years aided by the following realisations: a) Indians have always been gentle, peace-loving, law-abiding citizens/ immigrants, not involved in controversies; b) their fluency in English exceeds that of immigrants like the Chinese, Mexicans and even eastern Europeans; c) Indians are open to inter-racial marriages indicating a desire to get assimilated with society, as opposed to living in isolated ethnic pockets like “little Tokyo”; d) many Americans developed appreciation for a variety of elements in Indian culture including yoga and meditation, spicy food, sitar music etc.; e) second generation Indians started to excel in a variety of areas, not the least of which is spelling bee contests and finally; f ) a climate of political correctness started to pervade society.

However, my fears resurfaced over the past ten years or so as I saw a massive influx of Indian Information Technology (IT) professionals into USA, mainly in the Silicon Valley area but also in many other major cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Denver etc. This new generation of Indians is distinctly different from immigrants like us who came here for higher education and then struggled for many years to establish a good life, eventually becoming US citizens.

First, most Indians in the IT field are not US citizens and came here on H1B visas for periods of between three and six years. They either do not want to or cannot become US citizens. So, they are oblivious to social and political issues in this country. They know that they can go back to India at any time if the situation warrants.

Second, Americans think that they are somewhat rude in their behaviour because they did not have to learn accepted norms of interaction with others. They tend to socialise with each other and live in a world of Indian food, Bollywood movies, watching cricket on TV, daily communication with relatives in India through WhatsApp, etc. Unlike us, they earned good salaries from the time they set their feet here. They live a good life, but their attire and mannerisms spell a “fresh off the boat” image.

To ordinary Americans they may not look any different from us and it is easy to form a negative opinion about all Indians based on interaction with these IT Indians. This unfavourable image of the Indian community might be further damaged by reports of many of them overstaying their visas and their efforts to bring many of their relatives to this country through what Donald Trump calls “chain immigration”.

There is another aspect to the problem. A recent news report about Indian nationals crossing the US-Mexico border illegally has taken my anxiety levels to new heights. According to this report, it is not just people from central and south America and middle-easterners who are trying to enter the USA illegally from Mexico, but a rapidly increasing number of Indians has been added to the mix.

The most popular border crossing point is between the towns of El Centro in California and Mexicali, Mexico. The number of Indians caught at the border in 2015 was six but it has skyrocketed to more than 3,000 this year. There have also been similar border crossings in Arizona over the past several years.

There are Mexican groups called “the cayotes”, basically into human trafficking, who charge $25,000 per person to smuggle Indians in – a fee considerably higher than the more typical $8,000 or so for Mexicans and others.

These Indians reportedly fly from India to Qatar and then to Ecuador, finally traveling by land from South America to Mexico through Central America. Others first come to El Salvador and then travel north by land to reach Arizona. Neither Ecuador nor El Salvador require tourist visas for Indians up to 90 days of stay.

The news is shocking on several fronts. These episodes shatter the image of Indian immigrants as hardworking, law-abiding professionals. I am also disappointed at Mexican authorities who are apparently not doing anything to nab these Indians before their attempted entry into USA. Mexico requires visas for all foreigners.

It has also been reported that some of these illegals are Sikhs. When questioned by immigration officers they say that they are seeking asylum in this country because of alleged political and religious persecution in India. The women, on the other hand, are claiming incidents of assault and abuse because of their lower castes and threats of honour killing.

I am puzzled by these claims. While such abuses certainly exist in India they cannot possibly be so widespread or severe as to cause thousands of people to flee India and take this long torturous route to the USA. Ability to pay $25000 also casts some doubt about their claims. It is sad because such claims only reinforce racial stereotyping that exists in this country about Indians.

The news is also appalling in the sense that people who are presumably intelligent and educated are willing to spend $25K per person to engage in such a risky and illegal effort. On their long journey through South and Central America there is considerable danger of getting robbed, falling sick and even getting caught in the middle of a violence related to drug trafficking. The story also does not jibe with the continuing economic prosperity and modernisation in India.

It is also surprising that these Indians are trying to enter USA from the Mexican side, as opposed to the Canadian side. There is increased vigilance at the border to capture illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Hispanics because of Trump’s effort to secure the border. It almost seems foolish that Indians who look like the Mexicans would want to come this way.

If they have legitimate reasons to seek asylum (some attorneys are reportedly fighting for their causes already) it would make a lot more sense to try to enter from Canada and without having to pay any fee for illegal smuggling.

Another disturbing part of this report is the involvement of Sikh “temples” on the US side in harboring these illegal immigrants until they seek out relatives and friends already in this country and arrange for transportation. It is almost like establishment of mosques to help Muslims get in or the Catholic church helping Mexicans come to the US illegally.

Historically, Sikh immigrants first came to the El Centro area in the early part of the last century because of opportunities in agriculture and hot weather. The community has been growing ever since. It is likely that these illegal immigrants have nothing to do with IT but are simply relatives of people who are already there.

I wonder if the illegal migration of Indians into this country marks the beginning of the end of dreams of many Indians living peaceful lives in USA. We might be viewed in future in the same way as Mexicans or Middle-easterners are; undesirable people who want to come here at any cost and then become a burden on society. I hope that I am wrong.

The writer, a physicist who worked in academia and industry, is a Bengali settled in America.