The day leading up to the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2016 is also a telling story on the mood that has enveloped his Presidency.
He spent the better part of the day furiously negotiating against a federal government shutdown. The shutdown will furlough all “non-essential” government services including healthcare and education programs. At the heart of this giant contention were the immigration laws. Democrats in the Congress united to vote against funding the government’s budget for its refusal to fund DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It’s the program that provides privileges against deportation for children of undocumented immigrants – a much-awaited program that President Trump rescinded in September.
Harsh Immigration Laws Affect Indians Too
Most narratives around undocumented immigration to the US revolve around Latin American nations. The likes of Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ritzy reception at the Madison Square Garden and reportage on his ‘bromance’ (or, friendship) with Trump, the Indian ethnicity, we’ve been told, is a coveted one. Indians are not second-class people, anymore. Will it be a surprise, then, to know that India is the for undocumented immigrants to the US after – you guessed it – Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala?
India has contributed to the greatest increase in unauthorised immigrants to the United States with a 914% increase since 1990. And the reason that the Congress went to war against Trump’s government is one that also impacts Indians.
The immigrant experience in the US is diverse. We’re the ethnic group, one with the highest household income, and there are also of us who have no legal proof of residency in the world’s power centre. In the past five years that I’ve been in New York, I’ve met as many poor undocumented Indians who scramble through life working in Subway sandwich shops, as I have met educated, well-spoken, urban Indians who overstay their visa in the hope of realising the proverbial American dream.
On 16 June 2015, as Trump announced his bid for Presidency, his first offering was to erect wedges. He promised a wall. He hollered:
I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me.
That wall – the one that is supposed to sieve out undesirable immigrants and let the desirable ones through – has become a fustian rhetoric for a class- and creed-based selection.
A report by South Asian Americans Leading Together reveals that Asian American (mostly Indian and Pakistani) communities have some of the highest denial rates under DACA. Less than 4% get accepted. The ebullience over India’s influence on America camouflages this distressing aspect of the Indian experience as immigrants.
‘Indian’ Has Become Synonymous with ‘Hindu’
On 17 October 2017, sitting across from a giant marigold and rose garland, Trump celebrated Diwali inside the hallowed Oval with Hindu power brokers and his government’s Indian American staff. Just three months prior, he had ended the White House tradition of the Iftar dinner. Leading up to the elections, his presence at a loud and garish Indian American event was much talked about. “We love the Hindus. We love India,” screamed Trump as he was cheered on by hundreds of Indians in the crowd. No one found out if there were any Sikh, Muslim or Christian Indians in the audience.
This conflation of the Hindu and Indian identity by Trump and his administration has been a disturbing trend.
Why? Because the FBI’s hate crimes data points to the fact that the recent anti-Muslim hate violence mirrors levels in the year after . When the President of one of the most influential nations in the world decides to deliberately isolate communities, it’s a signal to the powerful to take on those who have been isolated.
People point out that there are achievements under Trump’s rule that go unnoticed. But, every yin of achievement has been accompanied by a proportionate yang of adverse policy. With income tax cuts came the proposition to curb H1B visas; added manufacturing jobs but dropped out of Paris agreement on climate change; stock markets soared while travel was banned from certain Muslim nations.
This afternoon, I saw a tweet by Donald Trump that gloated about his “excellent” discussion with the minority house leader, Democrat Senator, Chuck Schumer on finding solutions. Barely two hours later, I get his mass email that starts with, “I’ve warned Chuck Schumer not to shut down the American government over ILLEGAL immigrants.” This schizophrenic duplexity has been a hallmark of Donald Trump’s Presidency – and the government shutdown right before the day marking his first year in office paints a sombre picture of that.