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Above: Activists protest against the Trump Administration’s policies on immigrants in Manhattan/Photo: UNI

Indians could be beneficiaries of President Donald Trump’s preference for a skills-based system instead of the current Green Card family-based approach

By Kenneth Tiven in Washington

There are hundreds of thousands of Indians currently estimated to be in the United States on H1b temporary work visas, most of them in the IT sector. Estimates are that they send good amounts of money back to their families on a monthly basis. With President Donald Trump talking about unveiling his new immigration policy, Indians, especially those with technical skills, hope that the changes will make it easier for them to land jobs in the country.

But wait. What you have been reading about is a fake policy proposal by President Donald Trump in tweets, without anything in writing and with little or no consultation with the various government and political players who have a stake in immigration policy. Trump, who spent his entire life running an inherited real estate business, does not understand the concept of consensus management that underpins policy, especially when it has international implications. His lack of any political experience has resulted in loud shouts about policy and quiet retreats when federal courts and political reality stepped into the issue.

Trump is not anti-immigrant; he would just like fewer non-whites from nations he has publicly scorned as terrible places. Indians are welcome because their role in support functions within high tech and emerging technologies is well understood. That is why he suggests a skills-based system instead of the current Green Card family-based approach, notwithstanding that his wife Melania’s family came from Slovenia on the basis of family chain migration.

Opposition to Trump’s immigration efforts is solid along political fault lines, civil society organisations and a majority of Americans, according to polling data from multiple sources. Remember, shutting down the government for six weeks did not get him the money he demanded to build the wall along the Mexican border. Republicans cannot agree on resolving the status of the “Dreamers”, small children brought to America by parents who stayed, worked and raised them to adulthood without citizenship. The Administration’s belief that separating children from parents of asylum seekers would discourage other asylum seekers has failed on multiple levels. Asylum seekers kept coming. Moreover, holding children in cages and makeshift housing without information on reuniting them with their parents brewed widespread condemnation and revulsion within America.

The current Trump focus on trade tariffs on Chinese products is hurting American farmers and giant
agri-businesses, where Trump had significant support in the 2016 election.

The elephant in the room is what the Republican-controlled Senate will do acting as a “jury” if the Democrats in the House of Representatives vote to impeach Trump for behaviour documented in the partially disclosed Mueller Report.

There have been four major waves of immigration since the first British settlers came to North America in 1607 with little regard for the Native Americans who had been on the land since crossing from Asia in the Ice Age.

People have immigrated to North America for multiple reasons for a long time—religious freedom, economic opportunity, fear of homeland persecution. Attitudes by folks already here have ranged from welcoming to exclusionary over the decades. Because of slavery in the 18th century, hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought against their will. When the newly independent United States passed its first citizenship law it allowed any free white person of “good character”, who had been living in the United States for two years or longer to apply for citizenship. Without citizenship, non-white residents were denied basic constitutional protections, including the right to vote, own property, or testify in court, a condition that existed until post-Civil War constitutional amendments.

In the first half of the 1800s, before the Civil War, a majority of immigrants were from Ireland and Germany because of dreadful political and economic conditions in those nations at that time. These immigrants were instrumental in America’s push westward, carving out farms, building bigger cities and supplying the labour for factories and industry. In 1849 America’s first anti-immigrant anger formed a political party called the Know-Nothing Party. It disappeared after the Civil War (1860-65) because the loss of life on both sides necessitated immigrants to fuel the growing size and needs of America.

The anti-immigrant fervour came back because established labour was jealous of the industriousness and success of Chinese labourers who came to build railroads and work in the Western mines. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first in American history to place broad restrictions on certain immigrant groups. An immigration boom between 1880 and 1920 from southern and central Europe fuelled rapid industrialisation. This writer’s great grandparents arrived early in this period and managed to send their children to college, build businesses, own homes and prosper in ways unimaginable in the feudal Europe of that era.

The First World War slowed European immigration and limits on Asian immigration continued. The 1924 Immigration Act based on national origins narrowed the doorway for central and eastern Europeans. The Great Depression of the 1930s made America turn inward on immigration and refugee policies. This attitude, which included internment for Japanese Americans, continued during the Second World War, a less than proud moment in history. Yet, the war effort sucked up so many young Americans that a shortage of farm workers brought temporary Mexican labour into the US.

Indian and other Asian immigration to the US increased when the Asian exclusion laws were repealed in 1952. The ideological warfare between American capitalism and Russian communism dictated who got preferential treatment. The anti-Communist welcome mat was out when the Hungarian revolution against the Soviet-imposed regime failed. In 1957 America admitted about 38,000 Hungarian immigrants. These were the first but not the last cold war refugees.

After Fidel Castro’s communist government took over Cuba in 1959, the US secretly helped 14,000 unaccompanied children enter the US in “Operation Peter Pan”.  In the mid-1960s, the national origins rules were scrapped and Asian immigration increased. Over the next five years, immigration from wartorn regions of Asia, including Vietnam and Cambodia, would more than quadruple with family reunification a driving force. When living conditions in Cuba were extremely difficult in 1980, Castro did not stop Cubans who wanted to risk a dangerous small boat trip across 90 miles of ocean between Cuba and Key West, Florida. Perhaps to his surprise, 1,25,000 made it across alive in the Mariel Boatlift and received political asylum.

The foreign-born share of population steadily declined, hitting a record low of 4.7 percent in 1970. Today the estimate is that 44.5 million immigrants reside in the United States. That is about 13 percent. The Native Americans, our “Indians”, are about four million or 0.012 percent, which means everyone else is descended from immigrant stock. Why then do so many people lack empathy regarding the issue of immigration especially when asylum seekers have a legal right to ask for it?

Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last met face to face in 2017. Will they meet again? Difficult to predict but with Modi’s re-election now confirmed, they have at least 18 months guaranteed in which to discuss all aspects of India-US relations and trade.

— The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels

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