I have mixed feelings about fellow Indian-American Nikki Haley’s announcement that she will be resigning as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
On the one hand, when she steps down at the end of this year, Haley will stop being acquiescent in the efforts of the Trump administration to destroy the very immigration system that enabled her parents and mine to come to this country. On the other, her complicity will have gone on long enough — and there are plenty of Indian-Americans who will still be left in this administration concurring with President Trump’s uniquely nativist agenda.
As Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute recently told the New York Times, “Trump is the first of any modern president to advocate for reducing legal immigration.”
Haley’s family and my family followed somewhat similar immigration paths. The former South Carolina governor’s father, a professor, and her mother, who received a law degree, emigrated from India to Canada and then to the United States in the 1960s. My dad, a naval architect, emigrated first to (then-West) Germany, where I was born. But that nation was not hospitable to immigrants. So in 1971, my father applied for a green card to immigrate to this country. Within a few months he was here, to soon be joined by my mother and toddler me.
Indian-Americans are possibly the best-represented minority group in the Trump administration. In addition to Haley, there’s Ajit Pai, who heads the Federal Communications Commission. Raj Shah is the principal deputy White House press secretary and deputy assistant to the president. Seema Verma has been made in charge of Medicare and Medicaid. And Dimple Shah is assistant secretary for international affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
These individuals are in the United States because, just as with Haley and me, their parents moved here legally, as professionals — one of the immigrant categories that Trump is restricting. The Trump administration’s assault on immigrants has been multipronged, and the Indian-American community has borne the brunt.
“Taken together, all of Trump’s moves on immigration have echoes from America of the 1920s and are a sustained effort to take a meat cleaver to the world created by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,” FirstPost, an Indian web publication, has stated.
The other big effect that the Trump administration has had is in the creation of a hateful atmosphere toward immigrant communities, including Indian-Americans. There is a “direct line between this administration’s anti-Muslim agenda and increasing attacks, revealing that of the 213 incidents of hate violence documented, one in five perpetrators invoked Trump’s name, his administration’s policies, or his campaign slogans during attacks,” stated in a report earlier this year by South Asian Americans Leading Together.
From Haley and the other community members in the Trump administration, the response to all of this has been … crickets. With Haley, says Drew University assistant professor Sangay Mishra, an expert on Indian-Americans, the silence is not that surprising, since she has presidential aspirations and can’t afford to alienate the GOP base. And these Trump officials are enjoying the perks of power.
“It’s their proximity to whiteness that’s important to them,” says activist Anirvan Chatterjee. “They’re non-Muslim and non-Sikh and so are not dangerous, they feel.”
Haley and her colleagues who are well-placed to influence the policies that are doing so much harm to their fellow community members seem to be instead incredibly indifferent to their plight. Haley’s departure will not cause me to forgive her collusion in an administration’s agenda that is completely unforgivable.
Amitabh Pal of Madison, Wis., is writing a book about the global rise of right-wing populism, including in the United States and India.
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