The Republican Hindu Coalition’s support for President Trump’s temporary ban on travel from seven countries considered high-risk for terrorism, invited a strong backlash from Indian-American lawmakers, some Hindu groups, and others.
The Republican Hindu Coalition, which worked closely with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his transition team, is in the eye of a storm within the Indian-American community for its support of the President’s temporary ban on people from seven countries – an executive order that has itself brought forth an eruption of protest by many around the country.
The RHC declared wholehearted support for the ban and in fact has gone further than the President, calling for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan to be added to the list. “Republican Hindu Coalition Announces Full-throated Support For Trump Administration Executive Order On Immigration,” the RHC, an organization established a year ago, announced in a press release Jan. 29.
“We applaud the Trump administration for taking this decisive move to protect our citizens from Islamic terror,” Shalabh Kumar, chairman of RHC said.
That unqualified support for the ban has invited a storm of criticism from many Indian-Americans, Hindus and non-Hindus, political activists and former administration officials.
The majority-Democrat Indian-American community has lashed out against his stand. California Congressman Ami Bera, Democratic Party activist Shekar Narasimhan, and author and activist Deepa Iyer and others, have assailed the RHC for supporting the temporary ban. Others rejected the Executive Order as “illegal,” and former Indian-American diplomats said it made Americans less safe.
Two other Hindu organizations, Hindu American Foundation and the Sadhana Coalition have come out against Trump’s ban which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States. It also suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocks all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries considered high-risk – Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the United States for 90 days.
“The actions of the Republican Hindu Coalition today do not reflect the breadth and diversity of the Indian American community, or our Diaspora,” asserted Bera at a press conference organized by the AAPIVictory Fund Jan. 31, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“I’m very troubled by the Executive Order,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, told News India Times, especially as it affected Green Card holders. While not commenting directly on the RHC’s stand, Krishnamoorthi said most Indian-Americans go through the process of getting Green Cards on the road to citizenship and “Never in my memory, has the government detained Green Card holders.” The Trump administration’s exemption of permanent residents soon after passing the Executive Order, he contended, was a “reversal” in the face of the public outcry, and insisted that the order itself was “an assault on the Constitution.”
Narasimhan, the Democratic activist and founder of AAPIVictory Fund, said he saw the RHC announcement as an attempt to paint all Hindus with one brush. “I am also a Hindu-American. I don’t agree (with the RHC’s position),” Narasimhan said. “I want to make sure our position as Indian-Americans, as Hindus, as Americans, was not misrepresented,” he added. At the same time, he said, “It is good that we have Indian-Americans belonging to different parties. We need that.”
Reflecting the diversity in Hindu organizations, a prominent civil rights advocacy group, Hindu American Foundation, said it was concerned by the legal and practical implications of the Executive Order. The HAF Executive Director, Suhag Shukla noted that “implementing any sort of religious preference for admittance would be fundamentally unconstitutional and any permanent blanket ban based on national origin would be illegal.”
“They (RHC) thinks it’s not illegal and we think it’s illegal. So you can draw your own conclusions from that,” Shukla told News India Times, when asked about what she thought of the GOP group’s views on the temporary ban.
Sunita Viswanath, a co-founder and board member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, appealed to Indian Americans to “resist” the Trump order. She wrote on Scroll.in that she participated in a protest on January 28 at New York’s JFK Airport, because “As a mother, as an immigrant, and as a Hindu who believes to my core that we are all one, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, I pledge to resist the Trump administration’s policies of hatred.”
The Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization, strongly objected to the Trump temporary ban supported by RHC. “The Sikh Coalition rejects this order as unconstitutional and will continue to stand in solidarity with communities targeted by discriminatory policies,” the organization said, adding, “We support an immigration system that treats people with fairness and dignity, not one based on stereotypes masquerading as law,”
On the social media networking site Twitter, activist Deepa Iyer called for a “Twitterstorm” against RHC on Jan 31. The author of the award-winning book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants” and a Senior Fellow at the New York City-based Center for Social Inclusion, Iyer tweeted, “Progressive Hindus stand w/Muslims, refugees, condemn #Muslimban; call out GOP Hindu Coalition.”
While the majority of the tweets that followed were against the ban, some backed the RHC. One of them with the Twitter handle “Desi Politicker” wrote, “I’ll support Muslims when they support Kashmiri Hindus.” In a similar vein Ramesh Patnaik tweeted, “Muslims never support Hindus. You are a fool”.
Ved Chaudhary, founder of Education Society for Heritage of India said, “I would not say majority of Hindus are with the Republican Hindu Coalition,” even though he conceded that an anti-Muslim bias was “absolutely still there” among some. “But that (anti-Muslim) feeling is something existing among the general American public and not restricted to Hindus,” Chaudhary contended.
Apart from Bera, the Jan. 31 press conference was attended by other newly sworn lawmakers. Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D- Washington, Ro Khanna, D-California, and Krishnamoorthi. Former Obama administration officials also voiced their views. Nisha Desai Biswal, former assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department said the Executive Order, “does not make us safer.”
“To single out people because of their nationality or their faith is unethical. It goes against our responsibilities from the Geneva Conventions and poses an unjust, un-American and what we believe to be an unconstitutional ban on immigrants and refugees,” Biswal said.
“I believe this executive order will not only be ineffective, it will be counterproductive,” said Manpreet Singh Anand, former deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. “By not including interagency government professionals, the order was horribly executed and will end up being unlawful as well as alienate our partners,” Anand added.
Hundreds of State Department officials have expressed opposition to the Trump temporary ban, but have been told by Trump administration officials to get with the program or leave.
“The temporary ban in the executive order is not constitutional,” contended Rep. Khanna at the press conference. “We cannot allow policies to exist that are not consistent with our founding ideals and values. I swore in on the Constitution, and will always stand up for Constitutional principles.”
Rep. Jayapal condemned what she called the “demonizing and ‘otherizing’ (of) immigrants and refugees,” and urged the community to oppose implementation of the Executive Order.
In other forums, at least one leading Indian-American constitutional lawyer, Neal Katyal, as well as bar associations of South Asians, also opposed the ban.
“This is religious discrimination. … This Executive Order prefers Christian to Muslims,” asserted Katyal in an interview on Public Broadcasting Corporation Jan. 31. “Religion was more than on their minds,” Katyal said about what went into framing the Executive Order. “It’s a First Amendment challenge.” He was opposed on the same show by another leading attorney, Jonathan Turley, who said the Trump order was “legally, not a Muslim ban.”
“I am listening to a whole bunch of people in Silicon Valley, including students and Green Card holders, who are worried. I have no answers for them,” Vivek Wadhwa, a research scholar, columnist, and former IT entrepreneur, who opposed the ban, told News India Times. “Here (Silicon Valley), Indians and Pakistanis, especially those who are Muslim, are fearful. Pakistanis are worried they will be next and Indians feel they will not be far behind,” Wadhwa said. He had earlier supported Trump’s views on H-1B which he believed would raise salaries for all skilled workers.
Some Republican Indian-Americans like documentary filmmaker and columnist Dinesh D’Souza supported Trump’s accomplishments in his first ten days. “America has been given a second chance with President Trump. My exhilaration still hasn’t subsided,” he said in a mass-mailing Jan. 30.
Ohio State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Republican, declined comment in a response to News India Times request for an interview.
The seven nations on Trump’s list were on a list “countries of concern” under President Barack Obama. Travelers from countries whose citizens don’t require a visa to visit the U.S. were required by Obama to get a visa if they had traveled to any of those seven nations.