Indian-American Raj Shah addresses immigration, other issues in historic White House briefing

Raj Shah, White House deputy press secretary, on voting day Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo: courtesy Raj Shah)


In a historic first, an Indian-American held the press podium at the White House Feb. 8, and will continue doing so temporarily to fill in for a senior colleague.

Raj Shah, 32, began his temporary stint at the press briefing Feb. 8, to fill the shoes of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who is away on a well-earned vacation. He was bombarded by questions on a senior White House advisor’s sudden exit. Shah faced the press in what is considered a grueling position, in the midst of a tumultuous few days at the White House when President Trump’s staff secretary, Rob Porter, resigned Feb. 7, after spousal abuse allegations surfaced.

But Shah was thrown a question by an Indian journalist, about the president’s thoughts concerning legal immigration as it affects Indian immigrants, and those applying for Green Cards through the normal route, and on lifting the country quotas for legal immigration

“The President wants to see legal immigration reforms. He wants to see us move from a process currently existing in law, of extended family chain migration toward merit-based legal immigration reform,” Shah said. ” We want to ensure that people coming in the country are the best and the brightest regardless of nationality, creed, religion or anything else in-between,” Shah added.

“We want to look at educational backgrounds, ability to contribute to the workforce in a way that helps American workers,” Shah said, adding, “The President wants reforms that improve America’s economy.”

The administration has consistently referred to family-reunification provisions in the U.S. Immigration Act, as “chain migration,” a term that some have said, gives a derogatory connotation to a clause that is held in high regard by Indian-Americans who have fought over decades to protect the right to bring in their immediate family members to this country.

The press briefing came on the heels of stories revealing Shah’s own scathing remarks about President Trump’s  candidacy in 2016 emails with colleagues. However, reporters preferred focusing on the latest scandal to hit the White House.

The New Yorker magazine in an article earlier this week, unearthed emails Shah sent while at the Republican National Committee, where he is known to have crafted the White Paper on how to defeat Hillary Clinton.

When President Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced where he talked about being able to grope women because of his celebrity status, Shah, sent the following email to a colleague, as reported by New Yorker – “U wanna hear something a little f–ked up?” adding, “I’m kinda enjoying this, some justice. I honestly don’t think it’s the worst thing he’s done but he somehow got passes for the other acts.”

But Shah is not the first nor only staffer, neither is he the first Indian-American in the Trump administration, to have made negative comments about Trump during the Republican presidential primaries. These appear not to have influenced the president’s choice about hiring them.

The prime example is former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is now the only Indian-American to hold a cabinet-level position in the Trump administration as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, opposed Trump strongly during the campaign.

Haley openly backed Florida Senator Marco Rubio and then Texas Senator Ted Cruz, before finally endorsing Trump as the presidential candidate. She also demanded Trump release his tax returns, castigating him for using strong divisive rhetoric, and also opposing his singling out of Muslims for an immigration ban.

In response Trump described her as “very weak ” on immigration, and tweeted, “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” on March 1, 2016.





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