When my 10-year-old son woke up to the news that Donald Trump had won the American presidential election this past week, he was extremely upset. He said, “I think Donald Trump is going to make us leave our house and go out of the country.” I had a lump in my throat. Though we are of Indian origin and are practising (turban-wearing) Sikhs, my son and I are both American citizens. He was born in Philadelphia. I tried to reassure him the best I could: nothing can happen to us. Don’t worry.
Even with some hesitation that morning, I succeeded in calming down my son, but I was projecting a confidence that I really do not feel right now, as an Indian-American and as a member of a small religious minority group under a Trump presidency.
Over the course of his campaign, Donald Trump made many statements that were alarming to immigrants from all over the world. Some of the comments ought to be alarming to Indian immigrants and Sikhs in particular. To begin with, there is the infamous proposal to ban all Muslim immigration, and possibly create a “registry” of Muslims already in the country. This programme is, to begin with, both unconstitutional and morally wrong.
But what if it were to come to pass? Though non-Muslims might expect to be spared in a Trumpian anti-Muslim crusade, the reality is that most Americans simply do not know the difference between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims.
The massive wave of anti-Muslim feeling that would follow the implementation of these policies would likely lead to public hostility against all brown immigrants.
The prospect of mass deportations of illegal immigrants would also have a major impact on South Asian communities in the US. The stereotype of an undocumented immigrant may be someone who is from Latin America. But in truth, Asians are the fastest growing community of undocumented immigrants in the US right now. Of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants thought to be in the US at the present moment, at least one million are from Asian countries, including approximately 5,00,000 from India alone. There are many Indians who entered on a student or tourist visa, and overstayed; they are now considered undocumented. They work at small shops and hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants; they drive taxis. We see them on weekends at mandirs, masjids and gurudwaras.
President-elect Trump has also indicated that he intends to restrict legal immigration. There are strong hints that a Trump administration could drastically reduce the number of permanent residency visas (green cards) issued in the coming months. Temporary business visas like H1 and B1 visas might also be affected. Trump has said as much directly, though his statements on the subjects tend to be overlooked compared to his stand on illegal immigrants.
Many readers may be wondering about the Republican Hindu Coalition, a group in New Jersey that hosted a fundraiser for Trump earlier this fall. Trump did appear at a Bollywood-themed Hindu function in New Jersey but that should not indicate that his presidency will be good for US-India relations. In fact, Trump has a very shaky grasp of world affairs, revealing in interviews and debates that he has only the barest of knowledge of what is happening in places like Syria and the Crimea — and no one has even bothered to ask him about Kashmir or where he stands on India-Pak relations.
Indians hopeful about a Trump presidency should not be naive. Trump has a long history of taking people’s money and giving nothing in return. This was his business model in Trump University, which was supposedly a “school” for educating aspiring real estate investors. In fact, the “university” is now out of business, with a fraud case pending even after Trump’s election. He had a regular habit in his building projects of refusing to honour his contracts; he has been sued hundreds of times for non-payment. Finally, any Indians expecting gratitude from Trump for the small amount raised by Indian supporters during this campaign should also be aware that Asian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton by an overwhelming margin.
As of right now, these are speculations based on Trump’s statements and behaviour over the past year and a half. Trump has changed his position on key issues many times, and we do not really know yet much at all about what Trump will actually do when in office. That said, based on everything we have seen thus far, we should expect a wild ride. Indian companies that do business with the US or that rely on travel visas should be concerned. Anyone waiting for a green card or even a work authorization permit had better be ready to wait a very long time.
The uncertainty Indian Americans are experiencing now, immediately after the election of Trump, might be comparable to what we felt immediately after 9/11. Then, as now, there was an immediate spike in hate crimes directed against Muslims and those perceived as Muslim. But even more than that, what concerned us was that we felt uncertain then about our place in American society. With roughly half of American voters in the recent election supporting a man who regularly shows contempt for non-white immigrants, we are experiencing a version of that uncertainty again.