An Unflattering Facet of Desi life in the US

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


People’s self-preservation mechanism is irrational, if not funny. People vainly associate themselves with the achievements of other individuals belonging to their ethnic group. For example, we all feel flattered thinking about how good we are as an immigrant group when we listen to the gratifying references to us in the American media, starting from Spelling Bee championships year after year, our education levels, entrepreneurial skills, children’s accomplishments in schools, and youngsters’ disproportional presence in graduate schools… …

And then Indian-Americans get presidential awards, are appointed as university presidents or chancellors, as federal judges, and even elected as governors in state-wide elections. The Wall Street Journal and other publications report about our high net worth and high family incomes. So, when Indians really get giddy in elation, others may understand.  [But we are stingy, even towards good causes. Ask any Indian struggling to raise money for his/her cause. That is the real haddi (bone) in the Indian kabab!

But when people belonging to our ethnic group — like Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta, Mathew Martoma — are caught in Wall Street crimes running into billions of dollars, we instinctively disassociate ourselves from them. Same is our response when we see Indian healthcare professionals, including doctors, arrested for Medicare frauds running into hundreds of millions of dollars. See here and here. We rationalize that these people’s behaviors are individual aberration, so atypical of us.

Illegal Indian immigrants in this country are a case in point. We all by now know — we should know because we brag we are better educated — that 12 million undocumented people (aka illegals) are in the US. This is 4% of the US population of 300 million.

When we think of the undocumented, we think of Latinos from Mexico and Central America. After all, they make up ~70% of the undocumented in the US.

But do we know we have 450,000 illegal Indians in the US? This is nearly 4% of the 12 million of the undocumented. (Ref: The recent Pew Research Center report on the topic). This may look like a small number. But consider this: With the population of Indian-Americans around 3 million in the US, 450,000 illegal Indians are 15% of the entire Desi population here. In Pennsylvania, out of the 135,000 illegals, 10,000 are Indians, which is 7% of the total illegal population in Pennsylvania.

Is there any wonder why people in India encounter all kinds of hurdles for getting visas for visiting the US of A?

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