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How Indian-Americans shaped US response to India’s 2nd wave

By Frank F Islam

The United States has provided aid worth at least half-a-billion dollars since the devastating second wave of Covid-19 struck India. US tech and financial companies such as Google, Microsoft, MasterCard and others have donated money, medicine and medical devices to India to combat the virus.

A lot of the credit for this must go to the Indian-American community, whose response has been extraordinary. Apart from raising money, Indian-Americans also put pressure on the political establishment right from the Oval Office down to statehouses to urge them to send aid to India.

As a result of these efforts, the Joe Biden administration backed New Delhi’s call for temporarily waiving the intellectual property rights of Covid vaccines, which, partially, opens the door to allow India to produce them locally.

The Indian-American community’s response has been two-layered: One within the community and the other focused on mainstream America.

At the grassroots level, various community organisations representing the large Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali and Malayali communities primarily raised funds for the various regions to which they belong. At the national level, organisations such as the American India Foundation, Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Indiaspora and Sewa International have led the mobilisation efforts.

Those speaking on behalf of India have included Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, both of whom announced multi-million-dollar packages on behalf of their respective organisations. Indian-American lawmakers such as Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi called for help not just on humanitarian grounds, but also to ensure US national security. Indian-American public health experts such as Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, chipped in with explaining the dangers of the new variants, what India needed, and what the US could do.

In my five decades in the US, I have never seen the community step up in such large numbers. In the past, they have indeed helped in the aftermath of natural disasters in India. They have also helped out when India’s national interests were at stake, lobbying to mobilise support for the country. This included efforts following the US sanctions against India after the 1998 nuclear tests, and prior to the signing of the historic US-India Civil Nuclear Deal in 2008.

There are two reasons why the Covid-19 relief efforts have been more successful and are being sustained now. Unlike relief efforts in the past, this time around, India was dealing with a pandemic of which the US is intimately aware. It did not require any hard-selling. The second major difference is the growing size and prominence of the Indian-American community.

In 2001, when the Gujarat earthquake struck, the Indian-American population stood at 1.7 million and there were very few Indian-Americans in leadership positions. This is no longer the case. Members of the Indian-American population, almost four million now, are leaders in business, politics, academia and health care, among other fields.

With its leadership in mobilising America’s efforts to help combat the pandemic in India, the Indian-American community has demonstrated what it can accomplish when it comes together for a common purpose. It has also demonstrated that although the community has made great progress, this is just a fraction of what it can achieve. There are many stories waiting for the Indian American community to script, as it continues to help India in its hour of dire need.

(The article appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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Latest News USA

Ro Khanna urges US to persuade Pfizer, Moderna to make vaccines for India

Ro Khanna, an Indian American Congressman, has urged the US to persuade Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to make their COVID-19 vaccines available in India to help battle the second wave of infections.

Khanna wrote in an article “Why America Must Do More to Help India” in Foreign Affairs magazine that the US administration should press Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to make contract manufacturing or voluntary licensing arrangements with Indian firms for the duration of the current crisis and the predicted next wave.

“Americans can offer a more consequential kind of support: the United States should prevail upon its private sector to share with India and other developing countries the technology and knowledge needed to beat the pandemic,” he believes.

The Congressman pointed out that an intellectual property waiver at the WTO will be critical to ensure that sharing of vaccine technology and knowledge worldwide, but India’s COVID-19 surge demands immediate action. “It can immediately save lives by dramatically increasing USAID’s shipments of oxygen, ventilators, therapeutics, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to India,” he said. “The US has a chance to ensure that India’s current crisis will not be repeated elsewhere and using visionary US leadership to guide the world out of this pandemic will pay tremendous dividends in generating global goodwill for generations to come.”

Khanna believes such a move will mark “the moment that the international response to COVID-19 fundamentally changed from one of vaccine nationalism to treating vaccines as a global public good”. He highlighted that the tragedy is not India’s alone. “Such outbreaks are breeding grounds for more dangerous and potentially vaccine-resistant variants of the virus. All countries must recognize that they are in a race against time to vaccinate humanity. Unless the United States and other wealthy countries dramatically change course, this race will be lost.”

 

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Latest News USA

Republicans criticize Biden for curbs on travel from India

Republican lawmakers on Friday criticized President Joe Biden for imposing restrictions on travel from India in view of the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Restricting travel to our ally India while leaving our border open to Mexico is not rational,” Congressman Tim Burchett said in a tweet, soon after the White House announced Biden’s decision.

“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India. The policy will take effect on Tuesday, May 4,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said on Friday.

Another Republican lawmaker Jodey Arrington also criticized Biden for this proclamation on travel.

“Biden enacting an India travel ban while keeping the border open is like locking your front door, but leaving the back door wide open. I wonder if the Left will accuse him of being xenophobic and anti-Hindu,” Arrington asked.

“As Biden bans flights from India, perhaps he should be reminded of a tweet he put out last year. Also, I thought travel bans were xenophobic,” Congresswoman Lauren Boebert said in a tweet.

After the then president Donald Trump had imposed travel ban from Europe, Biden then the Democratic presidential candidate, had opposed it.

“A wall will not stop coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe – or any other part of the world – will not stop it. The disease could impact every nation and any person on the planet – and we need a plan to combat it,” Biden had said in a tweet on March 12 last year.

Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna, however, supported the travel ban.

“I support the Biden Administration’s travel restrictions from India, which many in the Indian American community have called for,” he said.

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Latest News USA

Influential Indian Americans unite to help India in covid fight

Some US lawmakers and top technology executives have joined forces to boost aid to India as it grapples with a severe spike in coronavirus infections, with a focus on ensuring aid is equally distributed across the country, a Congress member said.

US Representative Ro Khanna, Democratic vice chair of the Congressional Caucus on India, told Reuters that Indian-American billionaire and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla and other Indian-American tech executives at Google, IBM and Microsoft are working closely with the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on India.

The group is trying to match Indian hospitals and other facilities with supplies of oxygen and other urgently needed medical equipment, and pushing the White House to do more for India, the world’s largest democracy, as a surge in infections overwhelms hospitals.

On Twitter, Khosla offered to fund the bulk import of oxygen and other supplies to India. Khanna said Khosla has offered to underwrite the initiative.

Google said on Monday it was donating another $18 million in India for victims and medical supplies, and confirmed chief executive Sundar Pichai was personally donating $700,000 to UNICEF’s India response. 

The US Chamber of Commerce, the largest US business lobby, and CEOs from 40 firms on Monday launched a separate task force focused on providing India with critical medical supplies, oxygen and other assistance. It includes a new portal where US firms can offer in-kind donations.

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Latest News New York

Indian American Congressman Ro Khanna pushes for $10 trillion reindustrialization plan

Washington, DC: Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna has pushed for a massive investment of $ 10 trillion over a decade to reindustrialize the country.

On the eve of President Joe Biden’s unveiling of his economic vision, Khanna, in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, said massive investment was needed to reindustrialize the United States.

“What we’re saying is at least a consensus on reindustrializing America. It’s a productive investment,” he said. “Up to $ 10,000 billion over 10 years to reindustrialize America, so that we produce batteries here, electric vehicles here, and essential manufacturing supplies here.”

“But I think we have to pay for it. I mean, we have to pay for the greater part. A start would be to collect taxes from those who evade taxes. Larry Summers has a proposal that if we imposed the tax on people who are not paying tax at the moment, we could collect up to $ 1.2 trillion in 10 years. So that’s what I would say, this is the first place to start,” he said.

Responding to a question, Khanna said he was completely opposed to a kilometer tax or a gas tax.

“It hurts working families. It hurts people in rural America who have to commute long distances. I think it would be deaf to have this kind of tax,” he said.

“What I’m talking about in terms of tax collection isn’t just aimed at fraud and abuse. Right now, a lot of business income goes undisclosed. If you created a new IRS form that required banks to disclose their inputs and production in terms of accounts, you would be able to collect a lot more,” he added.

Khanna supported Biden’s decision to raise the rates of those earning over $ 400,000 and raise the top marginal rates.

“I would consider a financial transaction tax over speculation. I would prefer our money to be spent on producing batteries. Right now, China is eating our lunch when it comes to lithium-ion battery production. They get all the cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said.

“Don’t we want America to produce these lithium ion batteries? Don’t we want to produce electric vehicles? Don’t we want to produce critical manufacturing supplies? We couldn’t even have masks. mean, in the world of WWII, we armed our entire army,” Khanna said.

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Latest News USA

“It’s un-American and must stop”: Biden on growing attacks on Asian Americans

Washington, DCPresident Joe Biden has said that the “vicious” hate crimes against Asian Americans in the country amidst the pandemic was “un-American” and it must stop.

Denouncing “violent” attacks on the Asian Americans, Biden in his first prime-time address to the nation since assuming office in January, said that members of the community were harassed, blamed and scapegoated.

A surge in anti-Asian attacks has been reported since the start of the pandemic. It has left Asian Americans across the country scared and concerned. The actual number of hate incidents against them could be even higher, according to a civil rights group.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, received more than 2,800 firsthand reports of anti-Asian hate, including physical and verbal assaults, between March 19 and December 31, 2020, the National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

Recent attacks, including multiple violent attacks on elderly Asian Americans, have sparked outrage and activism in the Asian American community and spurred lawmakers and organizers to respond to the threat.

Biden said that during this coronavirus pandemic too often, Americans turned against one another.

“A mask, the easiest thing to do to save lives sometimes, it divides us. States pitted against one another instead of working with each other; vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated,” Biden said.

“At this very moment, so many of them are our fellow Americans on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives, and still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop,” Biden said.

Biden’s reference to the hate crime against Asian Americans was welcomed by Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna.

“Thank you” President Biden “for speaking up clearly and forcefully against the scapegoating of Asian Americans,” Khanna said in a tweet.

Congressman Ted Lieu also thanked Biden for the strong words to protect Americans of Asian descent, and for the executive order to combat hate crimes.

“This is in stark contrast to the former President who made racist remarks like “Kung Flu” that inflamed prejudices against Asian Americans,” Lieu said.

Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris said that hate of any kind is simply unacceptable.

“Right now, Asian Americans and Asian immigrants in our country are facing an increase in hate and violence,” the first Asian-American US Vice President said.

Biden and Harris said “are committed to working with the community to ensure all Americans are protected and respected.”

On January 26, Biden issued the “Presidential Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

It mandates that the Attorney General shall explore opportunities to prevent discrimination, bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals, and expand collection of data and public reporting regarding hate incidents against such individuals.

The reported incidents range from verbal harassments to physical altercations. (PTI)

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As South Asians celebrate, Kamala Harris says she’ll ensure a pathway for community

By Arul Louis

New York: On the eve of her taking over as the path-breaking first vice president of Asian descent, Kamala Harris assured her fellow Americans celebrating her victory that she will ensure a pathway is open for the community — and that is a lesson she learnt from her mother.

She said at a celebration by Asian Americans on Tuesday, “My mother Shyamala Gopalan arrived in the US from India, she raised my sister Maya and me to know that though we may be the first, we should not be the last. And I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career.”

The Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Ball is one of the traditional galas held around the inauguration ceremony and this year’s events were held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Asian Ball held a special significance for the community this time as one of their own was becoming the vice president, the second most powerful position in the nation. Americans of Asian origin expressed their joy and congratulated the community for contributing to her election.

Performances and speeches by Asian American entertainers were the highlight of the event which also featured members of Congress and community leaders.

Harris said, “Your continued faith in me has brought me to this moment. When I accepted the nomination to be your vice president, I did so fully committed to realizing the vision of a stronger, more united America that provides an opportunity for all.”

The pan-Asian event on the theme “Breaking Barrier” was sponsored by Indian American Impact Fund, which aims to produce more political leaders from the community, and RUN AAPI, a youth organization.

IMPACT co-founder Raj Goyal was jubilant about the rapid rise of someone with Indian heritage to be the vice president.

He said, “We never knew how quickly we may see a ‘desi’ at the national level. When I was elected to the Kansas legislature in 2006, it was unimaginable. We’ve come so far in such a short period of time.”

Hollywood actor Kal Penn and hip hop artiste Raja Kumari participated.

The founder of Indiaspora, M.R. Rangaswamy, said he had met Harris  when she was the San Francisco public prosecutor and “seen her grow from strength to strength” and now she is going to be the new vice president in a “historic administration”.

Neera Tanden, who will be a member of the cabinet as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, “Not only can we celebrate an incredibly diverse cabinet, but also that we have the first vice president from Asian descent.”

IMPACT’ Executive Director Neil Makhija said, “Our community turned out in record numbers. We really made our voices heard. And we changed the course of history” with Biden-Harris election.

Representative Ro Khanna said, “I can’t stress what an amazing moment this is for our community, and frankly, for a multiracial democracy in America.”

Representative Pramila Jayapal said that she was excited to see “the first woman, the first South Asian American, and the first black American to ever be elected to this position of public trust.”

Pakistani American comedian-actor Kumail Nanjiani said that after the alienation felt by people like him and his family, finally his mother “feels proud to call America home”.

-IANS

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Latest News USA

Indian American lawmakers condemn storming of US Capitol

All four Indian-American Democratic lawmakers — Dr Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi — expressed disgust after they were forced to take shelter at safe places as thousands of angry supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol.

Lawmakers were evacuated to secure locations after protesters breached security and entered the Capitol building on Wednesday, where members of the Congress were going through the process of counting and certifying the Electoral College votes to affirm Joe Biden”s victory in the November 3 presidential election.

“Sheltering in Cannon (building),” Congressman Khanna tweeted.

Cannon building is one of the prominent buildings within the US Capitol that houses officers of the member of the US House of Representatives.

“Trump was rejected in courts by people his party appointed, rejected by states where his party was in power and now by his party’s Senate leader and Vice President. Democracy is still sacred for Americans. That spirit will overcome today’s violence. Prayers for the injured,” Khanna said.

Congresswoman Jayapal said that she was safe.

“I was one of a dozen representatives in the gallery above the House floor. We pulled out gas masks and had to get down on the ground. Capitol police barricaded the doors and had guns drawn. We were eventually told that we had to quickly exit,” said the first-ever Indian American woman elected to the US House of Representatives.

“I can’t contain my rage at Donald Trump and Republicans who invited, incited and fueled this terror. Our country and our democracy will have to recover from these deep wounds—and it won’t be easy. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and thoughts for our safety and for America,” she tweeted.

Congressman Bera, the senior-most member of the so-called Samosa Caucus, tweeted that he was safe.

“The storming of the US Capitol is dangerous and disgusting…,” he said.

Congressman Krishnamoorthi was also locked down when Trump supporters stormed the Congress.

He said that he “is in fight or flight” mode. The Indian-American Congressman blamed the speech of President Trump for the unprecedented breach of the US Capitol.

“Our country is better than this, our democracy is stronger than this, and we will move forward. But this is a dark day for our country,” he said. (PTI)

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Latest News USA

60 lawmakers urge Biden to extend work permits to H-4 visa holders

Washington, DCA group of 60 lawmakers have urged President-elect Joe Biden to revoke a Trump administration policy and extend the validity of work authorization documents for H4 visa holders, who are spouses of those possessing H-1B visas, with majority being highly-skilled Indian women.

An H-4 visa is issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the H1B visa holders, most of whom are Indian IT professionals.

It is normally issued to those who have already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status.

We respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security publish a Federal Register notice on day one of your administration that would extend the validity period of all expired H4 EADs, the members of the US House of Representatives wrote to Biden in a letter on December 16.

Biden, a Democrat, is scheduled to be inaugurated as the 46th US President on January 20.

In 2015 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US, the letter said.

This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system, as around 95 per cent of H4 visa holders who have secured work authorizations are women, it added.

Soon after coming to power, the Republican Trump administration informed a US court that it plans to rescind such a rule.

Before the rule was granted, many women on H4 visas described depression and isolation in moving to a new country and not being allowed to work outside of the home. Unfortunately, these women are losing and will continue to lose their jobs until this is put right, disrupting the lives of their families and the functioning of employers in our districts, the letter said.

Among signatories to the letter are Indian-American congressmen Dr Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Pramila Jayapal. Other key signatories are congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman, Rashida Talib, Barbara Lee and Judy Chu.

In the letter to Biden, the lawmakers said that once an H-1B holder is sponsored for employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (otherwise known as a Green Card), his or her H-4 visa-holding spouse may apply for work authorization.

This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system as around 95 per cent of H-4 visa holders who have secured work authorization are women, they wrote.

These women on H-4 visas work in a variety of fields like essential healthcare workers, including in research and development roles at pharmaceutical companies; these women play tremendously important roles as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter said.

We are confident that your incoming Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security will rectify the systemic processing issues that have been created by the Trump Administration, the lawmakers wrote.

As of December 2017, USCIS had approved 1,26,853 applications for employment authorization for H-4 visa holders. According to a 2018 report by Congressional Research Service (CRS), 93 per cent of approved applications for H-4 employment authorization were issued to individuals born in India, and five per cent were issued to individuals born in China.(PTI)

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