Looking Back: Indian American lawmakers make a mark beyond Congress

From left: Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Raja Krishnamurthy (D-Wash.) and Ami Bera (D-Calif.).

Fiery five bring community and national concerns to the fore.

By Arun Kumar

Emerging as a force to reckon with over the last decade, Indian American lawmakers brought community and national concerns to the fore to make a lasting impact in the corridors of power in 2019.

The House quartet of Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ami Bera and Ro Khanna and Sen. Kamala Harris, all Democrats, spoke out forcefully against President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies.

The fiery five upbraided Trump for his “irresponsible” government shutdown, the longest in US history, over his cherished border wall with Krishnamoorthi even foregoing his salary in solidarity with furloughed workers.

All the four House members voted for Trump’s impeachment over the Ukraine affair, while Harris mounted a historic path-breaking presidential campaign to take him on at the hustings with a pledge to completely contravene his “inhumane” policies against immigrants.

A funds crunch, however, forced the daughter of a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father to make an early exit from the presidential race to the great disappointment of the community.

Looking at Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu American elected to the House, as one of their own, Indian Americans made generous contributions to the American Samoan’s presidential campaign.

“The first ever member of the US Congress to take the oath on the Bhagavad Gita,” as her campaign message proclaimed, she pledged a “policy to balance border security, have an asylum process that reflects our values as a nation of immigrants, and include a path to legal status for DREAMers.”

Chennai, India-born Jayapal who came to America as a 16-year-old in 1982, even chose to rub the country of her heritage on the wrong side by introducing a House resolution urging “India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Snubbed by India’s visiting External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar for this act, the first Indian American woman to get elected to US Congress in 2016, hit back in a Washington Post op-ed.

RELATED: Pramila Jayapal hits back, saying she won’t stop speaking on human rights in India (December 24, 2019)

Vowing to continue to speak on the human rights situation in India, she also criticized India’s new controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.

Earlier, joined by Democratic presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders, she unveiled the landmark College for All Act to eliminate tuition fees at all public colleges and universities.

Bera, son of immigrant parents from Rajkot, Gujarat, in India was chosen as Chairman of the prestigious House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation.

First elected in 2012, the longest serving Indian American in the House is also a past chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. The Indian American lawmaker also led a bi-partisan effort to delay the reimposition of $500 annual health insurance tax until after 2021.

RELATED: Rep. Ami Bera is new Chairman of Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation (December 13, 2019)

New Delhi, India-born Krishnamoorthi, whose Tamil speaking family moved to the US when he was just three months old, was an original co-sponsor of The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, or Green Card Equality Act.

Hailing the July passage of the bill to end the seven percent country cap on H-1B visas,  Krishnamoorthi said “this legislation will keep families together while helping American companies retain top talent.”

Named chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, he became the first ever member of South Asian descent to chair a Congressional panel. Krishnamoorthi is also a member of a key US House committee handling intelligence-related issues and a Democratic assistant whip.

In February, the Illinois legislator led a bipartisan effort to ensure that 129 detained Indian students of the fake Farmington University were treated properly and afforded all available legal rights.

RELATED: Farmington University: Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi leads efforts to ensure Indian students detained are treated properly (February 6, 2019)

A son of Punjabi Indian immigrants, Khanna too is of the firm view that “We are a nation of immigrants” and “Nothing any administration does will change that,”

He currently sits on the House Budget, Armed Services, and Oversight and Reform committees and is first vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Khanna also serves as an Assistant Whip for the Democratic Caucus and is co-chair for Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Release of an internet Bill of Rights, a set of consumer data privacy regulations principles, won him all round appreciation.

In a first for an Indian American lawmaker, Khanna, a member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, also joined the Congressional Pakistan Caucus in August to serve as a bridge between the two South Asian warring neighbors.


Raja Krishnamoorthi becomes First South Asian American subcommittee chairman in congressional history (January 24, 2019)

What is the Congressional Pakistan Caucus that Indian American Congressman Ro Khanna has just joined (August 16, 2019)

Ro Khanna: Indian American lawmaker who professes ‘progressive capitalism’ (November 25, 2019)

Congressman Ro Khanna on 2020 elections, role of social media in politics and gig economy (November 13, 2019)

Ami Bera: Shutdown is another crisis of ‘Trump’s own doing’ (January 14, 2019)

Ro Khanna: ‘No more games. End this shutdown now’ (January 9, 2019)

Politically, 2016 is a ‘Miracle Year’ for Indian Americans (December 31, 2016)

In her first appearance on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers,’ Pramila Jayapal owns the show (June 28, 2019)

Pramila Jayapal, Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar introduce college affordability bills in Congress (June 24, 2019)

Jayapal, Wilson re-introduce ‘South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act’ (June 6, 2019)

Bera, Khanna, Krishnamoorthi and Jayapal take ceremonial oath of office (January 14, 2019)

Kavanaugh: Harris, Jayapal issue clarion calls to continue the fight (October 6, 2018)

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