Second Indian American to chair the India caucus, also aiming to mobilize bipartisan support for safeguarding legal Dreamers
Set to co-chair the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Ro Khanna says addressing backlogs for green cards and tourist visas and safeguarding aged out Indian children would be a “top priority for us.”
Khanna, a Democrat who has been representing California’s 17th Congressional District since 2017, will co-chair the caucus with Republican House member Mike Waltz. He will be the second Indian American to chair the caucus after Ami Bera, who became co-chair in 2015.
Read: Ro Khanna elected co-chair of India caucus (February 7, 2023)
Khanna also hopes with the caucus, he can help alleviate the problem of backlogs for green cards and tourist visas growing to span years as pandemic aftereffects continue to impact communities in the US and India.
“We’re trying to figure out, how do we allocate the resources to address this issue?” he told NBC News in an interview last week. “But this is a top priority for us.”
Indian children who came to the US with work visa-holding parents are beginning to face immigration issues of their own. As they grow up and age out of coverage under their parents visas, many are left with no clear path to citizenship.
Indian American-run organizations like Improve the Dream have spent the last few years lobbying the federal government to pass legislation correcting that.
“These kids of H1B are like the Dreamers,” Khanna told NBC. “You have kids who came here when they were 2 or 3. They don’t have citizenship. … Even though they have grown up their whole life here, they’re in a vulnerable position.”
With both Republican and Democratic representatives serving on the India Caucus, including Khanna’s co-chair Waltz, Khanna is aiming to mobilize bipartisan support for safeguarding young adults who find themselves in this position.
Khanna said he hopes to take the caucus beyond its original goal of strengthening relations between the US and India. The Indian diaspora in the US has its own unique needs, he said, and the position could be an opportunity to bring them to the forefront.
“I’m going to try to make it about not just us India, but also the Indian American community and highlighting the contributions of that community,” he told NBC.
“I think being Indian American and being part of the community, knowing so many of the community leaders, knowing the passions and interests of young people, I’ll be able to do that.”
“When I started on this journey, in my 20s, there was a huge novelty to having someone of Indian origin even enter politics,” Khanna recalled.
Read: Ro Khanna eyeing a White House run in 2028: Report (January 13, 2023)
“The Indian American diaspora can play such an important role in helping strengthen the US-India partnership. … I think this is a historic moment for our community. I think we’re really emerging and coming into our own as a strong voice.”
Khanna told NBC that, having spent much of his career in Northern California’s Silicon Valley, he has been immersed in Indian American issues for years.
Khanna, who has also been vocal about the rising tide of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva, told NBC News, “Of course, we have to fulfill the strategic partnership and we have to respect the democratically elected leadership in India.”
“I will work to strengthen that while also upholding these human rights values,” he said.
Khanna says taking on this greater role in the India Caucus feels like the culmination of generations of work in the public sphere.
His grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar spent his life fighting for India’s independence from British rule, even spending a few years in jail for the cause. Vidyalankar became a member of India’s first Parliament after independence in 1947.
Growing up with this knowledge has shaped Khanna’s strong beliefs in equality and religious freedom, he said, something he hopes to bring with him while chairing the caucus.
“Because of my grandfather, I was influenced by Gandhi’s thinking, by Nehru’s beautiful speeches about liberal democracy, about pluralism,” he said. “Those are the values I champion. … I’ve spoken out where I think those values are being challenged.”
Khanna held a town hall on Saturday, bringing awareness to Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ mental health in the wake of the deadly shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California.
Though the shooters in both cases were Asian men, Khanna told NBC they amplified a mounting fear of simply existing in community spaces once considered safe.
Read: Indian-American Ro Khanna and Mike Waltz elected co-chairs of House India caucus (February 7, 2023)
With numerous high-profile acts of violence against Asians in the last few years, community members are feeling more “distant” from America than ever, he said.
“We had so much outreach to our office from constituents…people afraid, concerned, anxious about being Asian American in the United States,” he said. “These shootings, even though the perpetrator was Asian American, I think they triggered for so many in our community a sense of vulnerability.”
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