THE INDIAN AMERICAN VOTE: WHO IS GOING TO CAPITALIZE – MICHAEL ROBBINS

Image: Element5 Digital (Unsplash)

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which lifted the original quota system by nation for the amount of immigrants allowed in America. The once nativist policy was instead replaced by a new system that allowed human and social capital to develop and thrive. 

While the new wave of Indian immigration was mostly in the form of small business ownership and hotel entrepreneurship. Soon economic globalisation in the 80s and 90s—and the rise of the East Asian Tigers, would mean new businesses and new firms competing at the task level. It turned out that Indian immigrants capitalised heavily with the changing spheres of influence in the world and in fact the period between 1994-2015 saw the biggest numbers, annually, of Indian immigrants securing H1-B visas and moving to American technology hubs to put their advanced degrees to work. 

Many have reaped the benefits of such changing moments in history. As of 2018 alone, Indian Americans represented 1 percent of the American population, but comprised 8 percent of the founders of high-tech companies.  Indian-Americans are also among the most highly educated racial or ethnic groups in the United States (US). 70 percent of Indian Americans aged 25 and older had college degrees in 2010, by far the highest rate among the six Asian-American groups studied. On average, this was also 2.5 times the rate among the overall US population. By comparison, US Asians did not even come close to that statistic standing at 49 percent. 

The Indian experience in America is one of relatively disproportionate growth, as compared to other ethnic and cultural groups. Like Sanjoy Chakravorty points out in his book The Other One Percent: Indians in America, Indian immigrants are simply not like any other diaspora communities in the US. 

For one, India is a democratic nation and many immigrants are not refugees or asylees, from other parts of the world with semi-failed states. They have come to the US voluntarily, hoping to achieve the “American Dream”. They are also unlike Central and South American immigrants who were able to come to America in much larger numbers as low-skilled migrants, mainly due to geography.

In this way the human capital, Indians have brought with them to America is unique and has been a major advantage in securing financial freedom, providing remittances to family members back home, and also in achieving the declining “American Dream”. Yes, it is still declining. Indians who have already secured a job offer before coming to the US, have a higher probability of living a more comfortable life than a US citizen who is trying to work their way up with only a high school education. 

In addition, the suburbs outside of Silicon Valley, Houston and Dallas which hosts a large Indian community, are relatively safe. This means that immigrants who live in these communities are much less likely to become part of the “system” when it comes to penalising people of color for petty crimes. This matters, as while medical costs in the US are some of the highest when compared to other Western nations and legal fees can also be astronomical. 

Avoiding these pitfalls of the modern America while also capitalising in the fields of medicine (especially orthodontics), information technology (IT) and entrepreneurialism—so many diaspora Indian families tend to understand the merit of education and allowed them to bypass the uglier aspects of American society. This might help explain why 65 percent of Indian Americans were Democrats or leaned toward the Democratic party in a 2012 Pew Research Survey. Ideologically, many are realists too.

All of these factors combine to make a powerful case for why Indian Americans will vote for Kamala Harris, the child of an Indian immigrant mother, and consequently vote for Joe Biden, to lead the country. Regardless of the influence of maths and science on the current generational Indian middle-class member trying to interpret politics—India as a civilization is one that has been concerned with science and philosophy for eons. This should speak volumes for Indian Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) or naturalised citizens who are watching Donald Trump on television. He almost represents the opposite of what a leader should look like in this regard.

Neoliberalism and Class Mobility

Indian-Americans are also, not too concerned about the good natured relationship between Trump and Modi, for what it’s worth. Yes they are stable trading partners and represent a front for the American military and perhaps the international order of things (or disorder), but America has long invested in India’s economy since the rise of Indira Gandhi. This relationship is about keeping the status quo of neoliberalism. Unfortunately at this point, many Indian Americans are more caught up with climate change, race relations, and other social justice issues that affect them more closely than international relations and the ongoing fights on the India-Pakistan border region. COVID-19 will almost certainly get the Indian doctors and medical community to vote for Biden-Harris.

On the flipside, one aspect that does convince some Indian-Americans to vote Republican regardless of who is running and their ancestral heritage, is tax breaks. Indians who have been successful enough to escape the middle class benefit from Bush-era tax cuts, which includes capital gains tax rates. This is a financial issue that largely always pushes some voters to the right of the spectrum no matter the current politics, even for 2020. It should be noted, however, that this represents a very small pool of voters.

The biggest factor for many swing voters is the emotional sentiment each candidate carries. Much like the pre-1965 immigration laws, Trump is a nativist with a nativist agenda. This pushes naturalised Indian voters to be emotionally unavailable when it comes to filling out their ballots in favor of President Trump this November, and puts Biden in a competitive position. With regards to getting a green card in America, the process can take up to a year and Indian immigrants, along with immigrants from many other nationalities, want this process to be easier and not more difficult.

Michael Robbins is a staff writer at HIPR and focuses on issues surrounding immigration, democratic deepening, and American foreign policy. He holds a Masters Degree from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

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