The Lobby

One of the power dynamics that the U.S.-India nuclear-power deal will illuminate, is that between the Indian American community and Congress. How much power do “we” really have? Maybe a better question is who exactly are “we?” I have detailed in past posts my frustration over the fact that arguably the most powerful Indian American lobbying group, USINPAC, always steps up to represent the interests which matter most to the first generation, but largely fails to advocate my more mainstream issues and interests as a second generation Indian American. USINPAC is lobbying almost as hard as the government of India in support of this deal.

India is not solely depending on diplomacy to win the U.S. Congress’ backing for its civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Washington but also taking the help of lobbyists, a media report said…

A U.S.-based media organization reported that in the last fall, long before the visit of President George W Bush to India, the Indian Embassy in Washington had signed up two lobbying firms to “sell the deal”.

The Embassy has signed a $700,000 contract with Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, an outfit led by Robert Blackwill, U.S ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003, it said.

Besides, the Embassy is also paying $600,000 to Venable, a firm that “boasts” of former Democratic Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana as its point man. [Link]

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And in case there was ever any doubt, lobbying is what makes things happen in Congress:

Six Republican senators endorsed the U.S.-India nuclear-power deal, as more than 20 foreign-policy specialists, including three former ambassadors to South Asia, urged Congress to approve the agreement.

Sens. George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Ted Stevens of Alaska bring a wide range of influence to the effort to win congressional approval of the agreement signed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC). [Link]

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“This is an historic step for both countries and USINPAC stands with President Bush and Prime Minister Singh in moving this process forward. In fact, for the past eight months, USINPAC has aggressively worked to get key Members of Congress on board and we will not rest until this agreement is signed into law,” said Sanjay Puri, the Chairman of USINPAC. [Link]

On a related note, Indolink.com recently had a good article summarizing a 2004 paper titled: Subcontinental Divide Asian Indians and Asian American Politics by Wendy K. Tam Cho and Suneet P. Lad (subscription required for full paper). Cho and Lad examined both the facts and the myths of Indian American political power as judged by campaign contributions among other factors.

A new study claims that media impressions of Asian American contributions are shaped largely by fast and loose commentary glibly put forth and then recirculated among politicians, activists, pundits, and journalists. “Beyond the many casual statements lacking hard evidence, we know little about the patterns of Asian American campaign contributions.”

In earlier studies on Asian American campaign contribution, Wendy K. Tam Cho provided evidence for the theory of symbolic contributing, that is, a large portion of Asian American contributions can be seen as a symbolic expression of support toward one’s own ethnic group.

The authors note that political contributions from Asian Indians have risen dramatically in the past couple of decades. “In just 20 short years, contributions have burgeoned from almost nothing to approximately $8 million in a single election cycle. Even accounting for inflation cannot negate the dramatic magnitude of the increase.”

The number of contributors has also risen from just a few hundred to approximately 8,000 separate contributions. “Although we cannot make definite assessments of potential influence, the coupling of this rapid rate of increase in donations with the fact that the Asian Indian group has one of the highest median incomes of any group in the United States should not be lost on political observers.”

The study points out that the rate of growth in Indian-American campaign contributions exceed the growth rate of the population. Whereas the Indian-American population has doubled during each decennial census, the rise in contributions has far overshadowed even this phenomenal population growth.

The study concludes that, as a group, Indian Americans “display all the makings of a coveted bloc, untethered to either major party.” They go on to predict “the perfect strategy may engender the group into a partisan fold early and sustain their loyalty for generations to come” and that “the political development of the Asian Indian group is malleable…” [Link]

That sounds kind of ominous to me. “The perfect strategy may engender the group into a partisan fold early and sustain their loyalty…” I wonder if we will see either party come up with that perfect strategy during debate of this issue.

14 thoughts on “The Lobby

  1. Bleh. I don’t like to be referred to as malleable, even in the aggregate. It makes me feel mutinous.

    We really should draw up a coherent proposal for a Indian-American and South Asian American PAC platform that’s actually interesting and useful to us. Though this kind of thing makes me want to flee ethnic identity all together and go do stuff for the AAAS or somesuch.

  2. Abhi, Are you unhappy that they are lobbying for the nuclear deal because you think it is not a good one, or that they are lobbying for the deal at all, and you believe that it is of no consequence to Indian-Americans? I am just curious.

  3. Abhi,

    Lobbying is “show me the money“. The one who puts money pushes their interest. You can always push your causes too if you dole out cash.

    Lobbying is not affirmtive action or diversity thing.

    Lobbying neither has a junior wing nor “‘baba log” (for sons and daughters) wing just for the sake of it.

    For generic and broadbased causes, you are better off with AAAS or NRA, as Saheli pointed out.

    1. I think abhi, and indeed many mutineers, support this issue being lobbied. Sounds like abhi and other 2nd/3rd gens in the past have been unimpressed by USINPAC’s strictly 1st gen outlook. I haven’t looked into their lobby history so I can’t comment.

    2. I believe it being an election year, this being a huge issue that affects billions worldwide, and we having the unique opportunity to positively influence US policy for, IMO, a clear-cut “win-win deal” we ought to take the ball and run with it. To that end, why not cut-and-paste the following into an email/fax and shoot it off to your respective legislators?

    Dear Honorable. [......]:

    Re: Request to Co-Sponsor bill HR 4974 / S 2429

    A bill to amend the Atomic Energy Act to give effect to the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement was introduced in the House of Representatives (HR 4974 ) and the Senate (S 2429) on March 16, 2006.

    In the House, the bill was introduced by Rep Henry Hyde and Rep Tom Lantos, and in the Senate by Senator Richard Lugar.

    I request you to CO-SPONSOR THE BILL AND VOTE FOR IT.

    Sincerely,

  4. Abhi is not the only one upset with USINPAC. Indian communists in US (FOSA) consider them a “united force of terror”.

    FISI and USINPAC share a vision of a militaristic India, antagonistic to Pakistan, and to different degrees, i.e. between outright hatred and blatant indifference, share contempt towards the rights of Indian Muslims. USINPAC made no statement about the Gujarat genocide in 2002. Both are tied to a vision of India as a partner in the neoliberal imperialist project, alongside Israel and the U.S.
  5. Abhi, Are you unhappy that they are lobbying for the nuclear deal because you think it is not a good one, or that they are lobbying for the deal at all, and you believe that it is of no consequence to Indian-Americans? I am just curious.

    See comment 5 for the answer:

    1. I think abhi, and indeed many mutineers, support this issue being lobbied. Sounds like abhi and other 2nd/3rd gens in the past have been unimpressed by USINPAC’s strictly 1st gen outlook.
  6. This is interesting. I’ve been in a lot of conversations with many non-Indian, non-SouthAsian people of color recently about the apparent growing power of Indians in America and globally. I worry about this dialogue, however, because I think many of us are getting the illusion that our seeming influence is meaningful, and that it represents some sign of assimilation or “success”. Probably everyone reading this blog knows that the income stats are misleading, that the desis who immigrated in the 1965-1981 period were disproportionately overeducated and primed to be wealthy, that their wealth obscures the poverty of the rest of the community… I think many people also have a sense that the “rise of the Indian middle class” (in India) is a highly mythologized phenomenon.

    For me, the fact that there are only about 2,000,000 Indians here, probably less than 3.5 million South Asians total, representing barely 1% of the total American population and a tiny fraction of one percent of South Asians globally speaks to the fact that we need to have a more global sense of our own role in world affairs as a diaspora and as a region. I think we’re being re-colonized, and I think that these various rising wealthy classes are being used to mask that. But that’s just me, and I’m crazy.

  7. The problem with USINPAC runs much, much deeper than any of this — for their outlook is not simply an exclusively “1st generation outlook,” which would be bad enough, but rather a “wealthy, 1st generation elite outlook.” Take, for example, the issue of immigration, which is arguably of much greater importance to 1st generation folks than later generation folks. The sum total of what USINPAC has to say on the subject is as follows:

    Indian Americans are the nation’s most educated and affluent ethnic minority in US. Whether it is being leaders in the medical profession, providing financial advice to the public, or simply paying taxes, Indian Americans contribute a great deal to this country’s prosperity. Yet the community is facing diverse immigration problems. The major immigration problems facing the Indian American Community are: BACKLOG IN VISA PROCESSING: India has been designated by the United States State Department as the country with the largest volume of visa applications. Common concerns among both large and small US businesses is disruption in conducting business meetings and efficient business processing due to the failure of expedited approval of visa applications. India US India trade has been increasing at a rapid 25% per year. Increasing Visa Service staffing is one of the ways to expedite the application processing time and respond to the backlog. V1 VISA: This category of Visa allows spouses and children of Green Card Holders or Permanent Resident Aliens visitation rights to the United States while they await their own Green Card application to be finalized. A House Bill (H.R. 3708) has been introduced by Congresswoman Jackson Lee to extend this Visa Category.

    That’s all they have to say about the entirety of immigration reform. Obviously, there’s much more to say and care about — there are entire organizations devoting all of their resources to the issue, and a representative sample of posts to these pages reveals many more issues than USINPAC bothers to mention.

    But then, USINPAC has the gall to go on to say the following:

    USINPAC is leading the grassroots lobbying efforts that are extremely necessary for effective legislative reforms with immigration issues as a whole. USINPAC is actively engaged itself with the policymakers on these issues.

    Yeah, right. Such a narrow, parochial understanding of the issue — even as it affects 1st generation Indian Americans — completely belies the notion that USINPAC is “leading the grassroots lobbying efforts” on “immigration issues as a whole.” I’m quite certain they haven’t the slightest idea what those issues even entail, whether “as a whole” or merely in part.

    Just to rub it in, take a look at their press releases for the last few months — in the midst of the most vigorous debate over immigration reform since 1996, and with a real threat looming that Congress might enact one of the worst immigration bills since the 1920s, USINPAC doesn’t have a word to say on the issue. On this issue, USINPAC doesn’t even represent the interests of the 1st generation in any meaningful, issue-based way.

  8. Since Sanjay Puri was mentioned in the post, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you guys about a conference my colleagues and I are organizing at Columbia University in New York on Friday, 7th of April.

    The India conference is divided into two panels - The first: U.S. – India relations is being moderated by Sanjay Puri and the speakers are Neelam Deo [Indian Consul General in New York], Ambassador Frank Wisner [Vice Chairman AIG, Ex American Amb. to India], Anil Padmanabhan [Bureau Head, India Today Magazine], Congressman Frank Pallone [invited] and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney [invited]

    Second Panel – Kashmir: Tremors to Stability Salman Haidar [Former Indian Foreign Secretary, Senior Fellow at USIP], Hassan Abbas [Former Advisor to Benazir Bhutto, Fellow at Harvard University], Sarah Khan [Kashmiri perspective], Rahul Pandit [Kashmiri perspective]

    With your [sepia people] permission, may I post the link to the conference website?

  9. Hammer_Sickel — I’m not quite sure I understand specifically what you are asking, and in any event I don’t have statistics at my fingertips. But there are plenty of people who are lawfully here who will be more vulnerable as a result of the Sensenbrenner/Frist/Specter enforcement proposals. SAALT has discussed some of the problems with the Sensenbrenner, Frist, and Specter bills, which would:

    • Make undocumented immigration presence in the U.S. a crime – students on F-1 visas who drop below a full-course load or immigrant workers who are laid off and cannot find work could be deported and made criminals. • Criminalize U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who come in contact with undocumented immigrants – advocates, medical professionals and others who work with undocumented immigrants may be subjected to penalties. • Enhance Department of Homeland SecurityÂ’s powers to detain individuals indefinitely – this could exacerbate the targeting that individuals of South Asian descent have already endured by law enforcement since 9/11. • Grant state and local law enforcement agencies inherent authority to enforce immigration laws (also known as the CLEAR Act) – this endangers public safety as undocumented immigrants will be less likely to report crimes and assist in investigations. * * * • Criminalize unlawful presence and retroactively make a second offense an “aggravated felony” – as a result, millions of undocumented workers, visitors and students would become criminals; and the effect of being an aggravated felon makes many forms of relief from deportation unavailable to many immigrants. • Grant DHS officials virtually unchecked power to deny naturalization – under the guise of national security, this would affect all applicants for citizenship and apply retroactively. • Limit administrative and judicial review for immigrants in many situations – requiring immigrants to waive such rights would result in increased deportations without the chance to present their case in federal court. • Expand the grounds for indefinite immigration detention – this contradicts Supreme Court decisions placing limits on detention and could increase the targeting and detention of South Asians.

    Many of these provisions not only affect lawfully present immigrants, but also affect US citizens. Moreover, I don’t accept your implicit equation of “legal” with “legitimate” immigration. First, there are many, many reasons why individuals who are lawfully here may suddenly find themselves out of legal immigration status, and until very recently the law was much more sensible in giving individuals opportunities to rectify those situations if, on a case-by-case basis, it were appropriate to do so. The Sensenbrenner/Frist/Specter approaches do not.

    Second, and perhaps more fundamentally, as I’ve noted before, the reason we have so many non-citizens who are not lawfully here is not because there are vast numbers of moral wrongdoers or insufficient resources for enforcement. To the contrary, we’ve been pouring unprecedented resources into enforcement and border control for the better part of a decade, and it hasn’t reduced the number of undocumented immigrants in the country. Rather, the fundamental problem is that the laws themselves are broken, since they don’t recognize for the economic and social realities behind migration flows.

    That’s why a broad range of groups who often don’t agree with each other on other issues — liberals and conservatives, organized labor and business, civil rights advocates and religious leaders — have recognized that we need a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, one that provides a path to permanent residence, recognizes the economic need for immigration and creates legal opportunities for future flows of immigrants, reduces family immigration backlogs, and protects worker rights. The “enforcement-only” approaches will not address any of these underlying issues, and when they don’t work, the same people will simply come back to us in a few years saying that we need to get “even tougher.”

  10. Hammer-Sickel……Glad to know the perspective of the ‘Indian’ communists. USINPAC must be doing a great job for India if they are hated so much by the commies. God bless the good folks at USINPAC.