On June 12th, Gurupreet Kaur was found in the Sonoran desert by U.S. Border Patrol agents, dead from hyperthermia. Temperatures in Arizona’s desert reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Her death is the second recorded fatality of a migrant child attempting to cross the border into the United States.
Border patrol statistics have recorded an uptake in immigrants from India attempting to cross into the United States-- in 2018, 8997 Indian citizens were apprehended at the border, compared to just 2943 Indian migrants the year before. These numbers still only represent 2% of all illegal border crossings in 2018, the majority of migrants coming from Latin America-- but the question still remains: why the sudden increase?
A Broken Immigration System
In 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released that there was 306,601 alien workers from India who had applied for green cards. When including children and spouses, this number jumps to 632,219 immigrants waiting for citizenship and entrance to the United States. This problem has been exacerbated to the point that according to a study done by the Cato Institute, there is a 150-year wait for Indian immigrants applying for their green cards. However, the trend is not expected to continue, with the House passing H.R. 1044 on July 13th, clearing employment-based backlogs.
Narendra Modi was voted into the office of Prime Minister in a landslide election: India has become virtually a single-party system. He represents the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a close associate with the Rashtriya Swayamensewak Sangh (RSS), who believes that India should be a primarily Hindu nation-- the rights of Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities fall second to the rights which should be held by Hindus. Modi himself is not an official member of RSS, but he’s pursued policies in line with their goals and surrounded himself with advisors who are members, such as Amit Shah. Shah has called non-Hindu immigrants “termites,” marking an exponential increase in the number of religious tensions.
As a result, religious minorities have been trying to leave India to escape this religious persecution and live in a safe and supportive environment. Despite the increase in xenophobia and racism in the West, countries like the United States offer legal protection from religious persecution, making crossing the U.S.-Mexican border an objective for many. While this may not be the sole reason for leaving, Modi has a historical record of favoring Hindu nationalist groups who inflict religious persecution and damage upon minorities. In 2002, a train caught fire resulting in the deaths of over 50 Hindus. Modi, chief minister of the state where the incident occurred, did nothing when the RSS accused Muslims of the fire which sparked (no pun intended) riots that resulted in the death of more than 1000 people.
In the case of Gurupreet Kaur, her family was Sikhs, a religion that combines elements of Hinduism and Islam. Her father’s lawyer told CNN that he was “fleeing persecution,” and that the immigration battle between the Kaurs and the U.S. was one of asylum. Her parents released a statement saying that “We wanted a safer and better life for our daughter, and we made the tough decision to seek asylum here in the United States.”
Resolving the Crisis
In the end, the question still remains: what can be done about this situation? In the United States, there is a substantial discussion on how to fix the immigration system on a federal level, but the dangers of Hindu nationalism and increasing persecution aren’t being talked about in India. Modi can manipulate, and given the outcome of the 2019 Indian election, the voting population of India is on his side. He has used the strategies of paining immediate threats to India nationalism, referencing immigrants as “infiltrators,” “termites,” and “outsiders.” The fear and polarization that India is undergoing right now are isolating Indian minorities and pushing them to take extreme and difficult decisions to preserve their lives.
South Asians in the United States should recognize that the border crisis impacts their own community and use their voice to speak out not only against the broken immigration system of the United States but also against the dangerous rise of the RSS in India. As Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday approaches, despite his many faults, it is time to remember and pursue his hope of a multicultural India-- one that does not force religious minorities to leave for the sake of dangerous and mistaken nationalism.