A momentous week of US decisions impacting Indians

Washington, July 1 (IANS) From the passage of a comprehensive Senate immigration bill to a series of US Supreme Court rulings on minority voting rights to gay marriages, it was a week of momentous decisions with wide implications for Indians.

The Senate immigration bill passed with a 68-32 vote with 14 Republicans joining all the 54 Democrats, for one, is a mixed bag for India with IT service companies like TCS, Wipro and Infosys and US companies doing business with them complaining about higher fees for H1B and L1 visas for highly skilled workers.

Indian techies, on the other hand, are happy over the prospect of wider opportunities with the cap on H1B visas being raised from 85,000 to 195,000.

Students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths), too have been put on the fast track for green cards, though critics complain it would spur a brain drain from India.

But South Asian organizations led by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) have branded it a "deeply flawed" bill as it limits family-based immigration options for siblings and adult married children and "creates needless barriers in the pathway to citizenship" for 11 million undocumented immigrants, including some 260,000 Indians.

With the Republican controlled House of Representatives working on its own versions of immigration reform, the US corporate lobby, Indian techies as also South Asian organisations are hoping to influence the final shape of the bill before it lands on President Barack Obama's desk, if ever, after its passage by a deeply divided Congress.

South Asian organisations are also elated over the US Supreme Court decision to declare unconstitutional a key section of the Clinton era Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which only recognised marriage between man and woman for hundreds federal benefits.

Desi gays are happy that same-sex couples will be able to petition for the immigration of their partners, despite the fact that those provisions were not included in the Senate bill.

SAALT has also welcomed another Supreme Court decision on Texas University, Austin's use of race in its admissions policy for promoting diversity within education.

Despite common misperceptions to the contrary, South Asians support and benefit from holistic race-conscious admission policies, SAALT said as "South Asian students, along with all other students, enjoy a richer learning environment when they are immersed in a diverse educational setting."

However, SAALT has condemned the Supreme Court decision to invalidate a key section of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 which required several Southern states with a history of racial discrimination to get any changes in voting laws cleared by the US Department of Justice or a federal court.

While the court recognized that racial discrimination continues to plague the ability of many to vote, it asked the Congress to update the criteria for a state to be covered by the special provision in the light of recent increased minority voter turnout.

Noting that South Asian and other voters of colour continue to encounter barriers at the polls because of race, religion, and language ability and restrictive voter identification proposals, SAALT said the community will not be immune from the court's "disappointing" ruling.

South Asian communities have also welcomed the passage of two bills by New York City Council on community safety, which curb discriminatory policing practices and expand the basis for prohibited profiling and discrimination.

In addition to the current prohibition on profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin, the ban would now include age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability or housing status.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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