The Indian and Pakistani Diaspora in the US

By Ninian, Alex | Contemporary Review, September 2012 | Go to article overview

The Indian and Pakistani Diaspora in the US


Ninian, Alex, Contemporary Review


INDIANS and Pakistanis were all Indian until 1947 when Pakistan was formed out of British India.

Indian Americans are not to be confused with American Indians. The former are Americans who have a background in the subcontinent and the latter are native Americans. To avoid confusion with American Indians, such as the Cherokee, Apache or Sioux, Indian Americans are sometimes called Asian Indians. Indian Americans are amongst the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States and, according to the 2010 census, the Indian American population has increased exponentially over the last few years to become the third largest population group after Hispanics and Chinese with a 2,846,914 headcount. A 'recompilation' of the census has put the number at 3,183,063.

It is a commonly held view that America welcomes immigrants with open arms as evidenced by the plaque at the entrance to the Statue of Liberty: 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.'

Yet it was not always thus. Benjamin Franklin opposed German immigration stating that they would not assimilate into the culture. Irish immigration was widely opposed in the 1840s and 1850s engendered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Irish Catholics. In 1891 a lynch mob stormed a local jail and hanged several Italians following the acquittal of some Italians said to be involved in the murder of the New Orleans police chief. In 1917, the Barred Zone Act passed through Congress with a two-thirds majority, so overriding President Woodrow Wilson's veto. Under this, all Asians were barred from immigrating to the US, except Japanese.

Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 seeking to limit immigration overall and making sure that the nationality of new arrivals matched the then national profile.

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed into law the Luce-Celler Act which granted to Indians the right to immigrate to the US and also to be naturalised. But the effect of the 1924 Immigration Act meant that only a hundred south Asians were permitted to enter per year.

As from the 1960s the immigration restrictions on south Asians were relaxed and the number of immigrants from India and Pakistan grew. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the INS Act of 1965, eliminating per-country immigration quotas and introducing immigration on the basis of professional experience and education. In the case of Pakistani immigrants there have been ups and downs but in the case of Indians only growth. Pakistani immigration grew until 2001 but the effect of the 9/11 terrorist attack had a negative effect on it, immigration from Pakistan falling from 16,000 in 2001 to 9,000 in 2003. It has recovered since then to over 17,000 per annum but is overwhelmed by the numbers of Indian immigrants.

Indians are among the largest ethnic groups legally immigrating to the United States. The immigration of Indian Americans has taken place in several waves since the first Indian Americans came to the United States in the 1700s. A major wave of immigration to California from the region of Punjab took place in the first decade of the twentieth century. Another significant wave followed in the 1950s which mainly included students and professionals. The elimination of immigration quotas in 1965 spurred successively larger waves of immigrants in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With the technology boom of the 1990s, the largest influx of Indians arrived between 1995 and 2000. This latter group has also caused a surge in the application for various immigration benefits including applications for a green card. This has resulted in long waiting periods for people born in India for receiving these benefits.

The Present

Attitudes to Pakistani immigration have been affected by the presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan at the time of his death in 2011, and also the Times Square bomb scare in New York City in 2010, but there are no official figures on the effect on immigration.

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