[Photo Source:Rajdeep Jolly, founder of R.S. Jolly Consulting. | Photo Provided ]

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 By: Sunit Sohrabji

The majority of national Congressional candidates responding to a survey released Nov. 1 support reforming the H-1B visa program, and allowing Sikhs to serve in the U.S. armed forces with their articles of faith intact.

The poll was conducted by R.S. Jolly Consulting, and asked respondents four questions: reform of the H-1B visa program; allowing Sikh Americans to serve in the U.S. military with turbans and beards; combatting terrorism originating from Pakistan; and concerns about caste-based discrimination in India.

Rajdeep Jolly told India-West that he reached out to Democrat and Republican candidates, as well as Green, Libertarian and other party contenders. “I am proud that I was able to cast a wide net to capture as many candidates as possible.”

The Indian American activist, who formerly worked with the Sikh Coalition on post 9/11 civil rights issues, said: “I was always dismayed at how innocently ignorant some lawmakers were to the issues that affect our community.” He cited hate crimes, school bullying and workplace discrimination as critical issues for the Indian American community.

Asian Americans have the lowest voter participation rates of any ethnic group, noted Jolly. “I wanted to demonstrate that the door is open to lawmakers and that people can reach out to them.”

Surprisingly, no Indian American candidate responded to the survey, except Rajit Malliah, a Green Party candidate running for New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District seat. Malliah – who is facing off against Republican incumbent Frank Pallone – noted that the current H-1B visa program, which allows skilled foreign workers to be employed in the U.S. temporarily, is “a metaphor in many ways for how flawed our current immigration system is. Currently many H-1B workers are pitted against and used to replace many traditional workers in some instances,” said Malliah, a physician.

The candidate said he unequivocally supports Sikhs serving in the military with their articles of faith intact, and also supported examining the U.S.’s financial links and military assistance to Pakistan. “As the State Department has stated, transnational terrorist groups based in Pakistan are a serious threat to India and the world. India will most assuredly take steps to protect itself and the U.S. should assist India in any way possible,” said the candidate.

Pallone did not respond to the survey.

In California, Indian American Senate candidate Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez – both Democrats – did not respond to the survey. Democrat incumbent Ami Bera – currently the only Indian American in Congress – also did not respond, nor did his challenger, Republican Scott Jones.

In the hotly-contested CD 17 race, Indian American Ro Khanna, who is challenging incumbent Mike Honda, did not respond to the survey. CD 17 is based in the Silicon Valley, and incorporates some sections of Fremont, home to one of the largest populations of South Asian Americans in the nation.

Honda – who is seeking his 9th term in office and is a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus – did respond to the survey, and advocated for the expansion of the H-1B visa program, coupled with a comprehensive solution to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Honda said he is a strong advocate for allowing Sikhs to practice their faith while serving in the U.S. military, and added that such rights must be expanded to police forces and sheriff’s departments.

On the issue of addressing terrorism stemming from Pakistan, Honda said: “We can’t allow al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group that threatens our national security to operate with impunity in the tribal regions or any other part of Pakistan. Nor can we permit the Pakistani state and its nuclear arsenal to be taken over by the Taliban.”

“To help prevent this nightmare scenario, we need to forge a true strategic partnership with Pakistan and its people, strengthen Pakistan’s Democrat government, and work to make Pakistan a source of stability in a volatile region. To me, this means investments in economic development, human rights and public diplomacy,” said Honda.

Democratic incumbent Judy Chu, of California’s CD 27, also responded to the survey. Chu, who currently chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she supports eliminating the country-specific limits on employment-based visas, and exempting certain highly skilled immigrants from the worldwide cap, including workers who have advance degrees in science, technology, and engineering.

Chu said she had personally sent letters to the Defense Department supporting Sikhs who were requesting religious accommodation to serve in the military with their turbans and beards.

Chu termed the recent attacks on Indian civilians, allegedly by Pakistani terrorists, as “inexcusable.”

“Pakistan must be held accountable for their support of these groups, including bringing past perpetrators to justice. The U.S. must continue to stand by our friend and ally India through expression of support, intelligence sharing, inclusion in international counterterrorism efforts, and increased U.S.-India counterterrorism cooperation,” she said.

The congresswoman condemned caste-based discrimination, and said she was a supporter of international basic education, which can put girls on a path to a better future.

Indian American Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is running for Illinois’ CD 8 seat, did not respond to the survey. His challenger, Republican Peter DiCianni, also did not respond. Premila Jayapal, who is running for a House seat in Washington state’s CD 7, also did not respond to the survey.

Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, a Republican who is running for Senate, responded to the survey, saying that a “balance” must be found in the H-1B visa program, between meeting the needs of employers and preserving American jobs.

“Restricting the issuance of H-1B visas could adversely affect companies driving innovation in these growing industries,” said Heck.

Heck, who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, has held hearings on the issue of Sikhs serving in the military with turbans and beards. “Devout Sikhs have served proudly in the U.S. military since World War I and have proven they can wear turbans and maintain their facial hair in a conservative manner that meets operational requirements,” said the congressman.

“I have personally served alongside Sikhs and support a religious exemption for devout Sikhs as long as it does not degrade unit cohesion or combat effectiveness,” he added.

In his extremely-tight race, Heck is challenging Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, who did not respond to the survey.

Elliot Engels, a Democrat who represents New York’s 16th Congressional district and is a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in his survey answers: “I have a long track record of vocal criticism of Pakistan’s double game, where it fights some terrorists while supporting others. This is having a devastating impact in Afghanistan, India, and blowback in Pakistan itself.”

“I have used my position on the committee to press that security assistance to Pakistan be conditioned on its use against terror. It cannot and must not be

turned on India,” said the congressman.

Rep. Pat Meehan, a Republican who serves Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, also responded to the survey. Meehan, the former chairman of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, has hosted several briefings on Sikhs serving in the military.

“The time has come for the Defense Department to update antiquated policies that discriminate against Sikh Americans. I will continue to encourage the Pentagon to modernize their policies,” said Meehan.

Other incumbents who responded to the survey include Reps. Jim Himes, a Democrat who serves Connecticut’s 4th Congressional district; Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California’s 18th Congressional district; Jeff Denham, a Republican from California’s 10th Congressional district; Scott Garrett, a Republican who represents New Jersey’s 5th Congressional district; Bryan Higgins, a Democrat from New York’s 26th Congressional district; and Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington’s 9th Congressional district.

The full survey results can be viewed at rsjolly.com.

This story was originally published on India West