Three Indian American members of Congress say more representation needed in government

In 1960, 12,000 Indian immigrants were in the U.S. Now there are 5 million.

June 13, 2024, 12:21 PM

In 1960, there were 12,000 Indian immigrants in the country. Now there are 5 million, according to census data.

In a significant demographic shift, Indian-Americans have now overtaken Chinese-Americans to become the largest 'Asian-alone' group in the U.S. The 2020 US Census reveals that a staggering 4.4 million people identified as 'Indian-alone,' marking a substantial 55% increase over the past decade. This data underscores the pressing need for proportional representation in the government.

Despite the increase, only five of the 535 members of Congress are Indian Americans. Additionally, individuals such as Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, and Kamala Harris have faced criticism at various times for not appearing to be "Indian American enough."

ABC News' Zohreen Shah interviewed Democratic Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Illinois, Shri Thanedar, of Michigan, and Pramila Jayapal, of Washington state, to discuss the need for Indian American representation in government.

Three Indian-American members of Congress want more representation in politics.
ABC News

ABC NEWS: Let's rewind a bit. 1960. There were 12,000 Indian immigrants in this country. Now there's 5 million. You have a half-Indian vice president; five Indian American members of Congress. There's a lot of people who are watching your growth and wondering how this happened.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think it's the natural journey of immigrant groups in this country. I think first, they establish their financial security, then they help their local not for profits, their mandirs, their mosques. And they help, you know, other people in need just like themselves. And then they, I think, get involved in the civic affairs of the country.

THANEDAR: At one point I felt that I achieved my American dream. But I want to go help others achieve their American dream, especially living in Detroit. Seeing how American dream is not accessible to many people. Opportunities are just not there. I said, the best way for me to help, would be to be in public service

ABC NEWS: We have seen a surge in undocumented Indian immigrants, different from how you guys came here, grow 70% in the last 15 years or so. Why do you think that surge is happening right now?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Our legal immigration system is totally messed up that it makes people desperate. I mean, the legal immigration issue and the undocumented immigration issue are connected to each other. It doesn't necessarily justify people coming in illegally, but it helps to explain that when, for instance, someone coming from India today applying for an H-1B visa and receiving one, it would take them 100 years. I'm not making that number up -- 100 years to matriculate into a green card.

ABC NEWS: We're here at the IA Impact Summit. This is a big conference for Indian Americans. It happens every year. Why is this so important and why do you think it's so important this year in particular?

JAYAPAL I mean, I think it's really important because we've got a real opportunity to increase our numbers for Indian Americans.

ABC NEWS: Potentially double is what I’m hearing.

JAYAPAL Double, here in Congress. And I think that when you have that representation, several things happen. You change the way other people see their opportunities. You really engage people to vote more in our democracy, and you get better policy.

THANEDAR: Even the population of Indian Americans, I feel that five members is not sufficient representation. And we need to strive for more. Indian Americans have done so well economically, in every other field. But we haven't built that political muscle and we need to build that.

ABC NEWS: Let's talk about TikTok really quick. Is there going to be someone here in this country who buys TikTok at this moment in time. Does it look like there will be?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes. Um, I have not yet met a single person who wants their TikTok controlled by the Chinese Communist Party versus a TikTok that's not. And that's the aim of this bill. It's not a ban. It's meant-

ABC NEWS: But if it's not sold in 12 months, within 12 months it will be banned, right?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It won't be available until it gets sold.

ABC NEWS: How big of a concern do you think can be found before November?

JAYAPAL: A very big one. I think that there's there's a very small number of people that could take it over. And frankly, some of those people, I would have just as many concerns in terms of controlling the content on TikTok as I do of the Chinese government. And so I think that there is a bigger concern here around how we address all of our social media platforms and communication on social media platforms and I do think it may have a negative impact on the election, but I don't think it's going to be the determinative impact. I mean, I think, I think there are lots of things out there that young people care about. That may be one of them.

ABC NEWS: Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Kamala Harris have all received a lot of criticism at many different times for not being Indian American enough.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Look, I don't fault anybody for being who they are, but don't change who you are to try to fit some kind of conventional notion of what a presidential candidate should be, or who the American people will embrace. Because it turns out the American people are very sophisticated and savvy.

ABC NEWS: You talk about looking at the world. You talk about your parents still being in India. Are you concerned right now about American Indian relationships?

JAYAPAL: Yeah, I have been concerned and I have spoken out about this. And, you know, I've been criticized by Indian Americans. This is one of the ways that I'm told that I'm not Indian enough. Even though I have family that lives there, I've lived in villages all over India.

I do believe that um, religious freedom, freedom of communication, freedom of the press, is really, really important to me. And it's one of the dear values that I treasure of Indian democracy. And I have been concerned about um, some of what I've seen happening, particularly the anti-Muslim sentiment in India and the way in which the press has been cracked down on, uh, by this prime minister and the reports about extrajudicial killings, um, and attempted assassinations right here in this country, which I know the DOJ is investigating right now.

At the same time, I see the value of India, the tremendous opportunity that India as a country has to really power the world for better.

ABC NEWS: Quick rapid fire: Favorite Indian food or snack that you know you should stay away from, but you can't?

JAYAPAL: pakora

ABC NEWS: Samosas?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Naan, samosas and naans

JAYAPAL: I'm pudding polly.

ABC NEWS: Who should play you in a biopic? Bollywood star or Hollywood Indian?

THANEDAR: Shah Rukh Khan.

ABC NEWS: Number of years before we have an Indian American president.

THANEDAR: Any time now.