With the opinion polls, changing colors faster than a chameleon, behind us and a president roaring about his squeaking-in with the narrowest of margins, we ask ourselves the essential question: “What did we immigrants try to achieve through the election?”

The question evokes responses as varied as “Defending my right to choose,” (from a desi feminist) and “ability of desi immigrants to live the American dream” (a budding entrepreneur).

Everybody seeks justice and legal empowerment.

To state the obvious, voting in elections is based on the citizens’ perception of a party’s stance on topics of pertinence to them. It would be interesting to see whether the election has any impact on two issues that are of increasing importance to immigrants: equity in the contexts of employment and an ethno-cultural context.

Does employment equity exist now? Well, in important contexts applicable to immigrants the answer would be “no.” The “body-shopping” industry, arguable the biggest conduit for desi entry into the U.S., is premised on long hours and little pay. “Early to rise and late to bed makes your boss healthy and wealthy, if not wise” may be an apt summary of the business.

Can “body-shopped” immigrants get their grievances redressed through the judicial system when they find themselves cheated?

Acceptance of our beliefs and way of life is a waxing or waning phenomenon, depending on the context. While there is an increasing Indian presence in almost all walks of life and a consequent acceptance (albeit reluctant), can Indians who believe that their religious or cultural beliefs have been violated take recourse to the law?

The answer was “Yes,” when a California court ruled in favor of a Hindu gentleman who sued Taco Bell for serving him a beef burrito instead of a bean burrito, though later decisions from a Florida court on the same issue support an emphatic “No.”

There can be an unfortunate overlap of the two issues discussed—an immigrant brought here through “body-shopping” may find himself caught between lack of accountability on the employer’s part and institutionalized cultural racism in law-enforcement agencies.

Who can forget the saga of Indian software developers being arrested in Texas early this year, because of alleged lapses by the contractor. Subjected to every cultural and religious indignity possible (beef provided for consumption and pregnant women denied access to restrooms), the victims became so intimidated that they didn’t even seek relief from the legal system, remote even at the best of times.

An overview of the mechanism of legislation is helpful to analyzing when relief may be expected, if ever.

While legislators may well commence drawing up legislation facilitating immediate access to the justice system, a significant time lag results by the time the legislation becomes applicable, if and when accepted.

And when legislation becomes applicable, the real implementation is left to the courts, whose interpretations of a given statuette are comparable to the colors in a rainbow.

U.S. courts are unique in that the judges are elected, not nominated as elsewhere. The judge’s beliefs are affected (even afflicted) by the party of affiliation and are transported into the judge’s chair. Many incumbent justices assumed their judgeships from the Reagan era onwards continuing through the mid-90s when the whirlwind of Ralph Reed’s “Christian Coalition” swept the country.

Many judges elected during this period view themselves as God’s foot soldiers in the everlasting struggle between right and wrong. Consequently, Texas boasts county judges who endeavor to write judgments in conformity with the Bible. Since “Democracy” in the Bible belt is democracy consistent with Christianity, Democratic judges whose rulings would have done justice to the Inquisition are encountered frequently.

As has been repeatedly observed by civil rights monitors, there has been a perceptible erosion in civil rights and access to justice overall in the U.S., especially from an immigrant view point. The general perception of immigrants as being responsible for many social ills has carried over into the justice system, which demonstrates a propensity to adversely rule against immigrants.

Not surprisingly, when a Sikh preacher met with a car accident involving a “real” American in Ohio, opinion about the elderly Sikh’s propensity for violence was “evident” through the kirpan on his person. It took the intervention of a respected Caucasian expert on Sikhism to bail the hapless preacher out of prison.

In addition to lack of sensitivity to immigrant needs and beliefs, there exists a pronounced and troublesome tendency to lump all immigrants together. Thus, an immigrant software developer lawfully entering into the country is viewed no differently from illegals slipping into the country after crossing the Rio Grande.

This monochromatic collage of immigrants also colors the equity that is available to them. Since all immigrants are the same and people who swam the Rio Grande to come to El Dorado deserve to be repulsed, professional immigrants from elsewhere should be treated no differently, (the legality of their entry not withstanding) runs this convoluted thread of logic.

Not surprisingly, Prof. D.K. Pradhan of the Texas A&M University was threatened with 10 years imprisonment for the most mundane of occurrences. An attempt by this distinguished computer scientist to resist arbitrary academic reviews ballooned into a series of legal complications. This culminated into the university accusing Pradhan of “conducting non-university related business on trips the university paid for.”

Alas, we see nothing but red in the future. … Rednecks as judges and law agencies who see red whenever an immigrant appears.

Despite repeated references to God (In God We Trust) by elected powers, immigrant rights will continue to gather rust.

S. Gopikrishna writes on issues of pertinence to India and American-Indians from Toronto

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