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The US should ban travel bans

opinionEditorialThe US should ban travel bans

Unlike the now unwelcoming United Kingdom under Teresa May as first Home Secretary and subsequently as the Prime Minister, the United States has for decades welcomed professionals from India, three million of whom are now citizens of that country. Across the US, communities of Indian Americans have shown what the people of this land are capable of, if freed of the oppressive restraints of the colonial model of administration that is still the norm in Lutyens Delhi, and from there in the rest of the country. Indeed, US citizens of Indian descent are calculated as having the highest income per person of any ethnic group in that immensely variegated country. Their performance gives the lie to those who claim that there is a Colour Bar in the US, and that those not of European descent have an advantage because of skin colour. The US has come a long way from the days of segregation of the races, and in this odyssey, among the heroes are Martin Luther King, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Barack Hussein Obama, the country’s first African-American Head of State and Government. However, it is disquieting that the past few decades have seen a rise in inequality, and a constriction of opportunities for those at the lower end of the economic pyramid. Much of this has been caused by the ballooning power of Wall Street, which has found no more loyal servitor than former Presidents George W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton. It had been expected that Barack Obama would eliminate or at the least dilute this control over so much of policy within the Washington Beltway, but the 44th President was careful to choose Wall Street-vetted and approved hands to fill key slots, a line of approach surprisingly resorted to even by the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, who has chosen Wall Street’s own in several key positions, including that of Treasury Secretary. It remains to be seen if Wall Street, which is heavily invested in and dependent on profits from China, will permit the new administration to fulfil its pre-election pledge of being tough on the world’s second biggest economy and Asia’s largest power.

Across the world, the United States has been admired as an exemplar of freedom, hence it was perhaps not the most appropriate action to impose a travel ban on six countries, the way the Trump administration did within days of settling into their new offices. While the countries selected certainly had more than a sprinkling of terrorists in their midst, so do France or Belgium, not to mention Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In fact, the latter country had the doubtful distinction of having its nationals almost wholly responsible for carrying out the 9 September 2001 terror attack on the United States, an attack that changed the very chemistry of governance on the globe, by making internal security the pre-occupation for several governments, overriding concerns of accelerating growth. An omnibus ban on travellers from an entire country is very similar to the responses of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Lutyens Delhi in the past, whose mantra has been “when in doubt, block, block and block again”. There was even a mentally challenged policy of preventing a visitor with a valid visa of returning to India for six months after a visit. Why such a measure, or several others of similar levels of irrationality and foolishness were resorted to, remains a mystery to those who are not part of the pampered Lutyens set. Their approach has cost the country heavily, not least in terms of growth, and it would be unwise for the United States to follow the example set by Lutyens Delhi in the past. There should be careful vetting, certainly, and those with the slightest probability of indulging in acts of violence and terror need to be denied visas, but genuine cases, including those involving family visits, health and education should be permitted. The action of the court in Hawaii (the home state of that close friend of India, Representative Tulsi Gabbard) in blocking the Trump administration’s latest country-specific travel ban should be the trigger for a reconsideration of such a blunderbuss approach. The US should ban bans.

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