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Donald Trump's 'illegal immigrant' threat may hit Gujarat's NRIs hard

Rathin Das | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:47 IST

In the melee caused by the recent demonetisation decision, one news that apparently went unnoticed is US President-elect Donald Trump's assertion that nearly three million illegal immigrants would be deported immediately.

Unnoticed? Not certainly by people who will actually be affected.

Among the three million to be targeted by Trump administration, a sizable number are people from Gujarat who have landed in the US through illegal means over the last three or four decades.

The immediate impact of demonetisation would be a total halt in a vibrant sector of the economy that provided illegal visas and other immigration documents and ran solely on transactions in high denominations, mostly the cash components of ancestral land pieces disposed off to send some family member to the USA.

People in Gujarat, especially those belonging to some rich communities whose visa applications get rejected, have to spend nearly Rs 35 lakhs to get illegal immigration documents for their flight to the USA. Though the promised 'flight' often also includes dangerous boat rides in the lagoons of the Caribbean and week-long treks through the jungles of Mexico-US border.

The demonetisation of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes would stop, at least for some time, this illegal 'immigration' trade in Gujarat as the agents now have no use for these currency notes. While this would halt the fresh flow of illegal immigrants to the USA, the real crisis will come a few months from now when the Trump administration actually begins its deportation drive.

On the hit list

There is no proper estimate of the number of people from Gujarat who have illegally 'shifted' to the USA over the decades, but a sizable number of Indians, among the three million who will become Trump's targets are from the state.

Apart from the usual tricks of spending Rs 25 to Rs 35 lakhs to procure illegal immigration papers, one popular method adopted for some time was fake 'marriages' to a Green Card holder hailing from Gujarat.

But the US Immigration authorities had seen through that game long time back and had put an end to this racket by conducting raids at apartments of long-time bachelor NRIs who recently went to India to 'get married'.

US Immigration authorities, along with women police in tow, landed up at NRIs' homes who recently 'got married' during their India trip and demanded to see the wardrobe of the new bride.

A BJP MP from Gujarat was arrested at the Delhi airport a few years back when he was about to fly off with a woman who wanted to illegally migrate to the western world.

High demand

Due to the craze to land in the USA in whatever way possible, several visa and immigration agencies thrive in the cities of Gujarat. About 18 years ago, the strength of the Regional Passport Office (RPO) in the state was reduced considerably as every third employee was either suspended or transferred for being linked with some illegal passport and visa agency.

Invited for a press conference by the police commissioner himself, a journalist had asked the PRO what was the big revelation that the city's top cop has to address in a press meet. When the PRO said that a big illegal passport and visa racket has been unearthed near the airport, the journalist had remarked - "What's the big deal? Who will fill petrol in California and who will run motels in Pennsylvania if illegal passports and visas are not made in Gujarat?"

Both had a loud laugh for the next one minute before the press meet began.

Jokes apart, there is an inherent desire among the people from Gujarat to set foot on the American soil.

This phenomenon unwittingly came out in journalist Rana Ayyub's recent book Gujarat Files which she self-published after established publishers felt too scared to take it up.

During her conversations with at least two women IPS officers, the officers asked their daughters to remain in touch with this aunty (Ayyub) to know the formalities required to get to the USA. Rana had posed as a documentary filmmaker from the USA.

Going abroad for higher studies cannot be called 'wrong', but for people of Gujarat it is considered okay just to go to the USA by whatever means possible and then look for a livelihood, often riding piggyback on an uncle who migrated long ago and is deemed 'settled'.

Pointing fingers

Thus, a water filter maintenance mechanic earning Rs 10,000 a month, happily gives away Rs 2 lakhs to enroll himself in the dance troupe that is scheduled for US trip after a year or so.

A member or two of such visiting dance troupes going 'missing' after the first two performances in the USA is a very common incident.

This 'phenomenon' had come in handy for the Narendra Modi administration in Gujarat for launching investigations against Mallika Sarabhai's Darpana Academy in 2003, following her petition in the Supreme Court seeking probe into the 2002 riots.

No instance of human trafficking by Mallika's Darpana Academy was found, but the eminent institution's rehearsals and other activities remained disrupted for more than a year merely on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration to the USA.

But, then, Gujaratis staying illegally in the USA might see the 'silver lining' to their 'dark clouds' in the form a million-strong NRI force from the state, many of whom have been elevated to key positions before and after the Presidential elections.

The Democrats' administration had many Gujrati NRIs at key posts and the new Republican president too might induct many from the community. But, illegal immigrants would have to keep their fingers crossed about whether Donald Trump really wants to carry out his threat to deport three million people or not.

First published: 17 November 2016, 4:46 IST