Sometimes, the final resolution of an important issue is swayed by both politics and tangential events. Politics, certainly, has already shaped the issue immigration reform. Now, a seemingly unrelated controversy has arisen and has the potential to shape some part of immigration reform in the U.S.
The controversy surrounding former Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade has captured international media attention. Khobragade was arrested in New York City on December 12, 2013, for allegedly underpaying and exploiting her domestic employee, Sangeeta Richard.
Footage of Khobragade being strip-searched by U.S. federal law enforcement authorities has enflamed passions in India. Many believe she was disrespected and humiliated; advocates insist that she should have avoided such treatment because of her diplomatic immunity. At the same time, many Americans were appalled at Khobragade’s alleged flaunting of U.S. labor laws.
The U.S. attorney for the district of Manhattan, Preet Bharara, filed a memorandum denying Khobragade’s motion to dismiss the visa fraud indictment against her, saying that there was no basis for her immunity.
“Having left the U.S. and returned to India, the defendant currently has no diplomatic or consular status in the U.S., and the consular level immunity that she did have at the relevant times does not give her immunity from the charges in this case, crimes arising out of nonofficial acts,” Bharara said. “The defendant attempts through her motion to concoct a theory of immunity out of a UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) “Blue Card” that she purportedly had for a brief Indian delegation visit to the UN that ended close to three months before her arrest.”
The row that has ensued since Khobragade’s arrest — she left the United States on January 9, 2014 — has frayed U.S.-India relations and has led to some retaliatory measures against American diplomats stationed in India. It remains to be seen, however, whether Khobragade will become a standard image of a mutually embarrassing diplomatic incident or something more damaging.
Practical considerations may simply recapture attention on their own, pushing the Khobragade affair aside. After all, the United States is one of India’s largest trading partners and direct investors, and the two biggest democracies in the world have been increasing their military cooperation in the face of their common rival, China, and its rising power and influence in Asia.
Ultimately, it is likely that interested parties in both the U.S. and India will need to mount a sustained, effective lobbying campaign in the stateside debate over immigration, especially over visas such as the H-1B. Such efforts may help tip the scales in favor of a more immigrant-friendly bill in the U.S. Congress, replacing the possibility of an inappropriate focus on an international incident involving only a handful of people.[footer block_id=’902′]