A group of South Asian business leaders and politicians from New Jersey boarded a chartered bus at 8 a.m. Tuesday, hoping for a meet-and-greet with political leaders in the nation’s capital.
The topics that are most important to them — small business, health care and pharmaceuticals — were on their minds.
Soon after reaching Capitol Hill, it became clear there was a lot more work that needed to be done in their efforts to build a working relationship.
Many of the congressional representatives tried to create a bond with the group by sharing their own immigration story — whether it was themselves, a relative or an in-law — or stressing the importance of the Indo-U.S. relationship.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) stressed the importance of the relationship, while Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) shared a story of greeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on stage when he came to Madison Square Garden.
“India is the largest democracy in the world, an extraordinary example of what democracy can do,” Hoyer said. “It is not perfect. India is not perfect. The United States is not perfect, but we do, in fact, reflect a beacon of values to which most of the world (aspires), even if they live in a dictatorship.”
Hoyer, who talked about his father emigrating from Denmark, acknowledged the association’s presence, along with all small businesses in America having their voices heard, calling it critically important for the country.
The examples went on all day.
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) talked about how immigration shouldn’t be “vilified” and how his daughter-in-law is a first-generation immigrant from Mexico. And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talked about a recent trip to India.
They were missing the point.
The small business owners wanted to get down to business — not hear stories about how politicians are fans of the community.
“I wanted to hear them as (my) representative, rather than a politician,” Edison Councilman Ajay Patil said.
No politician mentioned the H1-B visa pressures, which is important to a significant portion of the Indian population.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) did speak about the issue when asked by ROI-NJ, after addressing the crowd, and described his stance as pro-immigration but anti-sanctuary cities and states.
He said he had just had a discussion that day, with leaders including Pelosi, about the country’s immigration policies, and that a solution needs to be found by the end of this year.
Specifically, he understood the plight of H-4 visa children, which are children of H1-B visa holders. Despite coming to the States at young ages and completing their education in the country, upon graduation, these students are considered foreigners who have to apply for work visas in order to find jobs.
“You’re familiar with DACA, there’s DALCA … we have children who are going through (school) right now and, in a year or two, rather than entering the workforce, they are going to be sent back to their countries,” MacArthur said.
That has to be addressed, he said.
In addition, MacArthur said he supported removing visa caps that have been placed on certain countries, including India, especially since it hinders companies looking to fill jobs that continue to remain available.
Edison Councilman Joseph Coyle said he saw the disconnect between the politicians and the group.
But he also said he sees it from his own unique vantage point, one attained after working with Indian business leaders for the past 20 years.
Coyle caution it’s just Year One for the trip put together by the Indian Business Association, he said.
“This is an incredible opportunity, it’s just at the beginning,” he said. “Let’s face it, it’s a recognized organization and a recognized culture, but it’s just at the beginning stages of building. We have huge opportunities.
“We start with one bus today, (it) easily could be 15 buses.”