Sikh-American Congressional Caucus Formed in US

Lalit K Jha/Washington
Sikh-American Congressional Caucus Formed in US
A bipartisan group of 28 influential lawmakers have establish the first Sikh-American Congressional Caucus in the House of Representatives, with the objective of fighting hate crimes against the community and to work towards enlisting them in the army.

Formally launched at the Capitol Hill yesterday, the first ever Sikh-American Congressional caucus is co-chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu from the Democratic Party and David G Valadao from the Republican.

Attended by eminent Sikh American leaders and organisations from across the country, the lawmakers also hosted a reception at the Capitol Hill in the evening.

"Sikhs are suffering because many people do not understand or are simply unfamiliar with their religion. The Sikh American community continues to be disproportionally affected by school bullying and hate crimes. Events lime the devastating tragedy in oak Creek, Wisconsin should never have taken place," Republican Congresswoman from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said in her remarks at a Capitol Hill news conference to announce the launch of the Sikh American Caucus.

The immediate past Chairwoman of the powerful House Committee on Foreign Relations, Ros-Lehtinen, said the Sikh American Caucus will raise awareness of the Sikh religion while advocating for solutions to end bullying and racial profiling, and to protect religious freedom in the workplace.

"It is time that we embraced our Sikh brothers and sisters as peaceful and productive members of the American society," she said.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, coming from California and the leading lawmaker behind this initiative, said that the Caucus will be the voice for American Sikhs in the House of Representatives, working across the aisle to address the unique challenges that this community faces.

"Together, we will preserve religious freedom, protect the safety of all people, and celebrate America's diversity," she said.

"More than a decade after 9/11, too many Sikhs across America face discrimination, bullying, and even bias-motivated violence from misguided individuals associating them with the terrorist attacks," Chu added.

Another Co-Chair Congressman Valadao, said the Caucus would work on four key issues related to Sikh community in the US, including military discrimination preventing American Sikhs from enlisting due to restrictive appearance regulations that ban turbans and violence against American Sikhs that has increased in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

The Caucus would also work on bullying being experienced by as many as three in every four Sikh boys and racial profiling due to well-intentioned but misguided law enforcement policies.

Addressing the press conference, John Garamendi said the challenges for the Sikh American community preventing deplorable hate crimes, fighting discrimination, and ending misconceptions in the public - are very real.

"I am confident that through the American Sikh Caucus, the wide array of Sikh civil rights organizations, and like-minded groups, we can overcome these challenges and create a more just America," he said.

Other members of the Caucus are Karen Bass, Gerry Connolly, John Conyers, Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, Raul Grijalva, Joe Heck, Rush Holt, Mike Honda, Hank Johnson, Doug LaMalfa, Zoe Lofgren, Tom McClintock, Jerry McNerney, Carolyn Maloney, Doris Matsui, George Miller, Devin Nunes, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Gary Peters, Jan Schakowsky, Jackie Speier and Chris Van Hollen.

Of these seven are from the Republican Party and 21 from the Democratic Party.

Congressman Valadao, said more US lawmakers are expected to join the Caucus.

In a dear colleague letter to members of the US House of Representatives, Valadao said American Sikhs have contributed to the strength and diversity of the United States for over 130 years, starting businesses and becoming active leaders in the local communities.

"In the aftermath of September 11th, Sikh Americans have faced experiences a sharp rise in increase in incidents of bias-motivated violence by bullying... More than 700 such incidents took place over the last decade," he wrote urging his Congressional colleagues to join the Caucus.

California-based political activist Harpreet Singh Sandhu and Pritpal Singh, from the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (AGPC), played a key role in the formation of the Caucus.

"Our dream of a direct voice to Congress about Sikh related issues has come true. The Caucus' purpose is to educate and allow Members to strategize on how to support the American Sikh community and attack the many issues we face today including bullying, Armed Forces and homeland security," Sandhu said.

Sikh advocacy group, United Sikh, welcomed the creation of the Sikh American Caucus.

"History has been made today some 130 years after our forefathers first arrived on American shores," said Hardayal Singh, Director of UNITED SIKHS.

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