WASHINGTON: Resplendent in an orange and green saree, Sudha Sundari Narayanan, a software developer from India, was among five immigrants sworn in as American citizens in a White House ceremony that placed her front and center of a turbulent debate on immigration and presidential privilege in a heated election season.
“Sudha is a talented software developer. She and her husband are raising two beautiful, wonderful children ‘the apples of your life,’ right? Thank you very much and congratulations. Fantastic job,” Trump said as he handed her the Certificate of Citizenship in a naturalization ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, after describing her as a “phenomenal success” who was born in India, and who came to the United States 13 years ago.
The event was taped and broadcast later in the night to the virtual Republican National Convention, inviting charges that the President was using the White House pulpit for blatantly political purposes in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits civil servants from using their title, office, or any sort of government resource while engaging in political activities.
Although it is not the first time Trump has presided over a naturalization ceremony, the timing and the locale of the event, not to speak of placing an Indian at the center, was seen as a move to court immigrant votes in an election where small margins and voting blocks will matter, particularly after Democrats pitchforked Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate.
“Today America rejoices as we welcome five absolutely incredible new members into our great American family. You are now fellow citizens of the greatest nation on the face of God’s Earth. Congratulations,” Trump told Sudha and immigrants from Lebanon, Bolivia, Sudan and Ghana who flanked her, adding that the newly sworn-in American citizens followed the rules, obeyed the laws, learned the nation’s history, embraced American values and proved themselves to be men and women of the highest integrity.
“It’s not so easy. You went through a lot and we appreciate you being here with us today. You’ve earned the most prized treasured, cherished and priceless possession anywhere in the world. It’s called American citizenship. There is no higher honor and no greater privilege,” he said, Trump said in an event ostensibly aimed at projecting an administration in favor of legal, orderly immigration.
The White House event came on Day Two of the Republican National Convention where First Lady
stirred considerable interest by acknowledging the “harsh reality” of racism in the United States, a fact that many Trump supporters, including Indian-American Nikki Haley in her speech on Monday, deny.
“Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country. It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history,” Melania Trump said, calling for an end to racial profiling and the “violence and looting being done in the name of justice.” The remarks came even as the town of Kenosha in was in flames after rioting that followed the shooting of a black man by white cops.
While some analysts praised the candor and civil tone of her remarks, others pointed out that she was complicit in her husband’s anti-immigration policy, and his sowing of racist discord and xenophobia, including giving life to birther theories relating to Barack Obama and Kamala Harris. Hours after her speech, everything from her “foreign” accent to her dress – a military style outfit – was dissected on social media where pro- and anti-Trump argued over who are the “Real Americans.”
While Trump Republicans expanded their outreach to minority and immigrant voting blocks by featuring non-white voices at their convention and suggesting they are not against legal, orderly immigration, Democrats are trying to consolidate their traditional vote banks and calling out what they insist is a Republican bluff.
“They are deploying suppressive voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, voter roll purges, precinct closures and reduced early-voting days — all of which have been laser-targeted toward communities of color,” Kamala Harris write in an OpEd on Wednesday as she launched a nationwide voter engagement program for Black women, and took part in a virtual event in called “Sister to Sister: Mobilization in Action Program.”
Female voters, minorities, immigrant citizens, and the young college-educated form the bedrock of Democratic support in the U.S, even as older white voters have gravitated towards the Republican Party. Both sides are attempting to consolidate their support while nibbling away at the other’s base with targeted showmanship like he naturalization ceremony and voter mobilization drives.