New York (PTI): India-born former top federal prosecutor Preet Bharara has termed the growing incidents of hate crimes against Indian-Americans as “disturbing” and said the US’ long tradition of embracing immigrants from all over the world as its own is what makes “America great”.
“The US built a system of laws…that enshrines the right to equal opportunity and embodies the sacred American ideal that every child, even poor, orphaned or immigrant can rise higher than that child’s parents could ever have imagined,” he said.
“In that vein, some recent events have been especially painful and disturbing and deserve some focus. I’m speaking of the incidents recently where Indian-Americans appear to have been targeted in hate crimes,” Bharara said.
Bharara, 48, made his first public appearance yesterday since being unceremoniously removed by President Donald Trump last month as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He spoke for over an hour as he delivered The John Jay Iselin Memorial Lecture at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art here.
Bharara spoke about the shooting in Kansas of the 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed when 51-year-old US Navy veteran Adam Purinton opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani before yelling “get out of my country”. Purinton had assumed the two Indian men were “Middle Eastern”.
“That mindless murder along with other incidents have caused an unfortunate wave of alarm throughout India. There are reports that people are now afraid to visit the US even for a holiday. That breaks my heart.
“The people in the country of my birth now fear in large numbers coming to America – that country that embraced me and my family and has given us so much,” Bharara said.
He said there was a hopeful story in the tragedy of the Kansas shooting in the form of Ian Grillot, the young American who got injured as he tried to intervene and stop Purinton.
Bharara noted that Indian-Americans raised USD 100,000 for Grillot as a mark of their gratitude.
He quoted Grillot’s message of helping empower people and spreading hope and love, saying “that is the America we love and that is America we dont want to lose”.
“I do not know the future of immigration of this country…but I love America as much as anybody born here… I feel a deep debt for what I have been given,” said Bharara.
He said if these kind of ceremonies that embraced citizens from other nations become more rare “I think that would be tragic because events like that and what they represent and what they inspire – they make America great”.
Given the recent rhetoric over immigration, Bharara said there are distinctions being drawn between the future flow of legal and illegal immigration.
“But one needs to pay careful attention and watch and listen to what is really being said and what is not being said. Throughout history intolerant people have always figured out a way to make certain folks feel unwelcome,” Bharara said.
Reflecting on what serving as the US Attorney of New York has meant to him and his family, Bharara recalled the journey of his parents from Punjab to America in hope of a better future and life. His parents were among those present in the audience.
“For me having that position (US Attorney) meant a lot, particularly given where I came from and how I got here. I’m the son of a father who came from virtually nothing…with barely pennies in his pocket and hope in his heart as he arrived in America with a wife and infant son with an unpronounceable name who less than 40 years later somehow became the chief federal law enforcement officer in financial capital of the world,” Bharara said.
“And now even after being fired by a president, is improbably addressing an audience in a hall where Abraham Lincoln once spoke, which I think is not bad for a kid like me named Preet Bharara who hails from Punjab, India by way of Jersey,” he said.
Bharara said he would challenge anyone to name another country where foreigners from different homelands happily take the oath of allegiance to a country they were not born in.
“Only America welcomes every day populations of people like my mom and my dad who ate Biryani before they ate burger, who learnt cricket before they learnt baseball and who felt only limits before they felt freedom,” he said.
He added that one of his proudest moments as a US attorney was when he was asked to help swear 75 new US citizens.