American Sikh Congressional Caucus
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, April 26, 2013 | 02:13 am
At the launch of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus on April 24: Pritpal Singh, coordinator of the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, spearheaded the caucus effort, David Valadao (R-Central Valley, California), co-chairman of the caucus, and Judy Chu (D-Pasadena, Californai), co-chairwoman of the caucus.
Photo Source: Sikh News Network
Reporting from Capitol Hill - The American Sikh Congressional Caucus launched Wednesday with 28 founding members from the US House of Representatives who will be a voice for Sikhs and will address Sikh issues in this country.
“American Sikhs have contributed to the strength and diversity for over 130 years,” said Judy Chu, co-chairwoman of the caucus, and a Democrat whose California district includes Pasadena. “But today, American Sikhs face unique challenges.”
The caucus’s first priority is educating Congress, said David Valadao, co-chairman of the caucus, and a Republican whose California district includes Central Valley.
“We believe there are so many Congress members that do not know what is going on with Sikh Americans and just how enormous the issues are on so many different fronts,” he said.
Twenty-one Democrats and 7 Republicans, more than half from California, pledged to work on Sikh issues in the US, including hate-crime data collection, school bullying, employment discrimination, profiling by airport security and enlisting in the armed forces.
“Our focus is really on what is happening domestically,” Chu said, when asked about international Sikh issues. “There are so many issues that are happening to Sikh Americans in the United States.”
About 30 representatives of nearly all national Sikh organizations - including United Sikhs, the Sikh Coalition, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Sikhs For Justice - gathered with caucus members and their staff on April 24 at the Cannon House Building for a news conference announcing the caucus.
This was the vision of many individuals and organizations that have wanted to form this caucus for many years, said Harpreet Singh Sandhu, a political activist from Richmond, California.
One of the biggest hurdles was using the word ‘Sikh’ in the name. Because separation of church and state, using the word ‘Sikh’ implies that the Congress members are supporting a religion. But, after researching other caucuses, Harpreet Singh found one called the Latino-Jewish Congressional Caucus.
The Committee on House Administration, which registers caucuses, recommended the name ‘American Sikh Congressional Issues Caucus’ to avoid the conflict of interest. But he pushed the committee to consider ‘Sikh’ as an ethnicity, just as it could consider ‘Jewish’ as an ethnicity.
“(This) is not a religious caucus, it is that of the ethnicity of the Sikhs and the things that concern them,” Harpreet Singh said.
It did not take long after that to set a launch date, March 14, the Sikh New Year. But that was suddenly postponed a couple of days ahead of the launch date to garner more support from Congress members and to resolve issues on the involvement of SAALT, a South Asian organization.
Chu was the only known member of the caucus at that time. But about a month later, the caucus had 28 bi-partisan members. And SAALT was given a less prominent role.
The national Sikh American groups, especially those active in Washington, brought to the caucus members of Congress with whom they have closely worked, Chu told SikhNN.
“The timing wasn’t (right then) but today it was good timing, in the month of Baisakhi, when we are celebrating the birth of Sikhism along with the caucus,” Harpreet Singh told SikhNN. “With this caucus we’ll be able to address the issues of the Sikhs and educate and formulate many of the policies… We want to be able to serve this nation in our saroop, and that’s something that is wonderful that this caucus will take upon itself.”
“We want to make sure that all the national Sikh American groups participate or any of the local groups, that they all participate and that they see us as a conduit for us to affect policy in our government,” Chu said. “But if you want to talk to us directly, please feel free to contact us.”
Seven of the 28 caucus-members came to speak at the news conference.
“Following the attacks on Sept. 11, many Sikhs have been incorrectly stereotyped, Valadao said. “They have had to deal with bullying, discrimination and bias-motivated violence by individuals who incorrectly associated them with terrorist attacks on our country.”
Valadao’s district is home to more than 25,000 Sikhs, the largest population in the United States, and includes at least seven gurdwaras and the largest collection of Punjabi books in one of its public libraries.
John Garamendi, a Democrat whose California district includes Yuba City, said he had been working with Sikhs for nearly 40 years, calling them “very, very fine citizens of the community.”
Last month, Garamendi helped form a coalition of more than 100 members of Congress to encourage the FBI to track hate crimes against Sikh, Hindu, and Arab-Americans, according to his news release. The FBI’s decision is expected in June.
“With all the problems that have been described by the co-chairs, it’s real,” he said. “It’s very real in our district, it’s very real across America. We intend to address all that.”