In the aftermath of the deadly Kansas shooting of Indian-born engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an immigration reform advocacy website that features photos and a video of Indian families relaxing in suburban Columbus, Ohio, has Indian immigrant communities across the country worried, with some unwilling to travel outside the towns where they live.
The site, SaveAmericanITJobs.org, argues that immigrants in the US on work visas are a threat to US tech jobs. Created and maintained by a 66-year-old computer programmer from Virginia named Steve Pushor, it has been circulating on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and email all week.
“What we're trying to point out is people in Ohio, IT workers and other professional people, have lost their jobs to foreign guest workers. That's what our point is,” Pushor told BuzzFeed News. Pushor, who said he saw a spike in web traffic after Kuchibhotla’s shooting, says he doesn’t want Indians currently living in the United States to leave the country, and doesn’t advocate violence.
Bhavin Bavalia, an American-born IT professional and the son of Indian immigrants, said he first came across the site when a friend shared it on Facebook “It’s very scary for me knowing that I have a lot of family in these small Indian communities,” he said. “To think that there could be some weirdo filming my cousin’s kids as they’re playing at the park, and possibly fomenting resentment towards them, is just disturbing.”
The content on SaveAmericanITJobs.org ranges from a post on the “real life story of a highly skilled IT professional and his ordeal of job loss at Pacific Gas and Electric Company by an H-1B from India” to criticism of “Indian companies” and an “Indian IT mafia” that “have ignored or shoved aside American IT professionals for years.” But it’s a PDF entitled “Ohio - A Journey To Indian Park” and an accompanying video that the Indian tech workers with whom BuzzFeed News spoke found most troubling.
In the video, Pushor’s camera pans over people playing volleyball and children riding bikes, he narrates what he sees: “The number of people from foreign countries blows my mind out here. You see this whole area is all Indian, amazing. It's an amazing number of jobs have been taken away from Americans. The Indian crowd has ravished the Midwest. It's crazy.”
Pushor initially posted this video and the accompanying document — which decries India as a "hell hole" and mourns the loss of “Normal Rockwell white people" in the US — in August, when it generated some early discussion on Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube. It’s surfaced again in recent days, shared in private networks and on social media among Indian immigrants and their families. Kalpesh Kapadia, the Indian-born CEO of a California startup called SelfScore, said Pushor’s website was the subject of discussion this week in at least five different WhatsApp groups.
“This is spooking people, combined with the Kansas murder,” he told BuzzFeed News.
Pramod Buravalli, the India-born CEO of a Houston IT firm, hosts a weekly podcast on Indian-American issues; he says his listeners have been asking whether their families are safe in the US, or whether they should go back to India. “They think maybe going to local bars is a no-no,” Buravalli said.
Many people, including New York-based Indian-American startup founder Anil Dash, said watching Pushor’s video in light of the Kansas shooting made them worried for safety of their children. “He’s, like, following people who are just at a playground in their neighborhood, and their kids are there. I’m a dad. I have a kid. We play in public playgrounds,” Dash said. “This idea that someone's going to surveil you and creepily videotape your family is kind of terrifying.”
An Indian-born engineer who lives in Texas, and asked to remain anonymous out of concern that he or his family would be targeted, sounded a similar note of concern. “I have a 5-month-old, and I definitely would not go around new places with him,” he said. “We were talking among friends that we shouldn't probably travel outside Austin unless we really need to.”
Pushor described the tone of his posts about Ohio as “satire” and pointed to other documents on the site, including an interview with an anonymous Indian tech worker living in California. “To say our video and our document ... is going to make such an impact on their lives is a big stretch."
On his website, Pushor lists three organizations — the IEEE-USA, NumbersUSA, and Protecting US Workers — as “other advocates” in the immigration space. Reached for comment by BuzzFeed News, all three of those organizations said they were unfamiliar with Pushor, and declined to endorse his site.
Russell Harrison is a spokesperson for the IEEE, an engineering tech trade group that he described as “pro-immigrant” but in favor of reforming the work visa program. “They’re going further than they should probably go,” Harrison said of Pushor’s site. “We don’t believe the individuals trapped on the H-1B are doing anything wrong.”
Harrison said he saw a spike in public concern about work visa fraud following allegations that Disney had fired American workers and replaced them with lower-paid immigrants. It was around the same time that Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, called the skilled visa program “very, very bad for workers” and said we “shouldn’t have it.”
Tech companies, many of which rely heavily on the labor of high-skilled immigrants, came out definitively in opposition to President Trump's early attempts to restrict immigration.
Indian immigrants in tech were therefore understandably anxious about Trump. The president has since backtracked on work visas; he’s yet to sign an executive order aimed at throttling the skilled visa program, and he met with Indian business leaders in DC earlier this week. But his failure to immediately speak out against Kuchibhotla’s killing raised the ire of the Indian immigrant community.
While Trump condemned Kuchibhotla’s murder in his Tuesday speech to Congress, his five-day delay in addressing it frustrated some in the US Indian community. "It felt like too little, far too late," remarked Dash, who said he's concerned by the Trump administration's failure to address hate crimes head on. Of particular concern to him, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s 2015 comments that seemed to suggest a proliferation of Asian tech CEOs in Silicon Valley is in opposition to a “civic society.”
“I am 100% convinced we’ll see more incidents,” Dash said, referring to the Kansas shooting. “The thing I’m hearing from folks across the country is, it’s a much more hostile environment than even after 9/11.”
Kapadia, who has lived in the US for past 22 years, echoed that sentiment, saying xenophobia wasn't much of a concern for him until recently. He's unsettled by some of the aggressive rhetoric around immigration. He hopes Trump will take a consistent and firm stand against the kind of hate that claimed Kuchibhotla's life and fears that if he doesn't, more incidents could follow.
“As the leader of the country, you say things, and people take it to the extreme,” Kapadia said. “… People feel that they have the freedom to discriminate.”