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IAFPE Internship Event Discusses Current Political Issues

Lee Eriksen Mohapatra

Local political leaders recently met with members of the Indian American Forum for Political Education to discuss political issues ranging from immigration to lobbying and to mark its flagship summer internship program.

The internship program, now in its 13th year, allows Indian American students to work for legislators at the state and national level or at nonprofit political organizations. It aims to rally Indians to play a bigger role in American civic society, starting with the younger generation, most of which was raised in the U.S.

Ravi Sakhuja; Lexington town meeting member, president of the Forum’s New England chapter  and the Forum’s newly elected national president; said 120 students have interned in political offices since the program was created in 1994.

Sakhuja said past interns should stay involved with the Forum by participating in community projects and sharing their experiences with new interns. He lauded Shilpa Phadke, a past intern who, after working in U.S. Representative Marty Meehan’s (D-Mass.) Washington D.C. office for several years, is still actively involved with the Forum.

A group of students who were Forum interns in 2005, interviewed by Internship Coordinator Lee Mohapatra, discussed their experiences working in various political offices last summer.

State Representative Jay Kauffman (D-Lexington) commended the Forum’s efforts and said he was supporting a measure at the state level that would improve civics training and citizen preparation in public schools.

“Unless young citizens are going out and participating in democracy, our public education system has failed,” he said.

Kauffman called the Forum’s internship program a “simple but powerful idea” and said he “couldn’t ever imagine a summer without an intern” in his office.

State Senator Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge), whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, encouraged the audience to take a stand on national immigration policies. He poked holes in the current debate, saying the argument is simplistic and two-faced.

“We tolerate illegal immigration because it benefits us,” Barrios said, “but we don’t tolerate illegal immigrants.”

According to Barrios, some politicians create an atmosphere of fear and anger by making a distinction between immigrants who have established themselves in American life for many decades and new immigrants who entered the country recently. At the national and state level, “we need people to grow our economy,” he said.

From the politicians to the audience, and from the older members of the Forum to the interns, the message of the day was one of political engagement.

Erin Boles, a lobbyist, discussed her role in the political system and tried to dispel myths about her profession. Lobbyists try to enact change by educating and befriending legislators, she said.

Boles said fundraising is a crucial part of the system, because it gives people access to legislators and lets them express their beliefs. “It’s not such a dirty process,” she said.

“If you don’t like a law, change it,” she added, echoing numerous other activists.

Lobbyist and Forum member Ramesh Kapoor talked about the pending Senate bill that would create a strategic nuclear relationship between India and the United States, saying it would not only bolster relations between the two countries, but would also be a gateway for Indians living in the US. If Indian soldiers start fighting alongside American troops, “your image will go up,” he told the audience.

Kapoor aimed his message at the younger Forum members, telling them they should try to run for office and make a difference.

The 2006 Internship committee consisted of Satish Dhingra, Lee Mohapatra Shilpa Padke, Anil Saigal, Ravi Sakhuja and Anupam Wali .

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