Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NPR correspondent says her own family's story challenges the notion of the model immigrant

NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani
Parker Miles Blohm
NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani

Because Aarti Shahani is a South Asian covering the tech industry for NPR, she says people assume she’s a model immigrant from a well-to-do family. But in her new book, “Here We Are, American Dreams, American Nightmares,” she challenges the notion of the so-called “good immigrant."

Shahani writes about moving from Casablanca to the United States in the 1980s with her parents, who were originally from India. The family was undocumented and struggled to make ends meet. Eventually, a relative sponsored them and they all became lawful permanent residents on the path to citizenship. 

Shahani says for a while it looked like their fortunes were rising. But then her father and uncle were arrested and charged with money laundering. They owned an electronics store in New York and had unknowingly sold goods to the Cali, Colombia drug cartel.

On the recommendation of their attorney, they pleaded guilty and received eight month sentences.  But, Shahani says, her family soon learned what the ramifications of that plea were when they were told her father and uncle would face deportation. It upended her life.

"I stopped going to college and I basically rolled up my sleeves in an effort to keep my family here together in the U.S.," Shahani told KNKX.

She said the notion that her father would be considered a "bad" immigrant who should be kicked out of the country, while she was seen as a so-called "good" immigrant who could stay shows how wrong those labels are. Everyone in the family, she said, was striving to achieve the American dream and her father was a legal permanent resident who had served out his sentence. 

Listen to the interview with Aarti Shahani above. 

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.