Goodbye SAALT…

As I end my internship here at SAALT I would like to start off by thanking Deepa, Aaditi, Priya and Mou for one of the best internship experiences possible. Not only were they great supervisors but they were also great mentors.

I started my internship here at SAALT not really understanding what issues faced South Asians in America. For me, a relatively sheltered Indian who grew up in Tucson, Arizona all Desis are pretty much doctors or engineers. But after getting into this internship and being exposed to varying facets of the South Asian community, I have come to realize that there are serious problems that affect the South Asian community that deserve our time and attention, whether it be based around Immigration Reform or Hate Crimes.

During my internship here at SAALT, I was fortunate enough to take part in the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) Collegiate Conference, attend various Hill briefings and help to put on in person training sessions for various women led non profits. I have gained a thorough understanding of what it takes to run a small but influential nonprofit, the skills needed to multitask with about 10 different deadlines looming overhead, and finally the patience needed to understand that change does not happen overnight.

So I would like to end by thanking SAALT for a great 9 weeks and wishing them luck with all future endeavors!

-Ashley

Daily Buzz 7.21.2009

1.) Pakistani American Elders Urged To Prepare For Recession Challenges

2.) Secretary of State Clinton Urges Stronger U.S.-India Ties

3.) Op-Ed: Arab Americans and the Upcoming Census

4.) Thinking About Domestic Abuse: Chris Brown Apologizes, But Wont Say For What…

5.) Mindy Kaling of The Office: “Living Alone Is Hard”

Death in Detention: Tanveer Ahmad

Here’s a case for you to ponder about. When you first read it, you might not think it that sympathetic. But, by the time you read the end of this post, maybe you’ll change your mind.

The New York Times recently reported on the story of Tanveer Ahmad. He came to New York City from Pakistan on a visitor’s visa. In 1997, he was arrested for possessing an unlicensed gun. He married U.S. citizens and applied for marriage-based green cards to stay in this country. His wife was threatened with marriage fraud allegations by the government. Immigration authorities later caught him in 2005 for overstaying his visa and detained him because of his gun offense. A few weeks later, he died in detention in New Jersey.

At first blush, you might be thinking, “Hey, the government should be going after these criminals! Why should I care that he got locked up and happened to die?” After all, the latest buzz word within immigration enforcement circles is to go after “criminal aliens”, right? But dig a little deeper into the facts – things aren’t quite that cut and dry.

What’s the most shocking about this case? Is it that Mr. Ahmad showed his gun while preventing a robbery at the gas station where he worked the night shift and that had been held up 7 times in about a month? Is it that following 9/11 his U.S. citizen’s wife’s friends said, “You better watch it. You may be married to a terrorist,” causing him to always watch his back? Is it that he was detained nearly 10 years after his offense even though he paid the requisite $200 fine for the misdemeanor? Is it that his arrest was considered a “collateral apprehension in Operation Secure Commute” as part of the government’s sweep of immigrants overstaying visas following the 2005 terrorist attacks in London? Or is it that when he suffered a heart attack in detention, the jail guard reportedly blocked medical attention for one hour, even after the jail received numerous previous complaints about detainee abuse and neglect?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. But remember that our immigration and detention policies can change to become more humane. In fact, there is a bill in Congress known as the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 1215) proposed by Congresswoman Roybal-Allard of California that would codify detention standards and improve medical care for immigrant detainees.  In my mind, such a case should not have come to this, but, sadly, it did. And we can let Congress know that through policy reform, hopefully, they won’t happen again.

(Check out this previous article in the NYT on this story, too.)

Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no other way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immigration. The Senate, through recent amendment votes, put their stamp on policies that focus on prioritizing enforcement rather than just and humane solutions to fix the broken immigration system.

Below is a quick round-up of legislative activity of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these policies will definitely have a negative impact on the South Asian community … in ways that you may not expect. Prioritizing enforcement means that hardworking undocumented immigrants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indians alone made up the 10th largest undocumented population in the U.S. in 2008) will be further relegated to the shadows out of fear of apprehension by immigration authorities. But it also means that many lawfully present immigrants may inadvertently also be caught up in the web of enforcement. Take a look for yourself; the impact may surprise you …

During debates on the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (which is basically legislation that allows the government to spend money with regard to the Department of Homeland Security), several anti-immigrant amendments passed, including:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amendment passed preventing funds from being used to rescind the much criticized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of background, letters are sent by the Social Security Administration to employers when Social Security numbers provided by employees do not match government databases. Under the rule, immigration authorities could use these letters as evidence than an employer should have known than an employee is not authorized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in theory. But, how good can it be when the databases used are know to be inaccurate and could net a range of workers, regardless of status? Or when a federal court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Department of Homeland Security itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It doesn’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E-Verify is a pilot employment verification system that certain employers use to check the work authorization of their workers. Again, this might sound good to you in theory, but one major problem with the program is that it relies upon databases with unacceptably high error rates. (Wanna know more? Check out this resource by the National Immigration Law Center for more info on what’s wrong with the program.) Instead of pausing for a moment and assessing the problems that exist within its databases, the Senate instead passed an amendment making the program permanent for all federal contractors; in addition, they mandated that all employers currently employing E-Verify to use it on ALL employees, no matter when they started. Can you imagine working for a company for over 20 years – even if you have work authorization – and your name somehow pops up as being ineligible due to database errors or name mix-ups and then you face possibly losing your job all because of this? It’s a frightening prospect.
In these difficult economic times, South Asians – like all other Americans – fear losing their jobs and have difficulty getting by. If flawed programs like the SSA No-Match Letters and E-Verify are left unchanged, South Asian workers stand to lose, regardless of immigration status. Measures that not only hurt immigrants, but also the economy, don’t make sense – call your members of Congress and urge them to support just and humane immigration reform rather than settling for obstacles towards real solutions.

Intro to ISNA

This past July 4th weekend, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) hosted its 46th Annual Convention in DC, fittingly named “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It was my first ISNA experience, and I was in awe of the huge crowd. Thousands of people were in attendance as various speakers and panelists discussed topics relevant to the modern American Muslim. Many of those informative sessions were geared towards young people, as part of the MSA National and MYNA portions of the convention. While there was definitely a strong interest in the ISNA Matrimonials event, many attendees were drawn to the DC Convention Center by the dynamic speakers and the variety of goods and art available at the Bazaar.

It was exciting to see the number of Muslims who came to DC for the event, and I was particularly impressed by the number of South Asians I observed attending the convention. Throngs of desis could be found in Chinatown restaurants, out on DC streets, and strolling the National Mall. My own cousins came to DC for the first time from California and Oklahoma specifically for ISNA weekend, and they were surprised by the number of South Asians in DC. So was I! While there are many South Asians living and working in and near the District, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before. ISNA had a strong pull for our community, with sessions geared specifically towards South Asian Muslims, featuring South Asian speakers or moderated by South Asians, as well as many, many bazaar stalls that were put up by South Asian small business owners and artists.

I liked that there were networking events, such as the Muslim Lawyers networking social that I attended Friday night, and info sessions, such as the one about getting jobs at federal agencies, that involved Muslims helping other Muslims. Not surprisingly, many of the faces at both those events were South Asian. It’s great to see people in the community taking interest in mentoring others!

Helping ICE Doesn’t Mean They Won’t Turn Around and Deport You Anyway

Thanks to RaceWire, where I found the following story: A Pakistani man had overstayed his visa when he was contacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who enlisted his help in gathering evidence against a paralegal filing false immigration claims. In exchange, they promised to help him stay in the country and possibly get a green card. The paralegal was eventually indicted, I’m sure in no small part due to his efforts. He then went on to help ICE agents gather information about terrorism-related activities at a local mosque. How does ICE repay him? Giving him false information about his deportation order and, now, readying itself to deport the man who had helped them.

Taken with recent revelations about law enforcement initiatives to place informants at American mosques, and the resulting betrayal of trust for the American Muslim community, this story shows the complicated relationships between national security, immigration and the American Muslim community. American Muslim organizations have repeatedly stated that it is important for law enforcement agencies to build relationships with the community in an open and honest manner. Moreover, the community is committed, like all other communities, to contributing to a strong and vibrant American society that affirms principles like religious freedom and equality before the law. To see someone who went out of their way to help ICE agents, no matter how questionable the activities, abandoned by the agency and facing deportation puts a human face to how this truly complicated system is failing people.

Read the whole story here.

Read the Islamic Circle of North America’s statement opposing FBI informants (you have to scroll down past the first statement).

New Jersey SAALT Circle volunteers with Habitat for Humanity

I’ll admit: I almost regretted it. You would, too, if you had to be up at 7AM on a Saturday morning for work.  What was I thinking to schedule a service project so early in the AM?

It wasn’t long before my spirit rose – I was greeted by three car fulls of smiling ready-to-work-hard volunteers.  And what a diverse group it was! South Asian, African American, Muslim, Hindu, Christian – all coming together for the common cause of helping those in need.  This was definitely worth the early rising.

Every month, the New Jersey SAALT Circle conducts a community service project – last month, we helped pack lunches and grocery bags for a local food pantry.  This month, we worked in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County to assist in the building of two homes in Jersey City.  When we first showed up at the build, the site coordinator was so overwhelmed by how many of us came, he almost turned us away!  But he soon had a change of heart and we were all put to work.

We sanded down walls. We painted ceilings. We primed walls.  We swept away piles of dust and debris (If you’re looking to tone those arms, forget the gym – sign up for a habitat build and you’ll be in shape in no time!).  There’s something so satisfying about working with your hands and actually being able to see the impact of your hard work.  It was a great experience – and although it was most certainly a physically challenging activity, I’m pretty sure that we all came away with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Thanks to all that dedicated their Saturday to service – we truly appreciated your hard work, and look forward to having you help out in upcoming service projects!

If you’d like to get involved with the New Jersey SAALT Circle, email me at qudsia@saalt.org or call (201) 850-3333.