15 Years Later: Transforming Our Demographic Power into Political Power

September 11, 2016
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran, lakshmi@saalt.org

It has been fifteen years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, fifteen years since South Asian Americans visibly joined the conversation on race in America, and fifteen years of policies that have stripped our communities of civil liberties. In the meantime, South Asian Americans have emerged as the fastest growing demographic group in the nation, at nearly 4.5 million strong. While September 11th galvanized engagement and mobilization in our communities and seeded multiple South Asian organizations across the country, there has been little progress toward stemming the tide of violence against our communities. According to FBI hate crimes statistics released last year, anti-Muslim crimes are the only category to see an increase. For the first time this year, we will be able to see the results of the FBI finally adding categories for hate crimes committed against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus. Even this data will only tell a fraction of the story: reporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement is not mandatory. Federal government estimates indicate that the actual number of hate crimes committed against Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities is likely 25 to 40 percent higher than what the FBI reports.

In response to the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino last year and the ensuing backlash against our communities, SAALT created an online database to track incidents of hate violence and speech targeting South Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities and individuals. In just eight months, we have already documented nearly 100 incidents of hate violence and almost 70 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric targeting our communities. This is particularly troubling given our 2014 report, “Under Suspicion, Under Attack” captured 76 incidents of hate violence and 78 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric, overwhelmingly motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, in a three-year period. In that report, we also found that over two-thirds of the rhetoric came from leaders at the national level. The current rhetoric of white supremacy underpinned by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment has made the 2016 election year uglier than ever. These sentiments are not merely words alone; they are borne out in a number of policies that reinforce those messages by painting our communities as un-American and disloyal, which have very real consequences in our communities. The sharp rise in both xenophobic political rhetoric and hate violence create an increasingly hostile climate for our communities that make us all vulnerable.

On the other side of this equation, we have seen the massive growth of a racial profiling and surveillance infrastructure by our government that singularly targets Muslim American communities in the name of national security. Our communities see a mixed message when the government’s policies make us the targets of racial and religious profiling even as we face hate violence and ask law enforcement to keep us safe. The resulting and profound mistrust our communities have in government leads to hate crimes going underreported and creates a vicious cycle of victimization. One case in point is the federal Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, which has burgeoned into a multi-pronged effort to spy on Muslim communities in their places of work, worship, recreation, and now even in schools through the ‘Don’t Be a Puppet Program’ in the name of identifying “radical extremism.” Rather than addressing the growing threat of white supremacy as perpetrators of violence, CVE narrowly focuses on Muslim American communities alone. The Southern Poverty Law Center has carefully documented the growth of white supremacist groups, including a troubling spike in 2015. CVE evokes the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program implemented immediately after September 11, 2001. Through NSEERS, more than 80,000 South Asian, Muslim, Arab, and Middle Eastern men were required to register with the federal government; thousands more were subjected to additional interrogation, detention, and deportation. The extensive, expensive, and misguided program did not result in a single terrorism-related conviction. The Department of Justice policy on the use of race by law enforcement greenlights profiling in the name of national and border security, reinforcing racial and religious profiling everyday in our neighborhoods, borders, and airports. No policy addresses the epidemic of police violence targeting the Black community, which is the foundation of racial profiling in this country. Finally, our immigration system continues to cast our communities as suspicious and disloyal. This year, Bangladeshi Muslim asylum seekers were confined, force-fed, and ultimately deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while their cases were still being appealed in immigration courts. Rather than being protected from political persecution in Bangladesh, these asylum seekers were denied their civil rights in the U.S. and returned home against their will, almost certain to face violence.

The political rhetoric is painful and dangerous, but the policies that are unfolding everyday in our communities are even more insidious. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the impact of these policies and the rising tide of hate violence will continue if we do not demand change now. We have come a long way in fifteen years because our communities are visible, vocal, and much more organized. The work ahead of us is about transforming our demographic power into political power. As our nation plans for a future with a majority people of color population, including South Asian Americans at the forefront of that growth, we must ensure our country’s founding principles apply equally across communities. Fifteen years after September 11th, liberty and justice for all remains a dream deferred for Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. On this Patriot Day, we are reminded that as a nation we can and must do better.

Supreme Court Splits, Time For Real Immigration Reform

June 23, 2016
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran, lakshmi@saalt.org

SAALT is profoundly disappointed that today’s Supreme Court 4-4 split in U.S. v. Texas failed to reach a decision on the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs, part of the President’s executive action on immigration issued in November 2014. The original DACA program announced in 2012 remains, and the Supreme Court ruling upheld a lower court ruling blocking the DAPA and expanded DACA programs. The prolonged and unnecessary legal challenge to these common-sense immigration programs comes at the expense of millions of immigrant youth and their families. As a result of today’s ruling, millions of immigrants, including 450,000 undocumented Indian Americans alone, cannot contribute to the economy and pursue their dreams. The only real solution is legislative change through Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Today, over four years since the implementation of the original DACA program, more than 728,000 out of an estimated 1.16 million eligible people have received DACA, allowing them to pursue higher education and employment without constant fear of deportation. Nearly 225,000 Indian and Pakistani individuals are eligible for DACA and DAPA. India ranks among the top ten origin countries with individuals eligible for DACA, and ranks third among individuals eligible for DAPA. At least 23,000 Indian and Pakistani youth are eligible for DACA and expanded DACA. At least 200,000 Indian and Pakistani individuals are eligible for DAPA. In April, SAALT stood with allies across the country at the Supreme Court during the oral arguments on this case to express our hopes for a ruling that would support the dreams of millions of immigrant families nationwide. That same day we released a video series featuring South Asians impacted by our broken immigration system illustrating just how much our community has at stake in ensuring DAPA and expanded DACA move forward.

“Executive action on the part of the President was necessary to move past a gridlocked Congress that refused to pass common-sense immigration reform legislation. Without this, millions of immigrants will not be eligible for the full benefits they deserve, like healthcare. Congress needs to do its job. Polls continue to show that a bipartisan majority of Americans support a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Today’s ruling is a catalyst for the next Congress to act and ensure that all immigrants have a path to the full benefits of citizenship and allow us to live up to our core values of fairness and opportunity,” said Suman Raghunathan, SAALT’s executive director.

In the meantime, we encourage individuals to continue applying for the existing DACA program, which was never under legal scrutiny, and should be fully utilized by those eligible. There are several actions the President can still take to provide relief for immigrants. Black Alliance for Just Immigration named five, including ending collaboration programs between ICE and local law enforcement. The case will return to the lower courts and we join our friends at National Immigration Law Center in urging the Department of Justice to seek a rehearing at the Supreme Court when a ninth justice, who should have already been in place, is finally confirmed.

SAALT Responds to Orlando Shooting

June 12, 2016
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran, lakshmi@saalt.org

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) joins the nation in mourning the victims of the deadly shooting in Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub. During the month of Ramadan and a month dedicated to uplifting and celebrating the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA) community, it is especially heartbreaking to mark the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history. We join our partners and allies, including the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD), the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), and SALGA-NYC in standing against the criminalization of entire communities in the face of this tragedy.

We take this time to honor our partnership with LGBTQIA communities to take on hate violence and domestic terrorism directed at our communities. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder to speak out, demand policy change, expect law enforcement to protect our communities, and lift up each other’s humanity. We cannot allow tragedy to divide our communities when solidarity is more important than ever. And, for everyone who stands at the intersection of Muslim and LGBTQIA identities, we offer you extra love and support. We see you and we stand with you.

LGBTQIA communities have been uniquely targeted for hate violence. Sexual orientation is the second highest bias motivating hate crimes, according to the latest FBI statistics. The media and politicians have already begun characterizing the Orlando shooter as a “terrorist” in the absence of any facts. The collective racist, Islamophobic, and homophobic rhetoric and sentiment from our leaders, gone largely unchecked, have created an environment that rationalizes backlash and it cannot continue. We will continue to fight against policies that justify profiling and surveillance of our communities that ultimately make us all unsafe. Please utilize this list of LGBT Muslims who can speak to media.

The Fight for Immigrant Rights Reaches Supreme Court

April 18, 2016
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran, lakshmi@saalt.org

The fight for immigrant rights reaches Supreme Court
Washington, D.C. — Today, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in U.S. v. Texas, a misguided and unnecessary challenge to eminently common-sense immigration programs that allow some aspiring Americans to remain with their families, continue contributing to the American economy, and pursue their dreams. An estimated 5.2 million immigrants, including at least 200,000 undocumented Indian Americans and countless more South Asians, are eligible for DAPA and expanded DACA announced under President Obama’s executive action on immigration in 2014. Both programs stand on rock-solid legal ground and would grant a fair chance at the quintessential American dream. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) joined an amicus brief led by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in support of these programs.


SAALT also joined thousands of others outside the Supreme Court this morning calling for these programs to move forward swiftly and keep families together. Rather than welcoming the hard work and real hopes and dreams of millions of immigrants, including almost four million who are the parents of U.S. citizen children, a Texas federal district court judge decided to block these programs over a year ago leading them to unfair legal scrutiny all the way up to the Supreme Court. DAPA alone is estimated to boost the American economy by $61 billion in just five years.

“DAPA and the expanded DACA programs are the latest in the long struggle for immigrant rights in this country that should have ended with comprehensive immigration reform legislation in Congress, which the Senate passed with bipartisan support in 2013,” said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “While Congress has been unable to advance a bill, we hope the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of these programs as a first step toward protecting millions from deportation, including thousands of undocumented South Asians. This occurs as South Asians are the fastest growing demographic in the country, totaling nearly 4.3 million strong as of 2013.”

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Disappoints Once Again Next stop: Supreme Court

November 10, 2015
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran,lakshmi@saalt.org

SAALT is outraged by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision last night to block the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs, key components of President Obama’s executive action on immigration issued last November. This follows the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in May to maintain the injunction on expanded DACA and DAPA issued by Judge Hanen of the Southern District Court of Texas in February.

“Once again, the implementation of these much needed programs that five million undocumented immigrants, including 200,000 Indian Americans and countless more South Asians, could benefit from has been delayed and possibly jeopardized altogether,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy at SAALT. “We are encouraged by the U.S. Department of Justice’s commitment to take this case before the Supreme Court. While it will be at least January of next year before the Supreme Court makes a decision on whether to take this case, we urge the Obama Administration to stem the tide of deportations in the meantime.”

“We continue to stand with immigrants who deserve the right to stop living in second-class status, attend college, work above the table for fair wages, and be reunited with their families,” said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “President Obama is fully within his legal authority to implement executive action on immigration, and it is essential these programs be permitted to proceed, especially due to Congress’ repeated failure to act on immigration.”

We hope this misguided decision does not discourage individuals from applying for the original DACA program that launched in 2012 and continues to be available. Over half a million young people have already benefited from DACA.

14 Years Later: Still Under Suspicion, Under Attack

Today, the 14th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11th, South Asians are the most rapidly growing demographic group in the country numbering over 4.3 million. Yet, as our communities continue to grow in new, unexpected, and longtime destinations, we are increasingly the targets of hate violence, suspicion, and surveillance. Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and those perceived as Muslim have borne the brunt of a continued post-9/11 backlash, reflected in policies that cast our communities as un-American, disloyal, and suspect. Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities were swiftly targeted for “special registration” through the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program just months after the events of September 11th. Through NSEERS, more than 80,000 men were required to register with the federal government; thousands more were subjected to additional interrogation, detention, and deportation. Nevertheless, this extensive and misguided program did not result in a single known terrorism-related conviction. A surveillance system first deployed against the Black Freedom Struggle, adapted for NSEERS, and then evolved to spy on Muslim communities through FBI mapping programs is now in the third stage of its evolution through the current Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, which single-mindedly focuses on Muslims to identify and crack down on violent extremism.  The same system continues full circle today to surveil  Black Lives Matter movement leaders.
The current political debate continues to poison and inform the national discourse about our communities and immigrant communities at large. SAALT captured this troubling dynamic in our September 2014 report, Under Suspicion, Under Attack,which tracked a nearly 40% increase in xenophobic political rhetoric from our previous 2010 report. Furthermore, over 90% of these comments were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.  Some of the most egregious political rhetoric from presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, among others has currently labeled immigrants as “illegals” and “anchor babies.”  This wholesale and unacceptable language implies some do not have the right to be in the United States, the quintessential nation of immigrants.
Fourteen years after increasingly xenophobic political rhetoric and misguided federal policies painted our communities as disloyal, monolithic, and suspicious with no results, Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities appear to increasingly be the targets of hate violence. SAALT’s report, Under Suspicion, Under Attack, also documented 76 incidents of hate violence against our communities from January 2011 through April 2014. Over 80% of these incidents were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. In fact, the most recent FBI hate crime statistics released last year show that anti-Islamic hate crimes are at their highest since 2001. 2015 has seen a wave of violent incidents aimed at Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. In February,three Arab Muslim students at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill were gunned down execution-style, apparently due to their religion. Later that month, a  Pakistani Muslim man and father of three in Kentucky was shot and killed in his car after dropping his daughter off at school. This week a Sikh man in Chicago was approached by another driver who yelled “terrorist go back to your country” and violently beat him in his own car, requiring hospitalization. And we cannot forget when a known white supremacist walked into a Sikh house of worship, or gurdwara, and shot and killed six Sikh community members in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012. Earlier this year a vicious and deadly attack by a white supremacist in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine Black community members dead. We join other communities of color to address the growing threat of white supremacy that has burgeoned nationwide. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of white supremacist groups in the United States has grown over 54% from 2000 to 2014.
Now more than ever, South Asian communities need and deserve trust with law enforcement at multiple levels as we grow in number and continue to be targets of violence. In response, SAALT developed a proposal and successfully advocated for the creation of the White House Interagency Task Force on Hate Violence last year. We are working to ensure the task force focuses on the unique barriers our communities face with law enforcement to report and prevent hate crimes, particularly after the revised Department of Justice Profiling Guidance was released last year, including exemptions for national security, border security, and state and local law enforcement. We have seen what happens when our communities are victimized rather than protected by law enforcement: earlier this year Sureshbhai Patel, an Indian grandfather in Madison, Alabama, was beaten to the point of partial paralysis by a local police officer in his son’s neighborhood. He was mistaken for Black, recognized later as a South Asian immigrant with limited English ability, and ultimately brutalized by law enforcement.
To truly realize our values as a nation, everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law. Our communities deserve to know their rights, feel empowered to report hate violence, address xenophobic political rhetoric that will certainly surge further in this election cycle, and build meaningful relationships with government and law enforcement. In order for our communities to flourish as we grow, we must advance policies that uphold our core American values of diversity, inclusion, equal rights, and protection for all.

SAALT Honors the Victims of Oak Creek Calls for Policy Change

August 5, 2015
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran, lakshmi@saalt.org

Three years ago today on August 5, 2012 a known white supremacist murdered six Sikh-Americans at their Gurdwara or place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. SAALT continues to mourn and honor the victims: Suveg Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Ranjit Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh. This past weekend, the Oak Creek community came together along with hundreds from around the country for the annual Chardi Kala 6K Run/Walk in the spirit of hope and relentless optimism.

Oak Creek was a tragedy – not only for South Asian and Sikh American communities, but for the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, what happened that day is becoming less of an anomaly due to a number of reasons: South Asians are the most rapidly growing demographic group in the country settling in new destination communities. And, unrelenting hate violence continues to target South Asians and communities of color at large.

In the last six months alone, there have been violent incidents targeting Hindu, Arab, and Sikh communities in New Jersey, North Carolina, and California, respectively. Current policies do not allow for such incidents to be easily categorized as hate crimes. This must change. These events are also part of an alarming trend of white supremacist activity, further illustrated by the deadly shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston in June followed by a wave of arsons at Black churches in the South. Communities of color are increasingly facing a common threat of violence from white supremacy, even as our nation grows more racially and ethnically diverse. In a 2011 study, PolicyLink estimated that the United States will be majority people of color by the year 2040.

Sadly, this growth is paired with a current political debate that is increasingly characterized by political rhetoric that paints our communities as disloyal, suspicious, and un-American. SAALT’s report Under Suspicion, Under Attack, released last September documented 78 instances of xenophobic political speech over a three-year period spanning 2011-2014, of which nearly two-thirds occurred at the national level.

We can only expect the debate to get worse this election cycle. GOP presidential contender Donald Trump has already described Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers.” Republicans in Congress continue to push an anti-sanctuary cities bill that will undermine relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities. We have also seen the Countering Violent Extremism program emerge from federal government this year that disproportionately focuses on Muslim communities and not enough on the real threats of white supremacy and domestic terrorism.

But, our communities continue to push for change. The Oak Creek shooting helped drive a critical change in the FBI hate crimes reporting protocol this year. For the first time, there are now categories for crimes motivated by anti-Sikh, Hindu and Arab sentiment. The White House also created a high-level Interagency Task Force last year focused on addressing hate violence nationwide.

However, it is critical that there are strong hate crime policies at the state and local level, which is where the relationships between local residents, community-based organizations, and law enforcement are most important. The mayor of Oak Creek coordinated his city staff, police, and fire departments to develop a model first response municipal policy after the shooting. The Arab American Association of New York and others successfully advocated for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office to establish a unit dedicated to investigating hate crimes last year. This is the kind of infrastructure that all communities need to address and hopefully prevent hate violence.

In the spirit of Chardi Kala or relentless optimism, we honor the victims of that tragic day three years ago and stand with our 51 community partners nationwide to help stem the tide of relentless violence targeted at our communities and all communities of color.