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.

To brand, or not to brand? — Addressing the MTA’s “turban-branding” policy

Four years ago, Sikh transit workers in New York City decided that enough was enough. In response to a “turban-branding” policy that required workers, both Sikh and Muslim, to brand their turbans with the Metroplitan Transit Authority (MTA) logo, Sikh transit workers called on the MTA to end this policy, deeming it an act of religious discrimination.

Furthermore, in 2005, the Department of Justice found that, over the course of three days, there had been two hundred cases of MTA employees wearing some form of headdress without the logo, including Yankees hats, yaarmulkes, and a number of winter hats in fact issued by the MTA. The Department of Justice consequently filed a discrimination suit against the MTA. Yet for years, this issue has been placed on the back burner by city officials.

On Tuesday of last week, a majority of the New York City Council finally spoke out against the “turban-branding” policy. Council Member Tony Avella said, “It’s time for the City Council to take action on this matter, and it’s long overdue that the MTA end religious discrimination.  Enough is enough.”

While this issue is being addressed for a small number of Sikhs in New York, it still speaks to a greater issue that many South Asian and Arab individuals in the US face on a day-to-day basis. Even today, the concept of religious wear is quite foreign to American culture. Many do not realize that a turban, hijab, or any type of religious wear is representative of an individual’s spiritual life, and is therefore a very personal and private entity. Like any article of faith, it is not something that can just be set aside for appearance’s sake, never mind branded with a corporate logo.

The lawsuit against the MTA has yet to be resolved, and we are hoping for an end to this discriminatory policy. In the meantime, it is important to keep this in a wider context and recognize that if this lawsuit goes through, it is a small step in a long journey to addressing discrimination against Sikhs and Muslims in the United States.

Facts and quotes from: New York City Council Majority Demands End to MTA’s “Turban-branding” Policy from the The Sikh Coalition (June 18, 2009)

SAALT Policy Connection (May 2009)

SAALT top bar

SAALT Policy Connection  (May 2009)

In This Issue

Immigration Policies

Hate Crimes Legislation Passes House!

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

At the Table: Meetings with Policymakers

Community Resource: Race and Recession

Support SAALT!

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the full and equal civic and political participation of South Asians in the United States. SAALT is the coordinating entity of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 36 organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of the South Asian community across the country.

The SAALT Policy Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on current policy issues. To learn more about SAALT’s policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org.

Immigration: Policies from the Administration and Congress

Federal policymakers are continuing to consider immigration policies that will affect South Asian community members. With over 75% of the community born outside of the U.S., South Asians possess a range of immigration statuses, including temporary workers, green card holders, asylum-seekers, dependent visaholders, and undocumented immigrants. Any changes in immigration policies will affect the South Asian community. In order to promote the full integration of South Asians into this country’s economy and society, just and humane immigration reform is necessary.

The Administration:

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration made various statements and instituted several policies relating to immigration:

  • In April, Administration officials stated its commitment to immigration reform, including legalization of nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants during 2009.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that DHS will prioritize enforcement raids and prosecutions on abusive employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. However, worksite raids may still continue which impact the lives of many immigrants working in various sectors of the economy.
  • During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, DHS Secretary Napolitano stated her commitment to review profiling and searches of electronic devices at the border that have affected many Muslims and South Asians returning from trips abroad, as documented in recent reports by the Asian Law Caucus and Muslim Advocates.
  • DHS has continued and expanded implementation of a troubling enforcement program, “Secure Communities” that would allow immigration status checks be conducted for individuals who are apprehended by local police at the time of arrest. It will also allow immigration authorities to place “detainers” (notification to immigration authorities prior to release from jail that can lead to detention). Such programs raise cause for concern given that checks may done, regardless of guilt or innocence, and further open the door for profiling. For more information about Secure Communities and the negative impact on immigrant communities, check out this factsheet by the National Immigration Law Center.

On June 8, President Obama will be meeting with various members of Congress to discuss immigration and immigrant rights advocates as well as community members will be looking to see what next steps may be decided following the meeting

Congress:

Congress has also recently re-focused its attention on finding solutions to address the broken immigration system:

  • Various Senators, including Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, have introduced the Reuniting Families Act. This bill strives to reduce family visa backlogs that keep many South Asians separated from loved ones abroad, by reclassifying spouses and children of green card holders as “immediate relatives”, raising per-country visa allocations, and allowing unused visas from previous years to be applied to the backlog. Community members are urged to contact their Senators to encourage them to support this bill.
  • In April and May, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, held hearings on immigration issues focused on border security policies and comprehensive immigration reform.
  • On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024), which would allow U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration. This bill would be a vital step towards countering discrimination that exists in the current immigration system against LGTBIQ South Asians in binational couples.
  • The DREAM Act, which would allow certain undocumented students to legalize their status if they attend college or join the military, has been introduced in the House and Senate.

Civil Rights: Hate Crimes Legislation Victory

South Asian community members often confront bias and discrimination in the form of hate crimes as a result of post-9/11 backlash, anti-immigrant sentiment, and xenophobia. In a recent victory in the movement towards preventing hate crimes and protecting its survivors, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) in May. This Act expands current federal hate crimes laws to include violence motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability. It would also provide greater resources to state and local law enforcement investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration and community members are urged to contact your Senators to encourage them to support this bill (S. 909).

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

Health care reform has jumped to the top of the agenda for Congress and the Obama Administration. The need for affordable coverage and linguistically and culturally accessible health care is vital for the South Asian community. In fact, approximately 20 percent of South Asians lack health coverage plans leaving affordable health care out of reach for many community members. In addition, linguistic and cultural barriers prevent many limited English proficient South Asians from being able to communicate effectively with health care professionals and obtain emergency assistance when needed. To get a background on health issues affecting South Asians, check out the health section of the National Action Agenda, a policy platform developed by the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, and a recent piece in SAMAR by Sapna Pandya and Pratik Saha of the South Asian Health Initiative at New York University.

President Obama has urged Congress to enact health care reform before the end of 2009 and convened a White House Forum on Health Care Reform. To learn more about the White House’s commitment to health care reform, visit www.healthreform.gov. The Senate Finance Committee are expected to start working on a health care reform bill in mid-June.

Community Issues at the Table

As part of SAALT’s policy work, we participate in various meetings and briefings with governmental agencies and legislators at the local, state, and federal level to raise issues about policies that affect the South Asian community. During April and May, SAALT participated in the following meetings to convey the concerns of South Asians regarding various policy initiatives:

  • Roundtables with Various Government Agencies during South Asian Summit: Community members and representatives of South Asian organizations had an opportunity to dialogue with various government agencies at the South Asian Summit in late April. Participating agencies included the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Office on Violence Against Women. During these meetings, participants raised local issues of concern and learned about the agencies’ policy priorities for this year.
  • White House Religious Liaison Meeting: SAALT met with the Religious Liaison at the White House Office of Public Engagement in May to discuss and highlight issues of importance to faith-based communities. SAALT identified issues ranging from discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion to the need for greater funding and support for faith-based institutions at the meeting. For more information, please contact us at saalt@saalt.org.

Community Resource Spotlight: Race and the Recession

A new report from the Applied Research Center, “Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules” tells the stories of people of color who are disproportionately affected by the recession. It uncovers root causes of long-term racial inequrities that fed into the economic crisis and proposes structural solutions to change a system that threatens future generations. Read the report online and check out the “Race and Recession” video to learn more and take action.

Make A Donation to
Support SAALT’s Work Today!

We would like to welcome and thank those who donated to SAALT in May!

Are you a SAALT member yet?


If not, we urge you to become a member today. By becoming a SAALT member, you not only receive benefits (such as our annual newsletter and discounts at events and gatherings), but the satisfaction of being part of a national non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues facing South Asians in America.

Do you know someone who would be interested in learning about SAALT? Forward them this email by clicking here:

Forward this email


South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT in May: Community Events, New Faces, SAALT Speaks

SAALT top bar

SAALT Community Connection – May 2009

In This Issue

SAALT Speaks

New Faces in SAALT

Community Calendar

Be the Change

Summit Wrap-Up

Support SAALT in 2009!

The SAALT Community Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on community news and events. To learn more about SAALT’s community and policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

SAALT Speaks on First 100 Days, Immigration, and Citizenship

  • lavPriya Murthy, Policy Director, appeared as a guest on WPFW Pacifica Radio in April to discuss immigration and civil rights issues affecting South Asians.
  • Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, appeared as a guest on Beneath the Surface radio show on KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles, CA with Hamid Khan to discuss citizenship and immigration reform on April 23rd.
  • Deepa Iyer spoke on the Applied Research Center’s “Race in Review: First 100 Days” conference call on April 28th.
  • Lavanya Sithanandam, SAALT Board Member, appeared on “That Fresh Radio Piece” on May 18th on WMUC 88.1FM in College Park, MD to discuss the effects of recent immigration enforcement efforts and raids on the children she sees as a pediatrician in Takoma Park.

Upcoming:

  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at Georgia State University at the Immigration & Human Rights Symposium on June 17th, 2009.
  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at the “Know Your Community: A Discussion of Issues and Trends Affecting Asian Pacific Americans in Washington DC and Beyond” sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association – Washington DC on June 3rd.

New Faces at SAALT

SAALT welcomes Aaditi Dubale as the new SAALT Fellow! She will be working on Be the Change 2009, our National Day of Service, as well as supporting fundraising and development efforts. Aaditi can be reached at aaditi@saalt.org.

SAALT also welcomes our summer interns:

Ashley Vij from George Washington University
Niralee Shah from Williams College
Zara Haq from American University Washington College of Law

SAALT bids a fond farewell to Aparna Kothary, Fundraising and Development Assistant. Aparna’s work at SAALT advanced the development of an individual member base, helped us to identify new fundraising opportunities, and expanded Be the Change – our National Day of Service.

Community Calendar

BTC09May 30th – New Jersey SAALT Circle Service project
Join the SAALT Circle for a community service project with ‘The Sharing Place’, a food pantry at St. Pauls’ Lutheran Church in Jersey City.  We’ll be preparing, packing, and serving breakfast and lunch to the local community.  Come out and BE THE CHANGE!


The Sharing Place – St. Lutherans Church

440 Hoboken Avenue (five corners) in Jersey City, NJ


Please RSVP by May 26th at
qudsia@saalt.org. Space is limited – sign up now!

August 14th – August 16th: Transgress, Transform, Transcend – A National Conference of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Asian Americans, South Asians and Pacific Islanders (API)

University of Washington in Seattle, WA
Registration information is available online at: http://www.nqapia.org

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund presents The Asian American Vote 2008

During the 2008 Presidential Elections, 16,665 Asian American voters were surveyed as part of AALDEF’s national multilingual exit poll.  The exit poll was the largest nonpartisan survey of its kind in the nation and was conducted in twelve Asian languages and English across 39 cities in 11 states.  At these special presentations across the country, comparative information will be given about the Asian American vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections, concerns about key issues, first-time voters, and profiles of the Asian American vote by ethnicity, party enrollment, nativity, age, and English proficiency.  For more information or to attend any of these presentations, contact jyang@aaldef.org or call 800.966.5946, www.aaldef.org

  • June 8 at 12:30 PM – The Massachusetts Asian American Vote (Boston, MA)
  • June 8 at 5:30 PM (Lowell, MA)
  • June 11 at 6:30 PM – The Maryland Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Rockville, MD)
  • June 12 at 2:00PM – The Asian American Vote (multistate) (co-sponsored by SAALT)(Washington, DC)
  • June 17 and 18 at 6:30 PM- The Virginia Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Richmond, VA)
  • June 18 at 11:30 AM (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Annandale, VA)
  • August 8 (time TBA) – The Chinese American Vote (San Francisco, CA)

Check out events on SAALT’s Community Calendar.calendar

SAALT staff are available to speak at your student organization meetings, conferences, and community events on topics including immigrant rights, South Asians in America, civic engagement, and immigration. Please email us at saalt@saalt.org for more information.

Get Ready for Be the Change 2009 – National Day of Service!

BTC09What are you doing on Saturday, October 3rd?

1) Host a Be the Change event on your campus – If your campus traditionally hosts a Be the Change event or if you would like to start one on your campus, please fill out this form by May 30th and we will send you a planning guide and connect you to the national event.

2) Host a Be the Change event in your city– Join or start a planning team in your city. As a member of the planning team, you will be coordinating service events, recruiting volunteers, and connecting with other planning teams around the country. Please fill out this form by May 30th and we will connect you with others in your city who are interested in planning a Be the Change event.  Our core cities this year are: Washington DC, New York City, South Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Boston. We also welcome other cities to hold Be the Change events.

3) Join SAALT as a National Partner for Be the Change– If your organization, professional association, or youth group would like to partner with SAALT, locally or nationally, please email us at btc2009@saalt.org by May 30th.

South Asian Summit Roundup

summitDid you miss the Summit?

  • Listen to podcasts of the sessions here
  • View pictures from the Summit here
  • Hear from participants in Summit Snapshots here
  • Read entries from the SAALT Spot about the Summit here

Make A Donation to
Support SAALT’s Work in 2009 Today!

Are you a SAALT member yet?


If not, we urge you to become a member today. By becoming a SAALT member, you not only receive benefits (such as our annual newsletter and discounts at events and gatherings), but the satisfaction of being part of a national non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues facing South Asians in America.

Do you know someone who would be interested in learning about SAALT? Forward them this email by clicking here:

Forward this email


South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)