SAALT Slams White House’s Immigration ‘Priorities’ List as Unacceptable; Calls on Leaders to Pass Clean DREAM Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

In response to the White House’s release of a series of hard-line measures required in exchange for allowing DREAMers to remain in the United States through the proposed DREAM Act, Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, released the following statement:

“SAALT has vocally supported the passage of a clean DREAM Act since the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5, 2017. In demanding a clean DREAM Act, we are stating unequivocally that any legislation must not include measures to increase border or interior enforcement, no cuts to family immigration, and no threats to legal immigration. All of these unacceptable provisions were included in the Administration’s priorities list issued this weekend.

Specifically, these ‘priorities’ include ramping up border and interior enforcement, including the construction of a wall along the Mexico border, a further crackdown on sanctuary cities, an extreme cap on refugees and asylum seekers, and a deep slash to family and legal immigration numbers.

It is a patently false construct to assume that ramping up enforcement and cutting immigration from every angle is a necessary step to ensure a legislative solution, one that is desperately needed after the inhumane rescission of the DACA program by this administration.

Over 27,000 Asian Americans, including 5,500 Indians and Pakistanis, have already received DACA. An additional estimated 17,000 individuals from India and 6,000 from Pakistan are eligible for DACA, placing India in the top ten countries for DACA eligibility. These individuals and families must be protected through legislation without a barrage of unconscionable measures attached therein.

Immigrants are not a threat to our national security. Instead, as numerous studies have shown, they enhance our nation and give us the opportunity to live up to our ideals as a country. Moreover, two-thirds of Americans support the DREAM Act as well as over 50% of elected officials across party lines.

With this public mandate behind them, our leaders must stay strong and ensure that this administration’s ‘priorities’ do not serve as a starting point for any bargaining at the expense of immigrant communities. What we deserve is a clean DREAM Act rooted in dignity and inclusion for all immigrant communities. We will not settle for anything less.”

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South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States. Our ultimate vision is dignity and full inclusion for all.

Contact: Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org

Minority leader Pelosi joins CAPAC and Asian American DREAMers to demand immediate passage of the DREAM Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national civil rights and racial justice organization, fully supports calls by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Judy Chu, and other members of Congressional leadership for the immediate passage of the DREAM Act. These demands come on the heels of last week’s decision by the Trump administration to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the latest in this administration’s anti-immigrant policies that puts 800,000 people at risk of deportation from the only country they’ve ever called home.

“This administration’s heartless, endless efforts to target and marginalize immigrant communities makes the immediate passage of a clean DREAM Act all the more urgent,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “SAALT joins Congressional leadership in staunch support of the immediate passage of the DREAM Act, and we call on all elected and appointed officials to defend our communities through their words and actions.”

At a press conference on the DREAM Act, Representative Nancy Pelosi noted, “It’s an honor to be here with DREAMers, who are advancing the American dream. With their courage, with their optimism, and with their inspiration, they make America more American.”

Representative Judy Chu stated, “It was only last week that President Trump issued one of the cruelest orders he ever could, the end of DACA, forcing 800,000 people to face deportation to countries that they do not even know. We are here to say, ‘We will fight for our DREAMers.’”

Chirayu Patel, Co-Founder of the DACA Network and a DREAMer himself, stated, “I have built a life here: gone to elementary, middle school, high school, and college. The decision by President Obama in 2012 to enact the DACA program was a consequential day for me, as I believed this was the first step to earn my American citizenship. Last week’s decision by President Trump turned my life upside down. We will not be used as bargaining chips in political gamesmanship between the parties. We are calling on Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act now. Now is the time for Congress to make a decision on whether they’re going to support us or if they’re going to stand in the way of progress.”

Over 27,000 Asian Americans, including 5,500 Indians and Pakistanis, have already received DACA. An additional estimated 17,000 individuals from India and 6,000 Pakistan respectively are eligible for DACA, placing India in the top ten countries for DACA eligibility. With the termination of DACA, these individuals could face deportation at the discretion of the administration.

Our immigration laws are badly broken – disregarding our values is not the answer to fixing them. We call on Congress to do its job and immediately pass a clean DREAM Act that creates a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring new Americans. This is the only way to align our immigration laws with the values Americans hold dear.

CONTACT: Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org

Civil Rights Coalition Denounces ACT For America’s Anti-Muslim Online Campaign; Calls on the President to #CounterACTHate

Washington – Civil rights leaders, faith based, human rights, and community organizations condemn today’s bigoted, anti-Muslim online campaign by ACT for America, reportedly the nation’s largest anti-Muslim hate group.  This online campaign was scheduled for just two days before the anniversary of September 11 to target and manufacture hatred for American Muslims at a time when violence against Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh communities is reaching historic highs.

ACT originally planned to coordinate 67 anti-Muslim rallies across 36 states under the theme “America First.”  However, after thousands of Americans came out in peaceful resistance to white supremacy and racism in Charlottesville and Boston, ACT decided to call off its rallies and shift to today’s online campaign, a clear signal that messages of justice and solidarity are drowning out messages of hate nationwide.

This is not the first time civil rights groups and anti-racist protestors stared down ACT’s bigotry.  In June ACT held anti-Muslim rallies in 30 cities across the nation under the theme “March Against Shariah”.  This campaign was met with strong resistance from civil rights groups who held alternative events that telegraphed calls for love, fairness, and justice. The Trump administration was silent in response.

ACT’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has made her racism clear. She has said, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim” and has argued, outrageously, that Muslims are a “natural threat to civilized people of the world, particularly Western society.”  In a video message launching the America First rallies, Ms. Gabriel exclaims, “Let’s show our president that we are behind him in securing our nation.” In accordance with the bigotry that ACT promotes, its previous anti-Muslim rallies have attracted a host of armed militia-type groups and white nationalists.

Likewise, President Trump has made no secret of his bigotry,, stating on the record, “I think Islam hates us” and moving forward with his administration’s dogged pursuit of a “Muslim Ban,” among other policies.  The words and actions of the administration, including high-level advisors who are known standard-bearers for white supremacist movements, as well as the President himself, increasingly fuel and validate violence targeting Muslims and people perceived as Muslim. The FBI’s 2015 hate crimes statistics, the most updated data available, show a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015, while violence aimed at South Asian, Sikh, and Arab communities continue to rise. The xenophobic statements by the President and Gabriel run counter to the values of justice and inclusivity that we seek to uphold.

Peaceful resistance by civil rights groups, immigrant and faith communities, and communities of color has been the strongest counterweight to the insults and injuries of white supremacists and this administration. We demand this administration, and all elected and appointed officials, condemn groups that peddle hate in the strongest possible terms, and back that condemnation with swift action and policies that contribute to the transformation of our institutions. The hatred must stop now. As a coalition of diverse organizations representing communities of color and immigrants at the national, state, and local levels, we are committed to condemning bigotry of all kinds and advancing the principles of racial justice.

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together, said, “ACT for America’s racism and fear mongering are incompatible with core American values of justice and equality in a nation where people of color will constitute a majority of residents within the next two decades.  ACT’s decision to shift from nationwide rallies to an online campaign, while still toxic, is in no small terms a victory and emblematic of the power of standing together, united from all faiths and backgrounds against bigotry. The Trump administration must end its anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant campaign that emboldens hate groups to commit horrific acts of violence against our communities. Silence is no longer an option. The President, along with all elected and appointed officials, must condemn Islamophobia and white supremacy and ensure that our communities can live in a just and inclusive society for all Americans.”

SAALT Condemns President Trump’s Decision to Terminate DACA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national civil rights and racial justice organization, condemns President Trump’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the latest in a litany of this administration’s anti-immigrant policies.  This morning Attorney General Sessions announced the destructive change, citing DACA’s executive overreach as the main source of critique, reflecting this administration’s amnesia and its unconstitutional actions to date, not the least of which include the “Muslim Ban.”

“America’s values are founded on the ideal that all people are created equal and deserve justice. The President’s decision to terminate DACA puts 800,000 individuals at risk of deportation from the only country they’ve ever called home. Ending DACA is the latest evidence of this administration’s utter lack of commitment to our nation’s founding values of equality and fairness,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT.  “Our current patchwork of immigration policies and programs is broken, and we demand Congress does its job to craft a commonsense immigration process that creates a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring new Americans. This is the only way to align our immigration laws with the values Americans hold dear.”

The Trump administration will phase out DACA after a six-month delay, punting responsibility to Congress to craft legislation to protect Dreamers. Passing the DREAM Act 2017 is an important first step, but what the nation needs is comprehensive immigration reform.

Over 27,000 Asian Americans, including 5,500 Indians and Pakistanis, have already received DACA. An additional estimated 17,000 individuals from India and 6,000 Pakistan respectively are eligible for DACA, placing India in the top ten countries for DACA eligibility.  With the termination of DACA, these individuals could face deportation at the discretion of the administration.

The CEOs of Apple, Google and Facebook and many other business leaders have all staunchly supported DACA and opposed its termination, citing their need for talented workers in a direct rebuttal to claims that DACA has hurt the American economy.

When asked about DACA in February the President stated, “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.”  Yet today the Attorney General called the termination of DACA a compassionate decision, revealing how tone deaf and inconsistent this administration is to its past statements and American values. The administration has announced several permutations of the “Muslim Ban”; continually called for the construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States; has rolled back Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA); supported the RAISE Act that seeks to slash immigration in half within a decade; and encouraged, endorsed, and emboldened bigotry, white supremacy, and hatred toward immigrants, Muslims, and people of color across the nation. That is not the type of ‘heart’ this nation needs.

Since its inception, this administration has demonstrated a crucial lack of heart, compassion, values, and respect for the law when it comes to DACA and immigration.  It is time for Congress to step up and pass comprehensive immigration reform, and for all elected and appointed officials to defend our communities through words and actions.  We are here to stay, we have the same rights to America as anyone else, and we are not going away.

Contact:  Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org

Invisible Bhutanese Communities in My Own Backyard

Victoria Headshot

Victoria Meaney
Program/Policy Fellow
SAALT

I have lived in the state of Maryland my entire life. I attended school in Montgomery County from elementary through high school, and attended the University of Maryland, College Park in Prince George’s county. Yet, I still had no idea that there is a significant Bhutanese population in this state, both in Prince George’s and Baltimore counties – until recently.

On January 15, 2014, I attended a briefing hosted by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), at which the organization released a report entitled Invisible Newcomers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the United States. This extensive report covered the history of refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan, their migration patterns before settling in the US, and their settlement processes upon arriving in the US.

The report supplies an in-depth history of how many of the Bhutanese have become refugees. For both refugee groups, political unrest began in their home countries, predominately because of ethnic tensions. Many Nepalis had migrated to Bhutan, and became known as Lhotshampas, or “People from the South.” These Nepali immigrants were largely Hindu and settled in Buddhist Bhutan. By 1958, Bhutanese laws had come into effect that prevented the Lhotshampas from maintaining citizenship and teaching the Nepali language. In the late 1980s, demonstrations on behalf of human rights and democracy had begun, and demonstrators were being arrested and tortured. As a result of this persecution, by 1992, more than 100,000 Lhotshampas had fled to Nepal, where the UNHCR had established refugee camps. It wasn’t until 2007 that refugees began to settle in the US, and by 2011 the Bhutanese refugee population had risen to 26%. For those that came here, the US was the third country in which refugees have lived – beginning in their home countries, then relocating to a refugee camp in another country, and finally settling in the US.

However, upon settling in America, the struggle for Bhutanese communities has continued – they continue to face numerous barriers here as well. For example, refugees are provided governmental assistance for a limited amount of time, such as cash assistance for eight months, limited access to medical services, English language classes, and employment support services. As a result, many Bhutanese have to figure out how to make their lives and homes quickly in order to survive. Unfortunately, for a refugee who comes here with limited English proficiency and no previous formal education, overcoming these barriers is a long-term process. Refugees require the necessary resources and services to fully allow them to succeed, but the services need to realistically address the barriers that refugees face, and should be accessible as they are needed. Because two of the main barriers preventing access to services and self-sufficient include language barriers and job training, these areas especially must be developed in order to better accommodate the needs of refugees.

Organizations such as the Association of Bhutanese in America work to help refugees APIASF Bhutanese Reportbecome accustomed to living in America, but it is not easy. In 2011, the Washington Post wrote a few articles on Bhutanese refugees when they first started migrating to Prince George’s County, Maryland in large groups. They interviewed individuals such as Laxman Dulal and Kharnanda Rizal. Dulal, an employee of the Association of Bhutanese in America works with his wife Maya Mishra to host lessons for refugees to help them learn how to support themselves in Maryland. Even for those that do find a job, many of them are the sole providers for their families, which makes it difficult to make ends meet. Rizal understands this struggle, as he started a boarding school in Nepal almost twenty years ago, but is now working at a gas station and caring for three children in the US, while his wife is still in Nepal.

APIASF has made policy recommendations in order to better help support refugees coming into the US. Some of these recommendations include:

  • Modifying and intensifying arrival orientations and various trainings to more realistically prepare refugees for the cultural and economic realities of US society
  • Extending the length of time that adult refugees may be supported with social services and English language education
  • Creating self-help organizations in order for refugees to have access to resources
  • Providing job trainings/development in order to help refugees to find permanent work positions
  • Providing resources to help parents and children better understand each other during a difficult time such as transition

Like all immigrants, refugee communities need a safety net, welcoming communities, and access to basic services and benefits in order to thrive in our country. As members of immigrant communities, we need to support those that have had to leave their homes in other countries to come here. We need to advocate for the better integration of refugees into US society through improved access and support services. However, in order to support and advocate with these communities, we must know they exist, we must understand the barriers, and we must help create solutions. Everyone deserves the resources and tools necessary to help them best succeed, so that they are no longer the invisible communities in our backyards.
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Victoria Meaney
Program/Policy Fellow
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

Domestic Workers and Diplomats: Struggle for Justice Continues

Photo credit: Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice

Photo by Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice

By Elizabeth Keyes

When I heard the story about Sangeeta Richard, the remarkably courageous domestic worker demanding her just due from a system set up to fail her, I couldn’t help thinking of “Mary.” Mary, too, worked for a diplomat, and she was one of my first clients when I graduated from law school a decade ago. Among the other horrifying details I learned about Mary’s story, I learned that the diplomat’s wife told Mary, while beating her with a shoe, “go ahead and call the police. I am a diplomat.”

The system truly is set up to fail workers like Mary and Sangeeta. What I saw from handling many, many such cases between 2004 and 2011 were failures at every level. Diplomats entered into contracts that they had no intention of honoring, contracts that almost uniformly promised 40 hour workweeks and compensation at or above the U.S. federal minimum wage. The U.S. consulates overseas approved the visas during interviews when sometimes only the diplomat talked, or where the diplomat acted as the interpreter for the worker. With only one exception, the foreign embassies in the United States sided with the diplomat, not the worker, and did not even attempt to broker solutions to resolve the conflicts. And for far too long, the State Department sat idly by as complaints were filed by the relatively small portion of workers who found their way out (an even smaller section of whom found legal counsel).

I have heard every excuse in the book about why exploiting them is “justified”–they are better off in America, they are treated “like family,” their wages are worth a lot back home, or the diplomat does not earn enough to pay the contractual wage. None of these excuses in any way justifies what happens to the people, who come here hoping to work hard and earn money to help improve their lives and the lives of their families. And none of these excuses in any way changes the way the diplomats are committing fraud in issuing these contracts and securing these visas.

  • Are workers “better off” in America? Hardly. My clients were paid anywhere from 35 cents an hour to zero cents an hour, while working all hours of the day, and sometimes well into the night. For example, on top of providing childcare, cooking and cleaning during the day, Mary had to sleep with the family’s baby in the living room of the small Greenbelt apartment, so she could tend to the baby at night when the child awoke. In return, the diplomats threatened them with deportation if they complained, beat them, sometimes sexually assaulted them, and/or threatened the lives of family members back home. That is not what I call being “better off.”
  • Are workers “like family?” Maybe, but only because family, too, can be exploited. In some of the countries where my clients came from, elite families–the very kinds of families that might join the diplomatic corps at some point–had traditions of bringing distant relatives in from the countryside to work in the family home. Technically, yes, this was family. But the purpose was to obtain cheap, compliant labor and exploit it for the family’s comfort and prestige. The visa system for bringing workers here merely mirrors that practice from the home country–but with the stamp of approval of our government.
  • Are the paltry wages in the U.S. worth a lot back home? Yes, but utterly beside the point. If they wanted to earn those wages, they could have stayed home, closer to family and friends who would have been a source of support for them if the employment turned abusive.  Workers incur a huge cost leaving home to do what will likely be long, hard, difficult and possibly abusive labor. Earning the promised wages would have made that cost worthwhile. Every single client of mine expressed her feeling that if she had known what it would be like here, she would have stayed home to earn the same wage without losing their safety net.
  • Diplomats do not earn enough to pay the contractual wage? The entitlement demonstrated by this “excuse” is not so much buried as shining brightly in tall neon letters. I, too, do not earn enough to pay a full-time domestic worker the minimum wage. But somewhere along the way, probably well before I was ten years old, I learned that if you can’t afford something, you don’t get to have it. The diplomats talk themselves into believing that they cannot do their jobs without these workers taking care of the home front, sitting for the children while they attend evening functions, cooking for lavish parties diplomats are expected to host, and so forth. And I know these workers do make the diplomats’ jobs and lives easier. Of course they do. But there is simply no way to justify leaping from that truth to the morally bankrupt proposition that “therefore” workers do not deserve the full pay promised. My wanting an easier life does not let me rob a worker of her wages—it really is just that simple.

Mary, like Sangeeta, knew what was happening to her was wrong, and she fled. She fled without her belongings but with her sense of justice and worth so fully intact that one of the first places she went was a court; with only an outraged clerk to steer her to the right forms, she sued to get her passport. She won, at which point the diplomat informed the court that he was immune to suit. Judgment dismissed.

But let us not dismiss our own judgment of these diplomats who exploit their workers.  Groups like Mujeres Activas y Unidas, Adhikaar, CASA de Maryland, the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, Domestic Workers United, and the National Domestic Worker Alliance are holding diplomats’ feet to the fire in a variety of ways: publicly shaming them, privately seeking restitution, working with the government to find better ways to prevent abuses. And occasionally finding a brave ally like the prosecutor in Ms. Richard’s case, Preet Bharara, who (like Ms. Richard herself) is withstanding strident criticism from many, including some of Ms. Richard’s compatriots in India and from the Indian disapora. Happily, groups like SAALT, and the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, are standing firmly in support of Ms. Richard and Mr. Bharara.

Mr. Bharara sees through all these excuses at least as clearly as I do, and had the courage to do something about it. May we all be moved to see things as clearly.

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Elizabeth Keyes
University of Baltimore School of Law, Assistant Professor of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic
Follow her on Twitter: @LizkeyesTkPk

A Compelling Day for Immigrants in New Jersey

“One day I just couldn’t take it any more and decided to end it all and called the suicide helpline,” said Meghna, a community member and advocate who shared her personal story at SAALT’s recent New Jersey Immigration Townhall.  Meghna arrived in the U.S. on her dependent spouse visa (H-4 status) which did not allow her to work, despite having a Masters degree and extensive professional work experience in India.  Meghna was deprived of a career and forced to stay home for years due to her immigration status.  As a result, she experienced loneliness, depression, and a loss of identity, which led to her feeling suicidal.  Despite hitting rock bottom, her struggles inspired her to be a pioneer and advocate for others like her.  A few years ago, she produced her first film, “Hearts Suspended,” a short documentary that reveals the untold story of South Asian immigrant women, who struggle to survive having been denied the basic right to work.

In addition to Meghna, the New Jersey Townhall highlighted the experiences of two other community members who shared their immigration struggles.  Hina, an undocumented youth, faced many barriers growing up without immigration status in America.  She had to hide her status and was unable to share in adolescent American rights of passage like obtaining a driver’s license and dreaming of college life and career opportunities.  With limited access to higher education, she was unable to plan for her future beyond two years even as a DACAmented youth.  She relayed her frustrations, asking the audience, “Can you imagine what it’s like for any young person wanting to plan their future, but knowing full well that they can’t think past two years or plan too far ahead due to their undocumented status — even though they have only known U.S. as their home?”  Finally, Mahfujur, an undocumented restaurant worker and an active member of the advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), spoke about his experience putting in long hours, getting paid far less than the minimum wage, and often, being mistreated.  He expressed his fears and those of his friends and family in similar situations and their reluctance to complain, fearing retaliation from their employers or deportation.

After hearing these courageous and compelling stories, a panel of advocates provided detailed expert analysis on the impact of immigration reform for South Asians in the U.S. and addressed numerous questions posed by over 75 engaged community members in attendance.  One of the final comments raised highlighted perhaps the most important and often overlooked issue in the immigration reform debate: challenges faced by immigrants in America are more than “immigration issues” – they are fundamental civil rights issues.  Eleven million undocumented persons are in the United States today, forced to live in the shadows and often denied their basic rights to participate in society.  Over 550,000 South Asians are waiting to be reunited with their siblings or adult married children.  Workers are repeatedly denied fair wages and job mobility, and are often exploited.  Individuals are frequently profiled and placed in deportation proceedings.  Immigrant women are denied the opportunity to work, to have status independent of their spouses, and to be afforded immigration opportunities like those of men.

SAALT’s New Jersey Immigration Townhall was one of six community dialogues designed to spark debate, coalition-building, and advocacy around immigration reform this year. In California, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, and this weekend, in Illinois, the South Asian community is increasingly engaged on these issues. And, we are confident that the conversation will not end there.  These forums are simply the beginning of a dialogue about how we as a community can raise our voices around immigration policies as they impact us.  From all these community events, one message remains clear: the South Asian community will be heard today, tomorrow, and for many days to come.

Navneet Bhalla
New Jersey Policy and Outreach Coordinator
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

Engage in the immigration conversation, by sharing your story, learning how to engage with your Member of Congress, and starting a dialogue in your local community. For more information on these actions or to learn more about upcoming townhalls, please contact info@saalt.org.

Festival of Lights: “A Flicker of Hope”

Pratishtha & Manar

As I entered the warm hallways last week at the White House Diwali, it dawned upon me that exactly a year ago, on November 4th, 2012, the possibilities in my life had expanded – it was the day I received my approval for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But I never imagined a day when I would celebrate Diwali at the White House.

I was honored to step into such designated, renowned halls; halls that witnessed the proudest and perhaps hardest times in American history. These halls were a testament to how acknowledging the existence and struggles of America’s immigrant youth build upon its honor. As I walked them, I remembered the morning of June 15th, 2012 again, the day that President Obama announced his executive order, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  While it seemed such a small change, the result is that I and many like me are able to live with dignity – to work, attend state universities, and freely be community leaders without the fear of being punished by the system. As I celebrated my own possibilities for the future however, I could not forget the millions of undocumented individuals – over 240,000 Indians alone – who remain in the shadows.  I remembered the hardships of my parents who struggle to make ends meet: my father, a fifty-nine year old, diabetic who still works fourteen to sixteen hours a day and my mother, a long term minimum wage worker, who recently suffered a brain hemorrhage. As I looked around the room, I realized that everyone in the room was probably a first, second, third, or fourth generation South Asian American. I was standing amongst those who live their American DREAM every day. This was my flicker of “hope and change.”

I could finally see myself living my American DREAM, going to medical school and one day, practicing medicine in disadvantaged areas around the world. My DREAM is one that follows the core American ideologies, to help those who are less fortunate, extend a hand in time of need, and be the hope and change for others. As an audience to the First Lady’s Diwali wishes, I was in the presence of advocates and activists, Members of Congress, judges, officers from the armed forces, business persons, and ambassadors from the South Asian community. In this moment, I could not help but wonder about my future as a South Asian American and the future of all immigrants.  And, I yearned for the celebratory day when the “land of the free and home of the brave” accepts all its immigrant communities as Americans. A day when those who long for their “flicker of hope” have a chance at their AMERICAN DREAM.

Pratishtha Khanna
DREAMer

Among the 11 million undocumented people living in this country are South Asians, including those from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  Many are students who seek to go to college, spend time with friends and family, and pursue their professional interests.  If you are undocumented and South Asian, you might be eligible for assistance under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.  Find out more at: http://saalt.org/south-asian-and-undocumented/

The Time is Now! What Immigration Reform Means for the South Asian American Community

“You should take those to the Hispanic grocery stores,” says Ahmed, a Pakistani immigrant who sells phone plans outside the local Indian market. He says it in an effort to help me improve my outreach around citizenship resources. He and I have met several times, and each time he tells me the Latino community needs more help becoming U.S citizens. Before he even finishes his thought however, Ahmed calls out to nearby friend in case I have any resources for him. The friend is an Indian man in his 70s who, due to a fraudulent attorney and employer, lost his visa status, and has been undocumented for over a decade. He continues to work under the table in the U.S., in order to send money home and support the family hasn’t seen in 17 years. Ahmed’s friend tells me he has worked with several lawyers, and is now just waiting for the laws to change. He has been paying taxes through the social security number he received upon arrival and is hopeful that with a new law he may gain status again. Ahmed shakes his head as his friend speaks, clearly frustrated with the sheer injustice of the situation. I wonder how Ahmed can hear stories such as these and still believe that the Latino community needs more help with citizenship and immigration than ours. Yet have South Asian Americans engaged enough in the conversations and push towards comprehensive immigration reform?

Last Tuesday night at SAALT’s Maryland Town Hall on Immigration Reform, I thought back to my conversations with the Ahmed. At the town hall, I had the opportunity to hear three more community members tell their story, and speak on struggles they’ve faced due to our current immigration system. Pratishtha, a student at UMBC and a DREAMer, described barriers to common rites of passage and earned accomplishments that people with valid immigration status can take for granted. Being undocumented she couldn’t celebrate her acceptances into university or obtain a driver’s license the way other students could. Yves, another DREAMer and activist, shared the story of his parent’s deportation and his ongoing separation from them. He described emotions that don’t quite translate into words, including the sorrow of not being with his parents to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary the next day. Finally, Mini, stood up and shared how she left behind her family in Kerala for a job opportunity as a domestic worker. Yet, she was so exploited and mistreated in her position that she had to run away, losing her visa status in the process. Today, domestic worker meetings at CASA de Maryland are her lifeline and inspiration, as she too waits for a new law that will give her pathway to citizenship. The struggles that each of these community members faces is unique, yet an overarching theme rang strong; in the South Asian American community, the time is now to fix our broken immigration system. Our community, like the Latino community and many others, is in dire need of a comprehensive immigration reform.

After the community members spoke, the audience had a chance to hear an analysis of pieces and ask questions about the Senate immigration bill (S. 744) from SAALT’s Policy Director Manar Waheed, CASA de Maryland’s Legal Program Manager Sheena Wadhawan, and Caseworker Angel Colon-Rivera from Senator Ben Cardin’s office. Despite the need for a comprehensive immigration reform in our community, it was clear from the questions and comments made by the audience that there are many flaws in the current version bill. Though the Senate Bill represents a huge step forward in the immigration debate and proposes many positive changes, it is still needs much work, particularly in with respect to family reunification and an effective and inclusive prohibition on the profiling, among others. As various immigration bills are currently being debated in the House and the outcomes in the House and Senate still need to be resolved in Conference Committee, there is still time to ask for changes and make our voices heard.

After a powerful two hours of sharing stories, analysis from the panelists, and questions and comments from the South Asian American community on immigration reform, it is unmistakable that we need to take action. We need to put a South Asian face to the call for immigration reform. Let’s continue to share our stories, for the undocumented senior who hasn’t seen his family in 17 years, and never met his grandson. Let’s call on our representatives to take action for the legal permanent residents who are tirelessly working and waiting, sometimes decades, for the siblings and adult married children they sponsored to gain their visas. Let’s demand that our government prohibit the baseless and ineffective measures of profiling that violate the civil rights of all Americans. Let’s rally behind Yves, Pratishtha, and Mini who deserve unrestricted access to higher education, real living wages, and family reunification. Please join SAALT and engage in the discussion around immigration reform by sharing your immigration story, and joining our upcoming town halls in Houston and Detroit.

*Some of the names in this entry have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

SAALT will be hosting more conversations on immigration reform. View our calendar of events for more information.

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Avani Mody
Maryland Outreach Coordinator, AmeriCorps
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

 

In Pursuit of the “Dream”: We Reflect and Recommit

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Photo Credit: Bao Lor, SEARAC

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. This past weekend, to commemorate this important occasion, Asian American organizations joined thousands of people who gathered in the nation’s capital to participate in a march and rally titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream March”.. The purpose of this march and rally was not just to remember the legacy of Dr. King and the progress since his speech over 50 years ago, but to show that even today in 2013, inequality persists.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT staff rallying in solidarity

Among the Asian American organizations present at the March were representatives from SAALT, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). And as part of the program on Saturday, Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF spoke and shared the stage along with other civil rights leaders.

The work still continues, especially within the South Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities when it comes to decreasing hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and racial profiling following 9/11, and the tremendous disparities within South Asian communities from the standpoint of access to educational equity, jobs, and health care.

SAALT Programs Intern and recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Victoria Meaney, reflected on the significance of the March, “Attending the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was monumental to me as a South Asian American. My ability to participate, in collaboration with SAALT really exemplifies the progress that has been made, based on the work of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their examples show the importance of the individual’s voice, and, by allying with others, the steps to a just society are possible. My hope is that future marches to come will have an even greater representation of South Asians and Asian Pacific Americans, because civil rights belong to all, but we will not be heard if we do not advocate for ourselves.”

We marched and rallied in solidarity for jobs, justice, peace and equality along with Americans of all races, faith and backgrounds.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

In giving her reasons for the importance of this March, Roksana Mun a DRUM Youth Organizer reflected on the theme of the March in 1963, which was “the need for jobs and the ever growing economic and social inequality between people of color communities and white communities”. And today she notes, “…we’re living at a time when the same exact issues of working-class, people of color are struggling to find jobs, decent pay (or in many cases any pay), increased cuts to education, health care and social service systems still persist. The Poor People’s March is still needed”

We showed that even though 50 years has passed since Dr. King’s speech calling for equality and justice we still have yet to pursue that dream.

As Fahd Ahmed, Legal and Policy Director of DRUM states, “It was important for DRUM to have a presence at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington because we have directly benefited from gains made by the Civil Rights movement. Both in terms of actual rights, won, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, but also in having learned strategies and tactics. Our current struggles for immigrant rights, racial justice, and worker’s rights, are a continuation of that legacy.”

Let us reflect and recommit as SAALT Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, notes “South Asians are indebted to the civil rights movement and the African American leaders and community members who marched today 50 years ago. The pivotal anti-discrimination and immigration laws that were enacted in 1965 have preserved the rights of millions of people of color and immigrants. Now, 50 years later, South Asians must continue to be a critical and visible constituency in the ongoing struggle for equity.”

So today, on the actual date of the March on Washington, as we commemorate Dr. King, his legacy and the struggles that were endured to defend our civil rights, let us not forget that problems still persists and that we are still in pursuit of the “Dream”.
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AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT