Power, Pain, Potential: South Asian Americans at the Forefront of Growth and Hate in the 2016 Election Cycle

The first comprehensive report documenting hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, Hindu, and Middle Eastern Americans during the 2016 election cycle. This new report examines the dramatic demographic growth of South Asians across the United States, particularly in the South, and reveals how increases in population are met with increases in intolerance during the most divisive Presidential election in modern American history.

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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

STOP AND FRISK, SOUTH ASIANS, AND KAL PENN’S TWEETS

Originally posted in Colorlines on August 16, 2013

Note from Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT and Rinku Sen, President, Applied Research Center:

When the Twitterversy around Kal Penn’s tweets about the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy arose, we felt that it was important for South Asians to share our view of racial profiling and its impact. We wrote something and asked some people to sign on. That statement is below.

Simultaneously, we reached out to Kal Penn to express our disappointment and concern over his tweets. We started a conversation that resulted in his endorsing this statement. Penn has also agreed to engage in a process of dialogue, learning, engagement and action on racial profiling and stop and frisk policies with the institutions and communities working on this issue, including Colorlines and SAALT. You’ll find Penn’s own statement at the bottom of ours.
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This week, news of actor Kal Penn’s tweets apparently supporting the NYPD’s stop and frisk program has generated a debate about which we – South Asian activists, scholars, writers, artists and lawyers – have strong opinions. In his follow-up yesterday, Penn asks: “As people of color is this [stop and frisk program] effective? Does it have merit? How do we make our own communities of color safer?”

Our unequivocal answers to these questions are: no, no and not with stop and frisk.

Sikh Coalition

Stopping, interrogating, detaining or searching people based on characteristics such as their actual or perceived race, national origin, immigration status or religion is racial profiling. In a democracy, there has to be a reason to stop and search someone. Being a person of color isn’t a good enough reason.

Stop and frisk sounds so benign yet it covers up the violent humiliation experienced by hundreds of thousands of young black and brown men annually. Beneath the numbers is the human impact of this sort of policing. It involves being thrown to the ground face down. It involves cops dumping your belongings on the street while they taunt you with predictions that you’ll never amount to anything. It involves having this happen to you a dozen times before you’re 16 years old, and continuing into your adulthood. This sort of police enforcement not only hurts the individual, but also entire communities whose members are treated as “others” and automatically deemed unwelcome suspects in their own neighborhoods.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers, predominantly blacks and Latinos, have been stopped and interrogated on the street by police more than 4 million times since 2002, and nine out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent. Facts cited by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Floyd v. City of New York case,

which was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, include that between 2004 and 2009, cops searched 2.28 million people for weapons, and that 2.25 million of them (98.5 percent) had none. Out of 4.4 million stops, only 6 percent led to an arrest, which means that cops were wrong 16 times more often than they were right.

These numbers confirm that there is absolutely no evidence that stop and frisk reduces crime. New York City’s crime rate had started falling before stop and frisk was ever instituted, and cities and states across the country have also reduced crime rates without using such an unconstitutional and destructive practice.The negative racial impact and ineffectiveness of stop and frisk would be reason enough to oppose it. And, South Asian communities have an additional stake in this debate.

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Desis Rising Up and Moving

Especially since September 11th, South Asians are routinely targeted as would-be terrorists in many settings. Plenty of people say that South Asians, Sikhs and Muslims commit more terrorist acts to justify that profiling. South Asians have endured harassment at airports and at the border, interrogations and detentions by immigration authorities in the name of national security, and surveillance of Muslim Students Associations, mosques, and restaurants. In fact, the NYPD is facing lawsuits for their surveillance of Muslim communities.

A recent report by South Asian American organizations in New York City and nationally reveals the deep impact of racial and religious profiling on South Asian New Yorkers, many of whom are young, working class people who struggle with being singled out by authorities, including the NYPD.  Indeed, plenty of young South Asians themselves have been victims of stop and frisk policies – in both terrorism and non-terrorism related contexts – even in schools.

We urge South Asians to join the growing multiracial movement to bring stop and frisk practices, as well as other policies that criminalize and target communities of color, in New York City and across our country to a speedy end.

(Affiliations Provided for Identification Purposes Only)
Rinku Sen, President of the Applied Research Center, publisher of Colorlines
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Seema Agnani, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC
Chitra Aiyar, Board Member, Andolan – Organizing South Asian Workers
Chandra S. Bhatnagar, American Civil Liberties Union
Shahid Buttar, Executive Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Mallika Dutt, Executive Director, Breakthrough
Ami Gandhi, Executive Director, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI)
Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director, Rights Working Group
Aziz Huq
Chaumtoli Huq, Academic/Law@theMargins
Vijay Iyer, Musician
Anil Kalhan, Associate Professor of Law, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law
Aminta Kilawan J.D., Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union
Pramila Jayapal, Distinguished Taconic Fellow, Center for Community Change
Saru Jayaraman, Co Director, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
Subhash Kateel, Radio Show Host, Let’s Talk About It!
Farhana Khera
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Policy Director Forward Together
Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director, South Asian Network (SAN)
Rekha Malhotra (DJ Rekha)
Monami Maulik, Executive Director, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
Samhita Mukhopadhyay
Vijay Prashad, Author, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, and Karma of Brown Folk
Naheed Qureshi
Luna Ranjit, Executive Director, Adhikaar
Hina Shamsi, Director, National Security Project, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder and Director of Programs, Sikh Coalition
Sivagami Subbaraman, Director, LGBTQ Resource Center, Georgetown University
Manar Waheed, Policy Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
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From Kal Penn: “I support the statement from South Asian community leaders on the impact of racial profiling. I have and still do oppose racial profiling in any form. I want to thank SAALT and Applied Research Center for reaching out and starting to educate & dialogue with me about these issues. I plan on being in regular contact with these great community leaders and allies around the issue of racial profiling, and to dialogue with and engage others about it. It’s important for all our communities to be educated, informed, and mobilized.”

Supreme Court Watch: Fisher v. UT Austin and the South Asian Community

On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, involving the university’s use of race in its admissions policy. Here at SAALT, we eagerly awaited the Supreme Court’s ruling, as we had joined an amicus brief filed by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice in the Fisher case last year in support of the UT-Austin admissions policy.

In its decision, the Court upheld the broader principles from existing precedent from Grutter v. Bollinger, which allowed for race to be used as one of various factors given the compelling state interest in promoting diversity within education. However, rather than ruling on the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ policy itself, the Court returned the case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court asked the lower court to review whether the consideration of race in the admissions policy in question was narrowly tailored and necessary in order to achieve educational diversity.

Despite common misperceptions to the contrary, South Asians support and benefit from holistic race-conscious admission policies like the one implemented by the University of Texas. South Asian students, along with all other students, enjoy a richer learning environment when they are immersed in a diverse educational setting.  The ability to learn from students and peers various backgrounds helps better prepare them for the workforce and the real world. In fact, in light of ongoing discrimination that South Asians encounter in this country, it is vital that students from other racial backgrounds learn about our experiences and we, in turn, learn about theirs. It is also important for us to remember that it was not too long ago in our own recent history that our community has been denied equal opportunity in this country and race-conscious admissions policies bring us closer to equality. In fact, Asian Americans, including South Asians, strongly support affirmative action and race-conscious policies in educational settings, as shown by recent polling from the National Asian American Survey.

We are heartened by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold precedent regarding holistic race-conscious policies and are confident that the lower court will uphold the policy upon its review of the case.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

The Community Safety Act: Accountability for the NYPD and Its Importance to the South Asian Community

On June 27, 2013, the New York City Council passed two bills of the Community Safety Act, introduced last year, which curbs discriminatory policing practices and establishes accountability mechanisms for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). One of the bills, the End Discriminatory Profiling Act (Intro. 1080), would establish an enforceable ban against profiling and discrimination by the NYPD; expand the bases for prohibited profiling and discrimination (currently, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin) to include age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability or housing status; establish a private right of action allowing profiling victims to file lawsuits against the NYPD; and allow individuals to file claims based on intentional discrimination and/or disparate impact. The second bill, the NYPD Oversight Act (Intro. 1079), would grant independent oversight authority over the NYPD to the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation through reviews of the police department and require public reports regarding its findings. SAALT applauds the passage of the Community Safety Act as well as the efforts of local organizations in New York City, such as DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, to ensure these bills become law.

The passage of the Community Safety Act is vital for all residents of New York City – including African American and Latino individuals who have been subjected to an exorbitant and disproportionate percentage of stop-and-frisk encounters. Most notably, since September 11th, South Asian community members have been similarly subjected to arrests, questioning, and harassment simply based upon race, religion, and appearance.  In a joint report released in March 2012, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling, by DRUM, The Sikh Coalition, UNITED SIKHS, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, and SAALT, community members’ personal experiences revealed the toll that such discrimination has taken on their lives. Interactions with NYPD included that of a young Bangladeshi man, while simply waiting for his friends, being subjected to warrantless searches by police; a police officer asking a South Asian student about his religion; and an Indian Hindu individual being asked about his ethnicity and whether he had drugs. Community members have also been asked whether they are Muslim, where they pray, and even been pressured to spy on their own communities and report on “terrorist activity.” Indeed, reports from the Associated Press in 2011 revealed the widespread spying and surveillance by the NYPD on Muslim communities and student associations, both within and beyond New York City. (In fact, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the CLEAR Project at the City University of New York, recently filed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory surveillance practices of the police department.) As a result, individuals reported that such interactions harmed their relationships with friends and family and, also, made them more hesitant to reach out to police in times of need.

SAALT has joined our partner organizations in New York City in calling for the enactment of robust and expansive anti-profiling policies and strengthening government and civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies in the city. We commend the City Council’s passage of the legislation, which would go into effect in January 2014, if enacted, and urge the Mayor to sign the bills into law.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

 

Supreme Court Watch: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the South Asian Community

On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights of 1965 ruling it unconstitutional. SAALT strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which has been pivotal in protecting minority voters’ ability to participate in the American democracy. In January 2013, SAALT joined an amicus brief in the case, along with 27 other Asian American organizations, arguing in favor of the Voting Rights Act, particularly given its importance related to language access and political representation.

With the backdrop of egregious racial discrimination against minority voters, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act articulates a formula to determine which jurisdictions are required to have any changes in their voting laws pre-cleared by the Department of Justice or a federal court (under Section 5 of the legislation) to ensure that minority voters’ ability to vote is not diminished. The trigger formula used to designate such jurisdictions, as outlined in Section 4, is based on various factors, including historical evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices, impact on language minority groups, and low minority voter turnout. While the Court recognized that racial discrimination continues to plague the ability for many to vote, it stated that the coverage formula used in Section 4 was “outdated” in light of recent increased minority voter turnout, disapproved of states being treated differently under the law, and suggested that Congress update the formula in order to pass constitutional muster. This counterintuitive reasoning ignores that Sections 4 and 5 have been pivotal in promoting enfranchisement, considerable evidence proves racial discrimination at the polls continues, and federal legislators have recognized the importance of keeping the Voting Rights Act in effect. In fact, the Voting Rights Act, including Section 4, has increasingly enjoyed significant bipartisan support within Congress over the years and was most recently reauthorized almost unanimously in 2006.

The right to vote has been a long-fought battle for communities of color in the United States. The Voting Rights Act is an historic and crucial piece of legislation that was borne out of our country’s Civil Rights Movement and the pioneering struggles of the African American community in the 1960s. Indeed, the South Asian community’s own path to attain naturalization, conferring the right to vote, has been a rocky one. In 1923, the Supreme Court then ruled that South Asians were not considered white by the common person and thus could not be considered citizens; this remained in effect until legislation was enacted decades later. In more recent years, as documented by election monitoring and exit polling efforts, South Asian and other voters of color continue to encounter barriers at the polls because of race, religion, and language ability and restrictive voter identification proposals continue to threaten the right to vote. South Asians will not be immune from today’s disappointing ruling, particularly given our community’s overall size and growth in jurisdictions previously covered under the Section 4 formula, including Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia.

This ruling is a grave setback for voting rights and equality in the country that ignores both the historical and contemporary evidence of discrimination that minority voters face. Community members are encouraged to join a petition calling for an amendment to protect the rights of all voters. Looking forward, SAALT will continue to work with allies when Congress develops a new coverage formula in light of today’s ruling and ensure that it addresses discrimination against racial, ethnic, and language minorities.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.