SAALT Opposes Administration’s “Public Charge” Rule Published in Federal Register Today, Encourages Community Members to Submit Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Department of Homeland Security published a new proposed “public charge” ruletoday that would deny permanent resident status (“green cards”) to lower income immigrants who use government services such as nutrition programs and housing assistance. The proposed rule was officially published in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day period for the public to comment before the Department of Homeland Security proceeds with final rulemaking.
This rule punishes people for using the public benefits they are entitled to and is set up to prevent as many immigrants as possible from becoming legal permanent residents. It’s the latest in a series of attacks on all immigrant communities and their children. The rule directly impacts immigrants who are applying to become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s or green card holders) or looking to extend or change the category of a nonimmigrant visa. If finalized, the Bangladeshi community would be the hardest hit among South Asian Americans. Nearly 61% of non-citizen Bangladeshi American families receive public benefits for at least one of the four federal programs including TANF, SSI, SNAP, and Medicaid/CHIP, according to a 2018 Migration Policy Institute Report. The same report showed that 48% of non-citizen Pakistani families and 11% of non-citizen Indian families also receive public benefits. Additionally, the proposed rule would flag all immigrant households of four earning less than $63,000 under negative scrutiny for the “public charge” test.
The impact of the rule would be felt across the South Asian American community, as over 10% of green card recipients in FY 2016 were from South Asian countries. Nearly 472,000 or 10% of the approximately five million South Asians in the United States live in poverty, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. In 2015, eight of nineteen Asian American groups had poverty rates higher than the U.S. average. Among those, Pakistani (15.8%), Nepali (23.9%), Bangladeshi (24.2%), and Bhutanese (33.3%) Americans had the highest poverty rates among South Asian American groups. The same study showed that Bangladeshi and Nepali communities had the lowest median household incomes out of all Asian American groups, which fell far below the $63,000 threshold. We encourage South Asian Americans to visit SAALT’s campaign page and easily submit a comment opposing the discriminatory “public charge” rule before December 10.
CONTACT: Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org

SAALT Denounces the Administration’s “Public Charge” Proposal to Criminalize Immigrants for Using Public Benefits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, D.C., South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) condemns the Department of Homeland Security announcement of new proposed “public charge” rules that would deny permanent resident status (“green cards”) to immigrants who use government services such as nutrition programs and housing assistance. The new rule would also weigh age, health, and employability as factors to deny green cards. SAALT, along with immigrant and civil rights, public health, and labor organizations, are denouncing these changes that threaten families and children’s health. The proposed rules would relegate immigrants who are not yet citizens to second-class status by condemning their use of critical public benefits programs.
If implemented, the public charge regulation would undermine the safety, health, and security of immigrant families. Rumors of the proposal have already sown fear among immigrant families, many of whom have foregone essential health and nutrition services for which they are eligible. The new rule would hit South Asian American communities particularly hard, as over 10% of green card recipients in FY 2016 were from South Asian countries. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, one in four immigrants in the U.S. from Bangladesh and Nepal and one in three immigrants from Bhutan already live in poverty. This new rule would put all of these individuals at great risk. The term “public charge” predates federal immigration law entirely. In the early 1800’s states would only free individual slaves on the condition that they never become a “public charge.” This framework is now being expanded to criminalize immigrant communities.
“This policy is about who this Administration considers a desirable immigrant. It is designed to instill fear in immigrant communities of color and relegate non-citizens and their families to second-class status. It will punish immigrants who rightfully access the public benefits to which they are entitled, it will punish parents for taking care of their children, and it will force immigrant families to choose between citizenship and basic needs. Rather than taxing the 1%, this Administration chooses to punish immigrant families over and over again. Today, on the one-year anniversary of Muslim Ban 3.0, we say no to more racist and anti-immigrant policies,” said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT.
Once the rule is officially published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule before the Department of Homeland Security proceeds with final rulemaking. Stay tuned for SAALT’s campaign to channel public comments to the federal government opposing this discriminatory proposal.
CONTACT: Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org

2020 CENSUS

The Constitution mandates a counting of all persons in the U.S every 10 years. This count is regardless of legality of stay. For the first time in United States history, the 2020 Census could include a question around citizenship. If allowed to pass, it would endanger immigrant communities, leaving them exposed to violence, and hate.

The Census informs the allocation of $800 billion in federal funds, guiding spending on infrastructure, education, healthcare, and public benefits. The inclusion of a citizenship question will red flags communities of color, and might lead to increased surveillance and policing of immigrants, specifically South Asians who already find themselves at the cross hairs of hate and violence.

We have until August 7th to submit comments to the federal government. Follow these three steps to submit a comment:

STEP 1:
Follow this link for a sample comment letter SAALT and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) created you can use.

STEP 2:
Personalize your comment.

We need to show the diversity of voices in opposition to the citizenship question. You are encouraged to personalize your comment using the data we provided in our webinar. Some questions to consider in personalizing your comment:
  • How will an inaccurate count impact your local community and state?
  • Do you have specific programs or projects funded by the state or local government that are at risk of being under-funded?
  • How might this impact political representation in your communities?
  • How will your community demographic affect their response rate?
  • Many South Asian families live in mixed-status households, do they feel safe responding to a citizenship question?
STEP 3:

Submit your comment at: https://goo.gl/LL34xx

 2020 CENSUS RESOURCES
–          2020 Census Strategy Webinar
–          2020 Census Community Workshop Support Materials

 

Communities on Fire: Resisting Hate Violence and Xenophobic Political Rhetoric

SAALT’s 2018 report documents hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at our communities from Election Day 2016 to Election Day 2017. SAALT documented 302 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities in the United States, of which an astounding 82% were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. The 302 incidents are a more than 45% increase from the year leading up to the 2016 election cycle, levels not seen since the year after September 11.

Young Leaders Institute (YLI)

SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute (YLI) is an opportunity for undergraduate students and other young adults to build leadership skills, connect with activists and mentors, and explore social change strategies around issues that affect South Asian and immigrant communities in the U.S. The 2018-2019 YLI cohort will identify strategies and craft projects to support those highly impacted at their academic institutions and/or local South Asian communities. We encourage projects that center and uplift caste oppressed, undocumented, working class and poor, Muslim, and Sikh groups. All projects should also incorporate a civic engagement and social media component.

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.

***********************************************************************************************

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.
_________________________________________________________________________

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.

DRUM 10

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)
*********

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.”