Values, Goals of Freedom Riders Still Apply Today

Over the past two years, I have steeped myself in understanding the civil rights context for South Asian, Sikh, Muslim and Arab American communities as a Program Associate at SAALT.  My recent experience to join the original Freedom Riders from Freedom Summer on a bus ride from DC to Richmond helped me to realize how connected people of color are in terms of their experiences, hopes and dreams for the future.

On July 2, 2014, I received an opportunity to freedomrideparticipate in the 50th Anniversary commemorating the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with the office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public as well as promoting equality in voting. I joined 48 other student leaders across the country, along with many original Freedom Riders from Freedom Summer to the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. The Freedom Rides brought together civil rights activists who rode interstate buses from DC into the segregated South in 1961 to challenge the non-enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. During the journey from DC to Richmond last week, I explored history firsthand from leaders who paved the way for all of us.

This experience allowed me to reflect on the difference the Freedom Riders made for Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities as these communities are part of this long civil rights history. They were the same age as I when they left their homes and Universities and signed wills before embarking on a journey knowing they were risking their lives. As a Sikh American, the 1964 Civil Rights Act is of tremendous significance as it addressed religious discrimination.  Prior to 1964, employers could discriminate based on the applicant’s religion and for Sikhs, turbans or long beards represent articles of faith.  While today the law stands that racial discrimination is in violation of the Civil Rights Act, the backlash our communities face are still prevalent including at workplaces and schools. The Freedom Riders expressed that at the time that there was a sense of urgency for the climate to be changed. I think today the climate is thirsty for change again as America is becoming more diverse and there is a need for a society that respects people of various backgrounds and faiths.

The morning send-off was held at the Department of Education where Freedom Rider Hank Thomas spoke about his experience joining the movement. He reflected on his time serving in Vietnam and knowing that even if he came back with a Medal of Honor, he would not be able to sit in the front of the bus. Hank spoke on behalf of African American soldiers back then as he explained that, “We loved a country that did not love us.” Listening to his words, I found myself already strategizing with other student leaders on how to continue this fight that these leaders fought before us as how we could organize to make sure injustices were prevented for the future generation.

During the ride on the way to Richmond, I was seated next to Freedom Rider Rev. Reginald Green. When he was a student at Virginia Union University, Rev. Green heard about the Freedom Rides and decided to join.  He did not tell his parents and was arrested and jailed in Mississippi. Rev. Green reflected on his reasons for joining the Freedom Rides and noted that it was time for the climate of our nation to change. Many of the Freedom Riders were in college and paused their own education to take part in activities that would ensure equal education for everyone one day. We arrived at the Virginia State Capitol where the Freedom Riders were welcomed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. He reflected on the great strides the Freedom Riders made and how, “They stood up when others failed to do so.” The Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, Catherine Lhamon, discussed the modern day cases her office faces and how she believes, “No student should have to choose between getting an education and being treated with dignity.” The reality is that bias based bullying and discrimination still happens in the classrooms whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. After 9/11, incidents of bias based bullying heightened for the South Asian communities and racial and religious profiling as a whole increased towards the community. While we commemorate the work that has already been done for by the Department of the Education to make sure our schools are safe, we need to make sure our classrooms allow for students to attend safely and with dignity.

Throughout this experience, it was difficult to imagine the hardships the Freedom Riders went through to fight for civil rights. Their tires were popped and the windows were broken but they continued to ride. They did not want to sit at the back of the bus, go to only a few restaurants, use separate bathrooms or not be able to vote. The progress that they made to move away from racial segregation is remarkable. They inspired me along with 48 other students to join the movement and make sure that during the next 50 years, we are actively engaged in the struggle for racial justice.
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Manpreet Teji
Former SAALT Staff Member
Law Student, John Marshall Law School

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.7)

Final session of Netroots (for me with my flight home this afternoon, everyone else looks to be getting down with the official part-ay tonight by DailyKos), and its about a core issue, immigration reform. It’s great that we have a session about this topic, which is so important to the South Asian community, but I’m a little bummed to see that, while it has a pretty good turnout, its not bursting at the seams. This is the only session I could find that dealt explicitly with immigration reform (there have definitely been others that touched upon it) and I had really hoped that more of the Nation would come out about this.

Anyways, the panel has representatives from Breakthrough, America’s Voice, FIRM and SEIU. Thus far, its been mostly context-setting and talking about what each organization is doing in the area. Nicola from fIRM shared that what got their organization into online organizing was actually storytelling. After the New Bedford raids, they needed a way to get the stories out to people since the media wasn’t paying any attention. Now they’re working to build social networking tools that are more responsive and are able to “go offline.” Joaquin from SEIU showed advocacy efforts SEIU has undertaken to highlight the plight of DREAM Act students facing deportation.

Since this is my final post from Netroots, I’ll bring together some of my observations and thoughts from the weekend. Being here at Netroots and seeing the groundswell of support and resources that exist in the progressive movement is definitely an amazing thing. It can feel, sometimes, that we’re the little guy and we’re outgunned and out-resourced by “the other side” which obviously shifts debate to debate and issue to issue. Its not that Netroots has shown me that we’re drowning in easy, accessible resources. Instead, it showed me how progressives have and continue to fight against entrenched elites using whatever’s available and changing the rules of the game. Its that spirit of “never say die” that I will take back with me. A lot of the people here aren’t necessarily involved and active in the same issues, there is definitely interest and will to work together to make things happen in each others’ areas. Ultimately, we have to use whatever tools are out there to make things like immigration or healthcare reform, strengthening civil rights, fighting racial profiling happen. People all over America are suffering right now and it’s up to us to bring these issues up and bring about progress.

Mentally Ill Man with Open Case, Deported back to India 2 days After Obama Inaugurated, is Now Missing

This case came to our attention through Dimple Rana at Deported Diaspora. In a tragic turn of event, Harvey Sachdev, who has lived in the United States for more than 40 years, was deported to India even though his case is still open on appeal. Unfortunately, Sachdev suffers from schizophrenia and has been missing since his arrival in New Delhi. Read the press release about Sachdev’s case below.

Want to do something to to demand human rights for immigrants who are in detention and who regularly face due process violations? Take a minute to sign this petition to President Obama encouraging him to consider these violations as he staffs and restructures the Department of Homeland Security (the Executive agency that oversees many key operations including Immigration and Customs Enforcement) here <http://www.rightsworkinggroup.org/?q=DHSPetition>

PRESS RELEASE:
Mentally Ill Man with Open Case, Deported 2 days After Obama Inaugurated, is Now Missing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For more information, contact:
Neena Sachdev, nks29@cox.net
Greg Pleasants, JD/MSW, (213) 389-2077, ext. 19, gpleasants@mhas-la.org
Dimple Rana, (781) 521-4544, dimple.scorpio@gmail.com

Washington DC Area Family of Mentally Ill Man Fears for His Life as He is Missing in India Following Deportation
ICE executes deportation of schizophrenic man on January 22nd, despite his case still being under review, that he is the son, brother and father of U.S. citizens and that his deportation could result in his death.

Washington D.C.  –  January 28, 2009 – The Sachdev family is living a nightmare as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported their family member, Harvey Sachdev, to India on January 22nd. Harvey was a resident of the United States for nearly 40 years, and is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Harvey is a son, a brother and a father of U.S. citizens. His case is still open on appeal before the Fourth Circuit court. Nevertheless ICE deported him to India on January 22nd, 2009.

The trauma of Harvey’s prolonged detention and recent deportation made him highly unstable. He is now missing in New Delhi, India, a city of 11 million people. It is an unfamiliar city to him, where he has no family and no access to medication. According to his brother and sisters, “Our brother’s deportation is likely a death sentence for him, and we also fear our mother’s life. The stress and the worry has put her life in peril.”

Having pushed his deportation date back several times, ICE initially notified the family of the scheduled deportation, but failed to confirm it, so necessary arrangements could be made in India. After repeated calls on the day of his deportation, ICE only told the family he was no longer in detention. The family also repeatedly attempted to get confirmation from the India Consulate Offices and Embassy, which had to issue travel documents, but received no information.

Harvey came to the U.S. with his parents at the age of twelve. He was valedictorian of his high school and earned a scholarship to college. Tragically, in his late teens he developed schizophrenia and has battled mental illness for all of his adult life.

Due to his mental illness, he was convicted of inappropriate and aberrant but non-violent crimes. The most serious was indecent exposure, but he was not guilty of any physical contact with any person, nor of any violence. There is no indication that any court thought that the punishment for his crimes should result in deportation to a country that he can’t remember, where he has no friends or family or any connection whatsoever.

His parents and his family are U.S. citizens. Two of his family members are serving in the military, with one completing two tours of duty in Iraq. He married a U.S. citizen and has a U.S. citizen daughter who is now twenty-two years old.

Mr. Sachdev is mentally ill and requires care, which his family is able and willing to provide. He has no one in India and does not have the ability to survive on his own.

Greg Pleasants, JD/MSW, an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Staff Attorney at Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. states that “People with mental and developmental disabilities who are deported can also face a grave risk of harassment and even persecution in their home countries – harassment and persecution based solely on their disabilities.”

“Without family or medical support, deportation can become a death sentence. Suicide and attempted suicide are not uncommon among deported people with mental illnesses. Access to medicine can be limited and people are often deported without any information on their medical background.  Deportation of the mentally ill is cruel and unusual punishment,” says Dimple Rana of Deported Diaspora, an organization working with people deported from the U.S.

For more information, contact:
Neena Sachdev – Harvey Sachdev’s sister, nks29@cox.net
Greg Pleasants, JD/MSW – Equal Justice Works Fellow and Staff Attorney at Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. (213) 389-2077 ext. 19, gpleasants@mhas-la.org
Dimple Rana, Co-Founder and Director, Deported Diaspora, (781) 521-4544, dimple.scorpio@gmail.com