Update on South Asian restaurant workers detained by ICE

July 11, 2019

Washington, D.C.: A community member reached out to SAALT last week alerting staff that several South Asian restaurant employees had been detained by ICE and taken to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility the week before.  

Given that the Trump Administration has announced imminent raids, SAALT issued a community alert to prepare our community members for future ICE raids in the coming days or weeks. 

Over 500 people responded to the alert, volunteering to help community members prepare by offering to assist with legal matters, provide language support, and to distribute Know Your Rights materials  in DC.

A community member providing direct support to the detained South Asian restaurant employees reached out to SAALT and said, “Two weeks ago, nine South Asian restaurant workers were detained by ICE at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. Four were released the same day and the remaining five individuals were released at a later date.” 

South Asians are increasingly impacted directly by the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies and SAALT strives to protect and defend our communities by examining and documenting the impact of these policies, creating educational resources, and making policy recommendations. 

There are over 600,000 undocumented Indians alone in the U.S. Between fiscal year 2015 to 2018, ICE arrested over 2,000 Indian and Pakistani migrants alone within the interior of the United States. The number of Indian migrants apprehended along the Southern border tripled from fiscal year 2017 to 2018Between October 2014 and April 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested over 17,000 South Asians.  South Asians go on to experience civil rights violations and human rights abuses in detention facilities and court rooms at the intersections of racism, islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment. 

SAALT will continue to work to protect and defend South Asian communities in the US, especially at a time when immigrants are being targeted, whether at their workplaces, homes, restaurants, hotels, or along the border.

Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC-DC), a restaurant workers’ rights organization, issued this statement, in response to the alert about the detained South Asian restaurant employees: 

ICE raids are a serious issue for immigrant workers all of the time but are especially prevalent in light of the most recent threats. There have already been multiple cases of ICE activity in our DC communities and that activity specifically targets restaurants and restaurant workers. Right now we need to come together as workers, employers and community members in DC to educate ourselves on our rights so that we are able to protect ourselves and each other in our workplaces, the streets and in our homes.

We do not want to create a culture of fear around these issues but instead empower people to know what their rights are and who their community is that is here to support them. ROC DC has been working with multiple other community organizations to provide know your rights materials & trainings to workers and employers in DC in preparation for any raids. We must continue to band together and fight back the racist attacks that seek to tear apart our communities and families.

Contact: Sophia@saalt.org 

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The death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 17, 2019

We are devastated to learn of the death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur.

Gurupreet’s body was found by U.S. Border Patrol agents in a remote desert outside the Lukeville, Arizona point of entry on Wednesday, June 12th, just days before her seventh birthday.

She died of heat stroke in the Arizona desert where temperatures were 108 degrees Fahrenheit, according to U.S. Border Patrol and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME).

Gurupreet and her mother were reportedly among a group of five Indian nationals who were dropped off by migrant traffickers in a remote area on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her mother and another woman went in search of water, leaving Gurupreet with two others from the group. Gurupreet’s mother was found by a U.S. Border Patrol agent 22 hours later. Four hours after that, Border Patrol agents found Gurupreet’s body.

Seven migrant children have died in immigration custody since last year. Hundreds more have died close to ports of entry while attempting to make the perilous journey through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.

SAALT is sending a letter of inquiry to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan this week, demanding an investigation into Gurupreet’s death and information about her mother and the other migrants in their group.  

As U.S. Customs and Border Protection has escalated border enforcement and aggressively turned away migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry, deaths have continued to mount. Migrants are forced right back into the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal agencies often blame on migrant traffickers and smugglers.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of SAALT said, “U.S. border militarization, forced migration, and rejection of migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry have created an environment where a child like Gurupreet, can die in the desert, alone. Until this system is completely defunded and a new one is created that upholds the dignity of all migrants – we will continue to see unspeakable tragedies, not withstanding the countless deaths that go undocumented. While ICE and CBP have experienced unprecedented surges in their budgets, their treatment of migrants has plunged to new lows.

SAALT has been tracking both the rise in the number of South Asians crossing the border over the last 5 years and their treatment in detention facilities. Between October 2014 and April 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested over 17,000 South Asians.

Of the South Asians who end up in detention facilities, SAALT has tracked a pattern of abuse including inadequate language access, lack of religious accommodations, medical neglect, use of solitary confinement, and unacceptably high bond amounts.  

We urge our communities to stay engaged and active on this urgent issue.  

Stay updated and active by following our updates and action alerts on Twitter (SAALTweets) and Facebook (facebook.com/talktosaalt).

You can also support by donating to these organizations that provide immediate assistance:

  • The Fronterizo Fianza Fund is a community bond (fianza) fund based in El Paso and serving Far West Texas and New Mexico. Many detained migrants have no chance to be released while they wait the months or years until their trial. When someone does receive a bond, they are often way out of reach for most families, ranging anywhere from $1,500-50,000.
  • The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is the only organization in Arizona that provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation.
  • The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.
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South Asians by the Numbers: Population in the U.S. has grown by 40% since 2010

May 15, 2019

SAALT released its latest South Asian demographic snapshot today, revealing a community in the U.S. that’s growing almost as fast as it is changing.

By 2065, Asian Americans are on track to be the largest immigrant population in the U.S. The South Asian population in the U.S. grew a staggering 40% in seven years, from 3.5 million in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2017.

Key demographic facts:

  • The Nepali community grew by 206.6% since 2010, followed by Indian (38%), Bhutanese (38%), Pakistani (33%), Bangladeshi (26%), and Sri Lankan populations (15%).
  • There are at least 630,000 Indians who are undocumented, a 72% increase since 2010.
  • There are currently at least 4,300 active South Asian DACA recipients.
  • Income inequality has been reported to be the greatest among Asian Americans. Nearly 10% of the approximately five million South Asians in the U.S. live in poverty.
  • There has been a rise in the number of South Asians seeking asylum in the U.S. over the last 10 years. ICE has detained 3,013 South Asians since 2017. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrested 17,119 South Asians between October 2014 and April 2018 through border and interior enforcement.

The South Asian community in the United States includes individuals who trace their ancestry to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The community also includes members of the South Asian diaspora – past generations of South Asians who originally settled in other parts of the world, including the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, Canada and the Middle East, and other parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. South Asian Americans include citizens, legal permanent residents, students, H-1B and H-4 visa holders, DACA recipients, and undocumented immigrants.

SAALT’s Interim Co-Executive Director Lakshmi Sridaran said, “As we witness this unprecedented growth in our communities, it is more important than ever that the needs of the most vulnerable South Asian populations are met. South Asians are impacted by the full spectrum of federal immigration policies – from detention and deportation to H-4 visa work authorization and denaturalization to the assault on public benefits. An accurate Census 2020 population count is essential to distributing critical federal funding to our communities. A citizenship question on the census would chill thousands of community members, resulting in a severe undercount, with at least 600,000 South Asians in the country not being counted and thousands more deterred. And, this means even fewer resources to the communities who need it the most.”

SAALT’s demographic snapshot is based primarily on Census 2010 and the 2017 American Community Survey. We encourage community leaders, government entities, policymakers, and journalists  to use this data to better understand South Asian Americans and help inform their engagement with this community.

Contact: Sophia@saalt.org

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Men who Sustained 80-day Hunger Strike Released from El Paso Detention Facility

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

April 17, 2019

Jasvir Singh and Rajandeep Singh were released from the Otero County Processing Center last week almost three months after initial reports that they were among nine Sikh men on hunger strike whom ICE agents were force feeding in the El Paso Service Processing Center.

El Paso and Las Cruces based community groups and national advocacy organizations launched a coordinated campaign to demand ICE cease force feeding and release the men.   

ICE released both men on bond after consistent pressure from local Rep. Veronica Escobar’s office and local and national advocates, and days after a Congressional Delegation from the House Committee on Homeland Security visited and toured facilities in El Paso where they examined immigration policies and operations along our southern border.

Three of the men who had originally been among the nine on hunger strike remain in detention. While on hunger strike at EPSPC they reported regular physical, verbal, and psychological abuse at the hands of facility guards.

Jasvir and Rajandeep sustained a hunger strike for nearly 80 days to protest their conditions and treatment in detention. They had been held in the EPSPC since November 2018.  Initially they were part of a group of 13 men in the EPSPC, ten from India and three from Cuba, who began hunger striking at the end of December.

Four of the men taking part in the hunger strike were deported and returned to India in early March. A fifth man who agreed to stop his hunger strike in January in return for much needed surgery, was also deported.

Quotes:

Jennifer Apodaca of the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee who led advocacy efforts in El Paso said, “ICE always had the discretion to release people but refused to use it. It shouldn’t have taken an angry congressional delegation to secure their release. Instead, they continue to ignore the complaints of abuse and torture and turn a blind eye at the conditions of detention and prison spaces that house more than 52,000 people as they await their fate in our broken and biased immigration courts. All of this could have been avoided. It is time to abolish the detention and deportation machine.

Nathan Craig from Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) visited the hunger strikers regularly in the El Paso facility. He said, “From their initial asylum requests, to their treatment while hunger striking, to their various hearings, all of these men experienced substantial discrimination based on the language they speak and the way they dress. Unfounded value judgements by and prejudices from U.S. government officials and contractors resulted in significant negative consequences for these men’s asylum claims. Inadequate, or complete lack of, interpretation was a chronic problem.  All of the men told me about how they were subjected to frequent racial and ethnic slurs while detained. Sadly, more than the facts of their cases, these men’s asylum claims have been structured by prejudice on the part of immigration officials and their contractors. This must change. Wrongdoing at all stages of the process must be investigated. Justice must be brought for those men still in the US, and those men already deported must be afforded the opportunity to return to the US to pursue justice for what is widely recognized as torturous treatment in detention.”

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national advocacy organization for South Asians that led national advocacy efforts said,  “We are relieved that Jasvir and Rajandeep have finally been released, but it should not have taken this long. And, we remain deeply concerned for the three men who remain in detention – we fear they could be deported back to India and into the dangerous conditions they fled. We also know there are thousands more people housed in detention facilities across the country, suffering from the same litany of abuse and due process violations that our government refuses to acknowledge and address. It is clear that our nation’s entire understanding of detention must be overhauled. As a start, we need Congress to pass legislation that will hold facilities accountable with penalties and even the threat of shutting down for their repeated patterns of noncompliance.”

Contact: Sophia@saalt.org

# # #

PRESS RELEASE: SAALT hosts Congressional Briefing “Detention, Hunger Strikes, Deported to Death”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEAESE

April 2, 2019

On April 2, SAALT and immigrant justice partners UndocuBlack Network, Detention Watch Network, United We Dream, Freedom for Immigrants, Sikh Coalition, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) hosted a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill to draw immediate attention to the rise in South Asians seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape violence, persecution, and repression alongside migrants from African, Southeast Asian, Central American, and Latin American countries.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of SAALT opened the briefing saying, “We are all here today to say loud and clear that immigration is a Black issue, immigration is a LatinX issue, immigration is a South Asian issue, immigration is an LGBTQ issue. It is the practice of solidarity and local organizing that we hope to uplift today for Capitol Hill to see, to understand immigrant detention, and to address the litany of violations and abuses faced by detained individuals.”

A panel of expert community leaders and advocates including Jennifer Apodaca, of the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee in El Paso; Ruby Kaur, an attorney for two of the #ElPaso9; Deep Singh, Executive Director of Jakara Movement; Patrice Lawrence, National Policy Director of UndocuBlack Network; Carlos Hidalgo, Immigration Rights Activist and member of Freedom for Immigrants leadership council; and Sanaa Abrar, Advocacy Director of United We Dream highlighted a series of abuses and civil rights violations documented in detention facilities from Adelanto, CA to El Paso, TX. They cited cases of medical neglect, inadequate language access, denial of religious accommodations, retaliation for hunger strikes, and the practice of solitary confinement. Advocates urged Members of Congress and their staff to take immediate action through specific legislation, oversight, and appropriations recommendations.

Quotes from Members of Congress:

Representative Judy Chu (CA-27): “I want to commend SAALT for putting together today’s briefing to highlight the diverse communities impacted by the xenophobic policies of the Trump Administration and our broken immigration and detention system. Over the past few years, we have seen a spike in the number of individuals seeking asylum from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal who have suffered from neglect and abuse at the hands of our own federal government. This is unacceptable. As Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I will continue to work with my colleagues to push for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight of these facilities.”

Representative Karen Bass (CA-37), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus: “The separation of immigrant families is a violation of human rights. This outrageous policy along with the Trump Administration’s attempt to deport individuals living in the United States, many of whom now know the U.S. as their home, must be addressed immediately. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Tri-Caucus on a permanent solution and a path to citizenship for many of the families impacted by these policies.”

Rep Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) said: “Far too often, I hear from Americans who are horrified by the Trump administration’s treatment of people seeking safety at our border. I am grateful to South Asian Americans Leading Together and others for bringing continued attention to the Trump Administration’s terrible detention and enforcement policies. I saw firsthand how these policies are hurting people when I visited detainees at a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. We must do everything we can to protect the human rights of every individual. When I learned about the hunger strikes in El Paso, I joined Rep. Escobar in calling for an investigation of the conditions at ICE detention facilities. My colleagues and I will continue pushing for strong oversight that holds this administration accountable for its appalling treatment of those seeking refuge and asylum.”

Representative Grace Meng (NY-6): “I want to thank SAALT for its leadership in standing up for the South Asian community, and I thank all the partner organizations that are fighting tirelessly for those who have been unjustly abused in detention facilities throughout the United States. The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants but President Trump’s policies and rhetoric toward those who came to our country in search of a better life has been cruel and un-American. He has made the targeting of immigrants a central part of his administration while persistently lobbing bigoted, verbal attacks at immigrant communities. From separating families to feeding only pork sandwiches to a Muslim detainee, the administration’s actions have been abhorrent. Our founding fathers would be repulsed by what has been taking place over the past two years. As a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, I will continue to hold President Trump and his administration accountable for the immigration policies that they have implemented. My priority is to end these inhumane immigration enforcement practices, and ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”

Representative Mark Takano (CA-41): “I’m grateful for this strong coalition of immigrant rights groups working together to shed light on the injustices and cruelty immigrants are facing under this Administration. I share with them extreme concern about how immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are being treated at the hands of our government. Congress must continue to exert its oversight powers to hold the Trump Administration accountable and bring humanity back to our immigration system.”

Representative Veronica Escobar (TX-16): “For the past two years, our country has witnessed an unprecedented attack against our immigrant community. From separating families to force-feeding detainees, the Trump administration has constantly implemented policies that violate our laws and American values. That is why, now more than ever, we need to raise our voices and share the stories of those impacted by cruelty in order to hold the administration accountable and ensure this pattern of abuse comes to an end.”

For a recorded stream of the Briefing, please click here.

In Collaboration with:

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) | Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) | Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) | Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus | Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) | Representative Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) |Representative Gil Cisneros (CA-39) | Representative Judy Chu (CA-27)| Representative Veronica Escobar (TX-16) | Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) | Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13) | Representative Grace Meng (NY-6) | Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) | Representative Mark Pocan (WI-2) | Representative Mark Takano (CA-41)

Honorary Co-hosts:

Senator Ben Cardin (MD) | Senator Kamala Harris (CA) | Senator Jeff Merkley (OR)

Contact: sophia@saalt.org

 

Immigration Advocates Warn of Physical and Mental Harm to Hunger Strikers in El Paso Detention Facility

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 15, 2019

EL PASO, TX — Immigration advocates and medical experts are deeply concerned over the ongoing hunger strike at the El Paso Service Processing Center and the dire situation facing people held in indefinite detention, especially as their health deteriorates.

The “El Paso 9” have been subjected to brutal force-feedings, mistreatment and retaliatory actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private contractors following their hunger strike, which began in late December 2018. At least two of the “El Paso 9” have entered the 11th week of their hunger strike.  

Of the group of men who were on hunger strike or supporting the hunger strike, two have been deported, three have been transferred to the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, and four remain detained at the El Paso Processing Center, two of whom are still on hunger strike and are in medical isolation.

Nathan Craig, a volunteer with Advocate Visitors in Detention, who recently visited one of the hunger strikers in El Paso, said, “At this point, having not eaten since December, he can barely walk and hold up his head. In his frail state, thinking and talking are slow and laborious. He must be afforded the opportunity to recuperate outside of detention so that he can prepare for his merits hearing and cross-examination.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which has long argued that force-feeding against an individual’s wishes is unethical and inhumane, says precautions must be taken to ensure those on hunger strike receive adequate medical attention and accommodations. PHR also recommends that Congress fund alternatives to detention programming that represent a long-term solution to prevent human rights violations documented in immigration detention. Below is an official statement by Physicians for Human Rights:

Hunger striking is a nonviolent form of protest undertaken when other means of expressing grievances are unavailable, and hunger strikers must be protected from any and all reprisals. Physicians for Human Rights calls for all precautions to be taken to ensure that hunger strikers receive needed medical attention, and that accommodations be made to ensure appropriate transport so that they are not injured. Not eating may result in lightheadedness, so wheelchairs should be provided as needed.

“Extensive medical research shows that immigration detention is harmful and strongly correlated with negative mental health outcomes, while prolonged or indefinite detention violates the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.

“The U.S. immigration detention system has repeatedly demonstrated a dangerous lack of accountability and transparency, and the recent hunger strikes are just one more example illustrating this dire situation. As a long-term solution, PHR strongly recommends the use of alternatives to detention that are humane and cost-effective and that have been proven to ensure compliance with immigration enforcement.

In a separate comment, Altaf Saadi, MD, a neurologist at UCLA and a member of Physicians for Human Rights’ Asylum Network, said,

Prolonged detention causes significant medical harm to individuals due to both denial and delays in medical care, inadequate staffing, punitive approaches to mental health needs like the misuse of isolation, and harmful conditions of confinement more broadly like poor and overcrowded living conditions. The human toll of detention is compounded for those already vulnerable and suffering from trauma based on persecution they have endured in their home countries. We don’t want more patients joining the list of those whose deaths have been linked to substandard care in detention, nor do we want to see the lasting impacts of detention-related psychological harm.”

ICE has threatened the hunger-striking men with deportation despite the deterioration of their health.

Immigration and civil rights groups are demanding the immediate release of the men and for them to be able to address their asylum cases outside of detention, as they should have been able to do from the beginning.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy for South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said, “These asylum seekers, like so many before them, resorted to a hunger strike to draw attention to the litany of abuses they face at the hands of ICE on top of the indefinite delays in adjudicating their asylum cases.  We demand the immediate release of all of the detained individuals so they can be cared for by their community. And, we demand an immediate investigation into the civil rights violations, retaliation, and medical negligence at the El Paso Processing Center, a facility that SAALT and our partners have been monitoring and lodging complaints about over the last five years. We know the treatment of detained individuals in El Paso is a microcosm of conditions across detention facilities in this country.”

Media contact: Sophia Qureshi, sophia@saalt.org, 202-997-4211

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Freedom for Immigrants 

Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID), in the Chihuahuan Desert

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Defending Rights & Dissent

National Immigration Project of the NLG

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee

Ruby Kaur –Kaur Law Pllc

La Resistencia

 

NAKASEC, SAALT, and SEARAC Welcome Introduction of American Dream and Promise Act

Washington, D.C.: Asian American organizations welcome the introduction of the American Dream and Promise Act. The bill, introduced by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA 40), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY 7), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY 9), provides a majority of undocumented immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and individuals with status under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs a pathway to citizenship.

There are more than 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, 1.7 million of whom are Asian American. The top five countries of origin for Asian American undocumented individuals are India, China, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The legislation would protect over 2 million individuals from detention and deportation by creating a permanent pathway to citizenship for these populations. Furthermore, approximately 120,000 Asian American DREAMERs and 15,000 Nepali Americans who currently live in the United States through the TPS program would benefit from the process created in this bill.

Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of SEARAC, states:

We applaud the leadership of Reps. Roybal-Allard, Velazquez, and Clarke for introducing this bill. It is an important step for immigrant communities and, if passed, would provide more than 9,000 Vietnamese Americans with a permanent pathway to citizenship. Our communities are hopeful that this act will create a strong foundation and pave the way for additional legislation that liberates all members of our communities from the fear heightened detentions and deportations inflict. And as Congress moves this bill forward, we must ensure that we do not divide immigrant communities into those deserving and undeserving of protections by utilizing only model immigrant narratives. SEARAC will continue to work with members of Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act and fix our fundamentally broken immigration system to create humane immigration processes that protect Southeast Asian American families from the trauma of detention and deportation and reunite our families in the United States.”

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, states:

We welcome the introduction of the American Dream and Promise Act, sets out to provide a long awaited pathway to citizenship for over two million individuals, including those with DACA, TPS, and DED. The South Asian community in the United States alone has over 23,000 Dreamers and 15,000 Nepali Americans with TPS who will directly benefit from this legislation. While Congress embarks on this important step, we will continue to follow the leadership of DACA, TPS, and DED holders, who advocate for policies that would uplift all – rather than legislation that would benefit one immigrant community at the expense of another. We must not allow any compromises that would undermine this hard work and deliver this bill’s protections for the price of increased enforcement and other harmful and unnecessary additions. We look forward to building on this legislation to improve our entirely broken immigration system to ensure that all immigrant families are protected from detention, deportation, and denaturalization.

Birdie Park, DACA Recipient with NAKASEC, states:

We are excited about forward motion in Congress for immigrant youth, TPS holders, and those with DED. We call upon our members of Congress to be courageous and not negotiate anything harmful for our communities onto this bill.”

 

AAPIs say, “Immigrants and Refugees Deserve Better than a Harmful Bill and a Fake National Emergency”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, February 15, 2019

Washington, DC – The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) are gravely concerned by the steps taken last night by the United States Congress and the president.

First, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrant families are deeply disappointed with the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 in both the House and Senate yesterday.

We understand the immense pressure that negotiators were under to prevent another government shutdown. We similarly need to keep our government operating. Nevertheless, our organizations are alarmed at the inclusion of $1.375 billion for a physical barrier (a total of 55 miles), an 11% increase in funding for 45,274 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds, and more enforcement agents. AAPI communities have made clear that any bill including any of these measures is unacceptable. A full list of measures that AAPI communities will not stand for can be found in this letter to congressional leaders.

Both the border wall and the presence of ICE are sources of terror for all immigrant communities. The wall is a symbol of hate for any immigrant living within and outside of the United States, and it directs billions of taxpayer dollars to separating families. Furthermore, the bill does not place a limit on the number of ICE detention beds nor does it restrict the authority of the Department of Homeland Security from transferring or reprogramming funding internally, which enables ICE to continue expanding immigrant incarceration and deportation at will.

Second, President Trump intends to declare a “national emergency” at the border in order to justify the need for his border wall. Make no mistake, there is no national emergency happening at the border. Rather, there is a humanitarian crisis happening at the border, and it is a crisis that President Trump and his Administration caused in its entirety. The president’s intention to declare a “national emergency” is a unilateral rebuke of our democratic process driven by an irrational desire to fund an anti-immigrant unnecessary, and unpopular border wall after Congress would not approve the $5.7 billion the president initially demanded. Two-thirds of Americans do not support a national emergency.

Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), said:

“In just the last 10 days we’ve been hearing firsthand about the cruel treatment towards nine South Asian men currently on hunger strike in a detention facility in El Paso. Despite their asylum requests, they’ve been subject to violent force-feeding, solitary confinement, and constant threats of deportation.  What’s particularly devastating is that we’ve seen similar treatment occur previously in this same facility and we have received accounts of abuse of detainees in several facilities across the country. This bill does nothing to address the systemic issues with our detention system, and only serves to perpetuate abusive situations like the ones we are witnessing now.”

Jonathan Paik, director of the Korean Resource Center, a NAKASEC affiliate, stated: “This is a reckless move and endangers the future of our country. Our democracy is in incredible danger- this is the true national emergency. We call on all our fellow Americans to resist these abuses of power and reclaim our democracy!”

Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC, expressed:

“The Southeast Asian American refugee community has been devastated by the expansion of our detention and deportation system, and our families continue to be torn apart at unprecedented rates. Our organizations understand that this is a difficult position for our policymakers to be in, and none of them should be forced to make this choice. But our communities elected our policymakers to represent our interests, and Asian Americans have declared in no uncertain terms that we oppose the passage of this bill and the president’s unconstitutional and falsely justified national emergency. We remain vigilant and committed to working with our Congressional partners to protect the rights of our refugees and immigrants.”

 

Contact: Sophia Qureshi | sophia@saalt.org | 202-997-4211

Dispatch from New Jersey: Town Hall and Legislative Visits!

In an effort to get the local South Asian community engaged around immigration reform, SAALT-NJ, along with community partners, held a  ‘Town Hall for South Asians on Immigration & Civil Rights’ in Jersey City on July 27th at the Five Corners Library.   The event, part of the One Community United campaign, was the second in a series of community forums that will be held nationwide as a part of the campaign.

The town hall brought together not only a diverse group of folks within the community, but also a diverse coalition of local community partners, including: American Friends Service Committee, Andolan, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), Govinda Sanskar Temple, Manavi, New Jersey Immigrant Policy Network, and the Sikh Coalition.

Although the focus of the discussion at large was around immigration reform, the conversation covered a variety of issues, such as the effects of visa limitations and backlogs on low-income workers and women facing violence in the home; and detention centers and the growing number of detained immigrants. The conversation was at once challenging and emotional, as participants shared personal stories illustrating how immigration laws have negatively impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones.   Nevertheless, the conversation ended on a positive note with ways to stay involved with the campaign, and to get more civically engaged around the immigration reform conversation.

In fact, on August 19th, SAALT members, along with coalition members from NJIPN and New Labor, conducted an in-district meeting with Representative Donald Payne’s office in Newark, New Jersey.  Participants met with a senior staff member at the Representative’s office to discuss issues around immigration and healthcare reform.

The delegation highlighted key concerns to both the South Asian community and the immigrant community at large, such as (1) the increase in detention and deportations post 9-11 and its impact on immigrant families in the US; (2) family- and employment-based visa backlogs and the need for just and humane immigration reform to prevent families from being torn apart in the process; and  (3) more concrete measures in place for immigrant integration to address issues such as linguistic and cultural barriers in accessing services, and, as a result, becoming active and participating members of the community.

The meeting was a great experience – it illustrated to the members present the significance of civic engagement, and how important it is to reach out to our respective representatives about issues concerning us. In a political and economic climate that seems so anti-immigrant, it was certainly refreshing to be able to sit down with the Representative’s office to actively advocate for issues that deeply impact the immigrant community.  I look forward to meeting with other local offices in the coming month and encourage others to try to schedule meetings with your respective Representatives while they are home for August recess.

To learn more about SAALT-NJ’s work, please email qudsia@saalt.org

Looking for ways to get involved? Here are some ideas:

• Call your member of Congress to express your support for immigration reform and strong civil rights policies. Find out who your member of Congress is by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.

• The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America has launched a text messaging campaign that sends alerts to participants when a call to action, such as calling your Congressman/woman, is urgently needed. To receive text message alerts, simply text ‘justice’ to 69866.

• Stay in touch with local and national organizations that work with the South Asian community.

• Share your immigration or civil rights story with SAALT by filling out this form or sending an email to saalt@saalt.org.

Death in Detention: Tanveer Ahmad

Here’s a case for you to ponder about. When you first read it, you might not think it that sympathetic. But, by the time you read the end of this post, maybe you’ll change your mind.

The New York Times recently reported on the story of Tanveer Ahmad. He came to New York City from Pakistan on a visitor’s visa. In 1997, he was arrested for possessing an unlicensed gun. He married U.S. citizens and applied for marriage-based green cards to stay in this country. His wife was threatened with marriage fraud allegations by the government. Immigration authorities later caught him in 2005 for overstaying his visa and detained him because of his gun offense. A few weeks later, he died in detention in New Jersey.

At first blush, you might be thinking, “Hey, the government should be going after these criminals! Why should I care that he got locked up and happened to die?” After all, the latest buzz word within immigration enforcement circles is to go after “criminal aliens”, right? But dig a little deeper into the facts – things aren’t quite that cut and dry.

What’s the most shocking about this case? Is it that Mr. Ahmad showed his gun while preventing a robbery at the gas station where he worked the night shift and that had been held up 7 times in about a month? Is it that following 9/11 his U.S. citizen’s wife’s friends said, “You better watch it. You may be married to a terrorist,” causing him to always watch his back? Is it that he was detained nearly 10 years after his offense even though he paid the requisite $200 fine for the misdemeanor? Is it that his arrest was considered a “collateral apprehension in Operation Secure Commute” as part of the government’s sweep of immigrants overstaying visas following the 2005 terrorist attacks in London? Or is it that when he suffered a heart attack in detention, the jail guard reportedly blocked medical attention for one hour, even after the jail received numerous previous complaints about detainee abuse and neglect?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. But remember that our immigration and detention policies can change to become more humane. In fact, there is a bill in Congress known as the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 1215) proposed by Congresswoman Roybal-Allard of California that would codify detention standards and improve medical care for immigrant detainees.  In my mind, such a case should not have come to this, but, sadly, it did. And we can let Congress know that through policy reform, hopefully, they won’t happen again.

(Check out this previous article in the NYT on this story, too.)