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.

Shah Rukh Khan – Bollywood Border Stop

This piece by Deepa Iyer (SAALT) has also been posted at Race Wire (www.racewire.org)

The Shah Rukh Khan incident at Newark International Airport over the weekend has elicited a range of viewpoints and opinions. Shah Rukh Khan, a famous Bollywood actor, was detained for over an hour, and interrogated by U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) authorities at Newark International Airport where he had landed. Mr. Khan believes that he was detained and interrogated because of his last name and his religious affiliation. The CBP (a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) claims that officials were following standard protocol.

Mr. Khan’s incident might be gaining international attention because he is a celebrity, but the truth is that ordinary American citizens and immigrants here in the United States grapple with racial and religious profiling routinely at airports. Especially since September 11th, 2001, South Asian, Arab American, Muslim and Sikh travelers have been subjected to arbitrary secondary inspections, detentions, and interrogations while traveling.

Recently, the Asian Law Caucus and the Stanford Law School Immigrant Rights’ Clinic published a report that details incidents of intrusive questioning that many US citizens and legal permanent residents have faced when returning to the United States from trips abroad. The report provides information about the abuse of watchlists and first-hand accounts of profiling, as well as recommendations to safeguard civil rights.

Racial and religious profiling must be eliminated whether it happens on the streets, on our highways, at borders, or at airports. Profiling people based on their last name, skin color, accent, or religious affiliation is an ineffective enforcement technique that violates civil rights protections. In fact, the use of profiling tactics has not been an effective law enforcement strategy in either the War on Drugs or the War on Terror.

The Obama Administration and Congress have an opportunity to review and strengthen current administrative anti-profiling policies, and to pass federal legislation that bans profiling [the End Racial Profiling Act is set to be introduced in Congress again this year]. These are important steps in ensuring that the civil rights of everyone – whether a celebrity or ordinary American – are preserved.

Deepa Iyer is Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national, non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues. Learn more at www.saalt.org.

Celebrating 5 Years!

It’s been five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office. We wanted to take this opportunity to reflect back on the past five years and look forward to many more. I’ll be putting up entries from SAALT staff and Board as well as past interns and staff.

From Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of SAALT:

“Has it been five years already? When we opened our first office in New York City, just a few blocks from Penn Station, in a rented space at Citizens NYC, I was hopeful but unsure about what the first five years would hold.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication of a number of people, including staff (current and former), Board members, interns, volunteers, and donors, we have been able to build a strong foundation for a national organization.  When I started at SAALT five years ago, I was very sensitive to the model that we would create – how could we develop a national organization that would be informed by the experiences of people who were facing inequity on a daily basis? It took years of trust-building, conversations, a bit of struggle, flexibility, and faith for the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations to emerge, and for SAALT to have a meaningful presence at policy tables.

In many ways, I think of another anniversary that is coming up – the ten year anniversary of September 11th. I remember in the days and months after 9/11, wondering how our community would be able to weather the unprecedented backlash, immigration enforcement tactics, and profiling that we faced.  At that point in time, there was no formal network, no real ties that organizations had to one another. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the community feels stronger, more connected, a bit more cohesive. If SAALT has had a part in that, I think we have achieved quite a lot! Here’s to the next five years!”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take Two!

Continuing our series commemorating the fifth anniversary of the opening of SAALT’s first staffed office, let’s hear from two SAALT Board members, Lavanya Sithanandam and Anouska Cheddie (respectively).

“Five years ago SAALT opened its first office and hired staff in New York City.  In that short time, SAALT has grown tremendously.  My involvement with SAALT began during those same five years, and what this organization has given me is invaluable.   SAALT has provided me with the inspiration and the tools to speak up as a physician activist, advocating on behalf of immigrants both inside and outside of my medical practice.   I continue to be inspired and motivated by the hard work of the staff, the dedication of the NCSO members, and the vision of the organization.  I feel confident that SAALT will continue its wonderful work over the next five years and will become an even stronger voice both within and outside our South Asian community.”

“SAALT is community. It’s about collaboration.  SAALT is trust. It’s about participation.  SAALT is empowerment. It’s about representation. SAALT is inclusive. It’s about including the diaspora.

With SAALT, I know that local grassroots groups have a national organization that they can work with to ensure our community has a strong progressive voice that is heard in DC and around the country.

This is just the beginning.”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take Three!

We have more to come from our series commemorating five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office, but I wanted to put in my two cents:

To me, SAALT is where we come together as a community and fight for the change we want, both for ourselves but also in solidarity with other communities-of-struggle. SAALT is an open and inclusive hub that invites the South Asian community, allies and partners to envision a world that is truly free and equitable. Moreover, SAALT is vehicle to help individuals make these lofty aspirations a reality. In five years, I see us doing this with ever more empowered, engaged people. This is only the beginning!

Celebrating 5 Years! Take five!

Another set of reflections about the 5 year anniversary of SAALT opening its first staffer office. Now we’re hearing from Imrana Khera, SAALT’s Program Manager from 2004-2005.

“SAALT represents the very diverse South Asian community living in the United States, a challenging job for any organization.  SAALT pushes our community forward by advocating for change within a social justice framework.  SAALT’s strength is its respectful and effective collaboration with organizations that are working with South Asian community at a local level across the country.

My expectation is that SAALT will continue to grow over the next five years and continue to effect change on behalf of our community – through education, policy, and research — like the award-winning Raising Our Voices DVD,  through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Washington DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Capital (July 2009) .”

One Community United Kickoff Town Hall in Atlanta

From Niralee, one of our amazing summer interns:

On Tuesday, June 16th, SAALT’s Executive Director Deepa Iyer, along with NCSO partner Raksha, Indus Bar, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, and Khabar, launched the One Community United campaign with an inaugural town hall in Atlanta. The event was the first in a series of community forums to be held throughout the country as part of the campaign.

The town hall took place at the Global Mall in Atlanta on Tuesday evening, and about forty people attended the event. The group was very diverse, including representatives of South Asian organizations, local students and community members, and members of local places of worship.

The heart of the discussion was immigration and human rights. From the very beginning, participants eagerly engaged in the discussion, addressing issues ranging from the rights of immigrant workers, to detention and deportation, to the reunification of families. Participants also discussed how the human rights of immigrants are often violated in this country. The event closed with a call to action, encouraging participants to contact their representatives in Congress, stay in touch with organizations working with the South Asian community, and stay up to date on immigration issues.

Many who attended walked away feeling inspired to take action on immigration reform in their communities. Vandana said, “The town hall was extremely eye-opening and thought provoking… I am going to chalk-out a plan of action… and definitely contact some people that I know will share the same enthusiasm for the [Be the Change] project.” Noshin, a representative of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta, said he would “keep up with bills introduced and contact [his] representatives “ and “share [his] immigration story with SAALT.” Many others expressed a strong desire to go back to their communities and address the issues discussed at the town hall.

SAALT left the event looking forward to future town halls, to be hosted in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, New Jersey, and Washington DC. It was great to see so many Atlanta community members coming together to express their support for immigration reform. Overall, the event was a very exciting kick-off for SAALT’s One Community United campaign.

For more information about the One Community United campaign for Civil and Immigrant Rights, visit here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

More Reflections from Atlanta Town Hall for Civil and Immigrant Rights

Here are more reflection on the kick-off town hall in Atlanta, GA of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations’ One Community United campaign for civil and immigrant rights. This time we’re hearing from Nureen Gulamali, intern at ACLU-Georgia  (one of the cosponsors of the town hall):

I’m lucky to be interning at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia this summer and was grateful to be a part of the SAALT/ACLU forum.  After attending the Immigration Forum, my perspective has been enlightened and truly widened.  Immigration is a hot topic in today’s world – tell me something I don’t know.  But how it affects the actual immigrants is truly the issue at hand.  I’ve heard accounts of the trials and tribulations that so many people have had to go through in order to get a better start in this world, and my heart goes out to them.  The forum itself not only provided more information to the uninformed, but allowed for a healthy and knowledgeable discussion for both the informed and uninformed.  It’s so important to stand up for what is right and immigration rights are, in essence, human rights.  What knowing individual wouldn’t stand up for human rights?

So, I suppose the more important question is, what can we do about it?  Well, really, everyone who was able to make it to the forum has already taken the first step – stay informed.  It’s as simple as that.  You can make a difference by staying informed, whether that’s catching up on the current issues on Google News, or joining a human rights advocacy group (GA Detention Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, Raksha, SAALT, etc.).  The more allies we have, the bigger the impact we can have – not to mention strategic pull.  So, take ten minutes a day to read what’s going on in the human rights/immigration front and from there, I swear, it will be plenty easy to get involved!

For more information about the One Community United campaign for Civil and Immigrant Rights, visit here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

Join the Summer of Service!

On Wednesday, May 20th Michelle Obama will roll out “the vision of service for the Administration for the summer” in Washington DC. SAALT’s Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, will be in the audience to hear about the summer of service and learn how organizations like SAALT and the South Asian community as a whole can get involved. Are you inspired by Michelle’s message of service? How are you getting involved and engaged this summer?

Hear about the 2009 National South Asian Summit from the Attendees Themselves!

During the Summit, SAALT staff and interns used our handy Flip cameras to hear from attendees about their experiences. We’re are currently in the process of posting these clips on our YouTube channel. Hear what Summit participants learned, what they hope to bring back to their communities and more!

Taha Gaya:

Taz Ahmed:

Check out all the Summit Snapshots here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=DFD50F179385221B