Goodbye SAALT…

As I end my intern­ship here at SAALT I would like to start off by thank­ing Deepa, Aadi­ti, Priya and Mou for one of the best intern­ship expe­ri­ences pos­si­ble. Not only were they great super­vi­sors but they were also great men­tors.

I start­ed my intern­ship here at SAALT not real­ly under­stand­ing what issues faced South Asians in Amer­i­ca. For me, a rel­a­tive­ly shel­tered Indi­an who grew up in Tuc­son, Ari­zona all Desis are pret­ty much doc­tors or engi­neers. But after get­ting into this intern­ship and being exposed to vary­ing facets of the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, I have come to real­ize that there are seri­ous prob­lems that affect the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty that deserve our time and atten­tion, whether it be based around Immi­gra­tion Reform or Hate Crimes.

Dur­ing my intern­ship here at SAALT, I was for­tu­nate enough to take part in the JACL (Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League) Col­le­giate Con­fer­ence, attend var­i­ous Hill brief­in­gs and help to put on in per­son train­ing ses­sions for var­i­ous women led non prof­its. I have gained a thor­ough under­stand­ing of what it takes to run a small but influ­en­tial non­prof­it, the skills need­ed to mul­ti­task with about 10 dif­fer­ent dead­lines loom­ing over­head, and final­ly the patience need­ed to under­stand that change does not hap­pen overnight.

So I would like to end by thank­ing SAALT for a great 9 weeks and wish­ing them luck with all future endeav­ors!

-Ash­ley

Daily Buzz 7.21.2009

1.) Pak­istani Amer­i­can Elders Urged To Pre­pare For Reces­sion Chal­lenges

2.) Sec­re­tary of State Clin­ton Urges Stronger U.S.-India Ties

3.) Op-Ed: Arab Amer­i­cans and the Upcom­ing Cen­sus

4.) Think­ing About Domes­tic Abuse: Chris Brown Apol­o­gizes, But Wont Say For What…

5.) Mindy Kaling of The Office: “Liv­ing Alone Is Hard”

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.)

Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no oth­er way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immi­gra­tion. The Sen­ate, through recent amend­ment votes, put their stamp on poli­cies that focus on pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment rather than just and humane solu­tions to fix the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Below is a quick round-up of leg­isla­tive activ­i­ty of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these poli­cies will def­i­nite­ly have a neg­a­tive impact on the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty … in ways that you may not expect. Pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment means that hard­work­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indi­ans alone made up the 10th largest undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. in 2008) will be fur­ther rel­e­gat­ed to the shad­ows out of fear of appre­hen­sion by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. But it also means that many law­ful­ly present immi­grants may inad­ver­tent­ly also be caught up in the web of enforce­ment. Take a look for your­self; the impact may sur­prise you …

Dur­ing debates on the Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty Appro­pri­a­tions Bill (which is basi­cal­ly leg­is­la­tion that allows the gov­ern­ment to spend mon­ey with regard to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty), sev­er­al anti-immi­grant amend­ments passed, includ­ing:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amend­ment passed pre­vent­ing funds from being used to rescind the much crit­i­cized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of back­ground, let­ters are sent by the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion to employ­ers when Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers pro­vid­ed by employ­ees do not match gov­ern­ment data­bas­es. Under the rule, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties could use these let­ters as evi­dence than an employ­er should have known than an employ­ee is not autho­rized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in the­o­ry. But, how good can it be when the data­bas­es used are know to be inac­cu­rate and could net a range of work­ers, regard­less of sta­tus? Or when a fed­er­al court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It does­n’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E‑Verify is a pilot employ­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that cer­tain employ­ers use to check the work autho­riza­tion of their work­ers. Again, this might sound good to you in the­o­ry, but one major prob­lem with the pro­gram is that it relies upon data­bas­es with unac­cept­ably high error rates. (Wan­na know more? Check out this resource by the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter for more info on what’s wrong with the pro­gram.) Instead of paus­ing for a moment and assess­ing the prob­lems that exist with­in its data­bas­es, the Sen­ate instead passed an amend­ment mak­ing the pro­gram per­ma­nent for all fed­er­al con­trac­tors; in addi­tion, they man­dat­ed that all employ­ers cur­rent­ly employ­ing E‑Verify to use it on ALL employ­ees, no mat­ter when they start­ed. Can you imag­ine work­ing for a com­pa­ny for over 20 years — even if you have work autho­riza­tion — and your name some­how pops up as being inel­i­gi­ble due to data­base errors or name mix-ups and then you face pos­si­bly los­ing your job all because of this? It’s a fright­en­ing prospect.
In these dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times, South Asians — like all oth­er Amer­i­cans — fear los­ing their jobs and have dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting by. If flawed pro­grams like the SSA No-Match Let­ters and E‑Verify are left unchanged, South Asian work­ers stand to lose, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus. Mea­sures that not only hurt immi­grants, but also the econ­o­my, don’t make sense — call your mem­bers of Con­gress and urge them to sup­port just and humane immi­gra­tion reform rather than set­tling for obsta­cles towards real solu­tions.

Intro to ISNA

This past July 4th week­end, the Islam­ic Soci­ety of North Amer­i­ca (ISNA) host­ed its 46th Annu­al Con­ven­tion in DC, fit­ting­ly named “Life, Lib­er­ty and the Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness.” It was my first ISNA expe­ri­ence, and I was in awe of the huge crowd. Thou­sands of peo­ple were in atten­dance as var­i­ous speak­ers and pan­elists dis­cussed top­ics rel­e­vant to the mod­ern Amer­i­can Mus­lim. Many of those infor­ma­tive ses­sions were geared towards young peo­ple, as part of the MSA Nation­al and MYNA por­tions of the con­ven­tion. While there was def­i­nite­ly a strong inter­est in the ISNA Mat­ri­mo­ni­als event, many atten­dees were drawn to the DC Con­ven­tion Cen­ter by the dynam­ic speak­ers and the vari­ety of goods and art avail­able at the Bazaar.

It was excit­ing to see the num­ber of Mus­lims who came to DC for the event, and I was par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed by the num­ber of South Asians I observed attend­ing the con­ven­tion. Throngs of desis could be found in Chi­na­town restau­rants, out on DC streets, and strolling the Nation­al Mall. My own cousins came to DC for the first time from Cal­i­for­nia and Okla­homa specif­i­cal­ly for ISNA week­end, and they were sur­prised by the num­ber of South Asians in DC. So was I! While there are many South Asians liv­ing and work­ing in and near the Dis­trict, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before. ISNA had a strong pull for our com­mu­ni­ty, with ses­sions geared specif­i­cal­ly towards South Asian Mus­lims, fea­tur­ing South Asian speak­ers or mod­er­at­ed by South Asians, as well as many, many bazaar stalls that were put up by South Asian small busi­ness own­ers and artists.

I liked that there were net­work­ing events, such as the Mus­lim Lawyers net­work­ing social that I attend­ed Fri­day night, and info ses­sions, such as the one about get­ting jobs at fed­er­al agen­cies, that involved Mus­lims help­ing oth­er Mus­lims. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, many of the faces at both those events were South Asian. It’s great to see peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty tak­ing inter­est in men­tor­ing oth­ers!

Helping ICE Doesn’t Mean They Won’t Turn Around and Deport You Anyway

Thanks to RaceWire, where I found the fol­low­ing sto­ry: A Pak­istani man had over­stayed his visa when he was con­tact­ed by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment agents who enlist­ed his help in gath­er­ing evi­dence against a para­le­gal fil­ing false immi­gra­tion claims. In exchange, they promised to help him stay in the coun­try and pos­si­bly get a green card. The para­le­gal was even­tu­al­ly indict­ed, I’m sure in no small part due to his efforts. He then went on to help ICE agents gath­er infor­ma­tion about ter­ror­ism-relat­ed activ­i­ties at a local mosque. How does ICE repay him? Giv­ing him false infor­ma­tion about his depor­ta­tion order and, now, ready­ing itself to deport the man who had helped them.

Tak­en with recent rev­e­la­tions about law enforce­ment ini­tia­tives to place infor­mants at Amer­i­can mosques, and the result­ing betray­al of trust for the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty, this sto­ry shows the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between nation­al secu­ri­ty, immi­gra­tion and the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. Amer­i­can Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions have repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that it is impor­tant for law enforce­ment agen­cies to build rela­tion­ships with the com­mu­ni­ty in an open and hon­est man­ner. More­over, the com­mu­ni­ty is com­mit­ted, like all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties, to con­tribut­ing to a strong and vibrant Amer­i­can soci­ety that affirms prin­ci­ples like reli­gious free­dom and equal­i­ty before the law. To see some­one who went out of their way to help ICE agents, no mat­ter how ques­tion­able the activ­i­ties, aban­doned by the agency and fac­ing depor­ta­tion puts a human face to how this tru­ly com­pli­cat­ed sys­tem is fail­ing peo­ple.

Read the whole sto­ry here.

Read the Islam­ic Cir­cle of North Amer­i­ca’s state­ment oppos­ing FBI infor­mants (you have to scroll down past the first state­ment).

New Jersey SAALT Circle volunteers with Habitat for Humanity

I’ll admit: I almost regret­ted it. You would, too, if you had to be up at 7AM on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing for work.  What was I think­ing to sched­ule a ser­vice project so ear­ly in the AM?

It was­n’t long before my spir­it rose — I was greet­ed by three car fulls of smil­ing ready-to-work-hard vol­un­teers.  And what a diverse group it was! South Asian, African Amer­i­can, Mus­lim, Hin­du, Chris­t­ian — all com­ing togeth­er for the com­mon cause of help­ing those in need.  This was def­i­nite­ly worth the ear­ly ris­ing.

Every month, the New Jer­sey SAALT Cir­cle con­ducts a com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice project — last month, we helped pack lunch­es and gro­cery bags for a local food pantry.  This month, we worked in con­junc­tion with Habi­tat for Human­i­ty of Hud­son Coun­ty to assist in the build­ing of two homes in Jer­sey City.  When we first showed up at the build, the site coor­di­na­tor was so over­whelmed by how many of us came, he almost turned us away!  But he soon had a change of heart and we were all put to work.

We sand­ed down walls. We paint­ed ceil­ings. We primed walls.  We swept away piles of dust and debris (If you’re look­ing to tone those arms, for­get the gym — sign up for a habi­tat build and you’ll be in shape in no time!).  There’s some­thing so sat­is­fy­ing about work­ing with your hands and actu­al­ly being able to see the impact of your hard work.  It was a great expe­ri­ence — and although it was most cer­tain­ly a phys­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing activ­i­ty, I’m pret­ty sure that we all came away with a sense of pride and accom­plish­ment.

Thanks to all that ded­i­cat­ed their Sat­ur­day to ser­vice — we tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed your hard work, and look for­ward to hav­ing you help out in upcom­ing ser­vice projects!

If you’d like to get involved with the New Jer­sey SAALT Cir­cle, email me at qudsia@saalt.org or call (201) 850‑3333.