Due Process: What it Means for South Asian Immigrants

This post was pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished at the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­cans for Progress blog as part of the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Week of Action on immi­gra­tion reform.

Before I start­ed law school, I had def­i­nite­ly heard the term “due process.” I have to con­fess, though, I was­n’t real­ly sure what it meant. All I knew is that it sound­ed good, seemed to be a core Amer­i­can val­ue, and was root­ed in fair­ness. It was some­thing that this coun­try prid­ed itself on as a hall­mark prin­ci­ple that came down from our Found­ing Fathers.

When we talk about immi­gra­tion, there is often talk about due process vio­la­tions affect­ing the lives of immi­grants, but what does that real­ly mean? Of course, we could always turn to our trust­ed friend, the Web­ster’s Dic­tio­nary for some guid­ance: “legal pro­ceed­ings that are car­ried out fol­low­ing estab­lished rules and laws that result in unfair or arbi­trary treat­ment of indi­vid­u­als.” (The legal eagles among us can rely upon the defin­i­tive Black­’s Law Dic­tio­nary for some fanci­er and tech­ni­cal lan­guage, too.) But these lofty and abstract def­i­n­i­tions did not hold much trac­tion for me. It was­n’t until I encoun­tered the real life expe­ri­ences of immi­grants whose due process rights were vio­lat­ed that I under­stood why this val­ue is so dear and needs to be pro­tect­ed in our coun­try’s immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Below are just a few exam­ples spot­light­ing South Asians seek­ing asy­lum that made clear to what due process (or the lack there­of) tru­ly means.

Due process means access to legal representation and legal information: Mon­isha, orig­i­nal­ly from Pak­istan, was an hon­ors grad­u­ate from UC Berke­ley who came from Mum­bai to Texas to seek asy­lum with her par­ents and broth­er when she was ten years old. While in India, her father was very involved in the local Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty — as a result of his activ­i­ties, thi­er fam­i­ly became the tar­get of Hin­du fun­da­men­tal­ist groups. They were denied asy­lum because their attor­neys failed to meet nec­es­sary fil­ing dead­lines. Immi­gra­tion author­ites lat­er arrest­ed her par­ents and broth­er and placed them in depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings. Nav­i­ga­tion the com­plex world of immi­gra­tion law is often worse for those who do not have lawyers and have to rep­re­sent them­selves because immi­grants fac­ing depor­ta­tion are not guar­an­teed an attor­ney. Does it seem fair that accu­rate legal infor­ma­tion and com­pe­tent rep­re­sen­ta­tion is often unat­tain­able par­tic­u­lar­ly when the immi­gra­tion sys­tem is so com­pli­cat­ed?

Due process means ensuring that immigrants are not criminalized and placed in detention: Harpal, a Sikh man, chose to be deport­ed back to India where he had been tor­tured, rather than lan­guish in lim­bo in immi­gra­tion deten­tion. When he arrived in the U.S., he set­tled in the Bay Area, began work­ing as a truck dri­ver, and applied for asy­lum. He was lat­er arrest­ed by U.S. gov­ern­ment and immi­gra­tion offi­cials. After being detained for more than eight years in Cal­i­for­nia, much of it in soli­tary con­fine­ment, and tired of wait­ing for Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture claim to be resolved in the courts, he decid­ed to return to a coun­try where offi­cials had pre­vi­ous­ly mis­treat­ed him severe­ly. Does it seem fair to lock up indi­vid­u­als for years who have com­mit­ted no crime and are wait­ing exces­sive peri­od of time for their immi­gra­tion cas­es to be resolved?

Due process means guaranteeing fairness of immigration court proceedings and case review on appeal: A Sri Lankan woman flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Sri Lan­ka was denied asy­lum by an immi­gra­tion judge who did not believe her case sim­ply because she was “look­ing up at the ceil­ing” dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny. The judge ignored detailed evi­dence of her fear of return and based denial on this minor point about her demeanor. Even worse, the appel­late body, the Board of Immi­gra­tion Appeals, did not dis­agree with the judge’s rul­ing. It was not until a fed­er­al court reviewed her case that the ini­tial judge was ordered to con­sid­er her case more thor­ough­ly. Does it seem fair that the safe­ty and lives of immi­grants depend upon often arbi­trary and unfair deci­sions that can occur in Immi­gra­tion Courts and are giv­en lim­it­ed review?

These are just a few sto­ries that you find repli­cat­ing them­selves with­in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty that con­vey in real terms what the lack of due process looks like. As immi­gra­tion reform moves for­ward, it is cru­cial that due process and fun­da­men­tal fair­ness be restored to poli­cies and pro­ce­dures that affect the lives of so many immi­grants in this coun­try.

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.

Sci-Fi Age of E‑Verify

I recent­ly attend­ed a ses­sion at the Migrant Pol­i­cy Insti­tute that focused on E‑Verify, the sys­tem that would require employ­ees to ver­i­fy their iden­ti­ties and legal sta­tus through an elec­tron­ic pro­gram. The Migrant Pol­i­cy Insti­tute dis­cus­sion focused on pos­si­ble ways to expand this sys­tem and per­haps bet­ter it for every­one involved. The only peo­ple who don’t seem to ben­e­fit from the expan­sion of E‑Verify are the employ­ees. They would have to jump through addi­tion­al hoops to main­tain or obtain employ­ment.

I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised by the types of solu­tions offered by MPI to improve E‑Verify, as they seemed very inva­sive and expen­sive, not to men­tion Big Broth­er­ish. Pos­si­ble solu­tions includ­ed bio­met­ric cards and reg­is­ter­ing for a per­son­al­ized PIN that would be pro­vid­ed to employ­ers who could then access a data­base that ver­i­fied iden­ti­ties.

While MPI said it was try­ing to address issues of iden­ti­ty fraud in order to pro­tect employ­ees, I real­ly don’t think that the work­ers’ inter­ests are at the heart of these pro­pos­als or the E‑Verify sys­tem. Anoth­er con­cern is how E‑Verify might be used to check the sta­tus­es of cur­rent estab­lished employ­ees as well as new-hires, which would require peo­ple set­tled in their employ­ment to go over the same hur­dles as a new-hire. There must be a bet­ter way to reg­u­late employ­ment prac­tices than to strike fear in the hearts of immi­grant employ­ees who just want to cre­ate a new life for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

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.

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.

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.6)

Hey y’all, after a great ses­sion with Valerie Jar­rett (you can check out all the action at Net­roots here), I’m at “Artic­u­lat­ing a The­o­ry of Change.” In this ses­sion (with New Orga­niz­ing Insti­tute and Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee), we’ve been talk­ing about how artic­u­lat­ing a the­o­ry of change plays a role in online orga­niz­ing. Most peo­ple’s expo­sure to online orga­niz­ing is get­ting emails that say, “do this now.” Well, how does artic­u­lat­ing a the­o­ry of change that is com­pelling and acces­si­ble help make that ask more effec­tive? Some­thing I am always fas­ci­nat­ed by, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of the work that SAALT does, is to find uni­fy­ing the­o­ries-of-change that go beyond “do this to let so-and-so know that peo­ple care about what­ev­er issue” to real­ly show how doing these actions come togeth­er to cre­ate a bet­ter soci­ety and world. Because the ask changes, but the the­o­ry of change, in a macro sense, should stay the same. We come togeth­er around cer­tain val­ues and online orga­niz­ing is all about bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er to take actions towards a world that is clos­er to those val­ues.

Eco­nom­ic town­hall with Corzine next, then the immi­gra­tion reform ses­sion, more to come!

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 One!

From Aparna Kothary, our for­mer Devel­op­ment and Fundrais­ing VISTA (2007–2009):

“I start­ed work­ing at SAALT right after col­lege and it served as my intro­duc­tion to both the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty and the broad­er social jus­tice move­ment. Along the way I met pas­sion­ate indi­vid­u­als who con­tin­ue to inspire me to remain engaged in this com­mu­ni­ty, the non-prof­it sec­tor, and the move­ment. I see SAALT con­tin­u­ing to serve as a hub for the Souh Asian com­mu­ni­ty through the NCSO, local capac­i­ty-build­ing, and pol­i­cy work. It is also my hope that sup­port from the com­mu­ni­ty increas­es over the next five years through mem­ber­ship and involve­ment.”

From Priya Murthy, our Pol­i­cy Direc­tor:

“I first got involved with SAALT almost four years ago as part of the Be the Change nation­al day of ser­vice. Hand­ing out know your rights brochures to taxi cab dri­vers at Union Sta­tion in Wash­ing­ton, DC, I knew that this was a pro­gres­sive South Asian orga­ni­za­tion that I want­ed to be a part of. Over the past few years, SAALT has made a tremen­dous impact on my life. It has meant con­nect­ing with a diverse and strong South Asian com­mu­ni­ty as we advo­cate for pol­i­cy change. It has meant being inspired by the tire­less work that local orga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers do every­day. It has meant work­ing with fierce allies from oth­er com­mu­ni­ties as we strive for immi­grant and civ­il rights. As our com­mu­ni­ty grows in the next five years (as I’m sure it will!), I am excit­ed to see where SAALT will go in work­ing with the com­mu­ni­ty and fos­ter­ing a space for South Asian empow­er­ment.”

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!