The Fight for Immigrant Rights Reaches Supreme Court

April 18, 2016
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran,

The fight for immigrant rights reaches Supreme Court
Washington, D.C. — Today, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in U.S. v. Texas, a misguided and unnecessary challenge to eminently common-sense immigration programs that allow some aspiring Americans to remain with their families, continue contributing to the American economy, and pursue their dreams. An estimated 5.2 million immigrants, including at least 200,000 undocumented Indian Americans and countless more South Asians, are eligible for DAPA and expanded DACA announced under President Obama’s executive action on immigration in 2014. Both programs stand on rock-solid legal ground and would grant a fair chance at the quintessential American dream. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) joined an amicus brief led by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in support of these programs.


SAALT also joined thousands of others outside the Supreme Court this morning calling for these programs to move forward swiftly and keep families together. Rather than welcoming the hard work and real hopes and dreams of millions of immigrants, including almost four million who are the parents of U.S. citizen children, a Texas federal district court judge decided to block these programs over a year ago leading them to unfair legal scrutiny all the way up to the Supreme Court. DAPA alone is estimated to boost the American economy by $61 billion in just five years.

“DAPA and the expanded DACA programs are the latest in the long struggle for immigrant rights in this country that should have ended with comprehensive immigration reform legislation in Congress, which the Senate passed with bipartisan support in 2013,” said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “While Congress has been unable to advance a bill, we hope the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of these programs as a first step toward protecting millions from deportation, including thousands of undocumented South Asians. This occurs as South Asians are the fastest growing demographic in the country, totaling nearly 4.3 million strong as of 2013.”

Organizing for Black Lives Matter

In the wake of the decision of non indictment of Tamir Rice’s murderers, advocacy and social justice have become even more important. The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has been doing a great job promoting equality for Black lives throughout the nation yet, as South Asians it is our civil obligation to support and further that movement. Students have the advantage of being able to reach out to their peers on campus to make them see why their cause is important and here to stay. Because of this, campus organizing has become even more necessary.

Personally, returning from SAALT’s annual Young Leaders Institute, I felt empowered to create change. New ideas were forming in my mind on how to involve my campus in the revolution- I wanted bring the movement to my university and have everyone know of its importance. I imagined protests to the Alachua County Office to remove the confederate statue, and sit-ins with my fellow students to show how we were against violence and institutionalized racism, and workshops with the center of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs on how to encompass everyone on campus in this movement. My vision was to see minority groups raise their voice in support for the BLM movement and bring awareness to students who had no idea what we were fighting for. To say the least, this all did not happen. Instead, what happened was my realization of the folks around me and their priorities.

I was beginning to see where I was and who I was around. My South Asian friends started to seem uninterested in my ideas and what I supported. They questioned my frustration with the government and my fear of the police. They didn’t understand why I refused to spell my name out to the white barista at Starbucks. They were confused when I started to call out all the South Asians I saw perpetuating the model minority myth. They didn’t like me getting angry at the Taco Bell employee for assuming I am a vegetarian. They were annoyed I stopped eating Krishna lunch with them because of the cultural appropriation of my food. YLI liberated my mind. Now, I had to bring this same light to my peers.

To make my fellow South Asians on campus feel the importance of the BLM movement, organizing events and meetings was a must. This task was near impossible because of stupid dance groups. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for showing dedication to our South Asian heritage and exercising in a fun way. But all I can hear on campus between South Asian folks is about Gator Adaa, Gator Bhangra, and Gator Garba. The focus is on how hard they work, how they need a place to practice, and how they needed to pass their premed classes. In this environment, it is difficult to bring social advocacy into the mix even when it is so much more important.

As students we are all living hectic lives. Being guilty of this myself, I am often preoccupied in my own mess and too busy to worry about what is going on around the nation. Nevertheless, I want to change that. I want to tell my fellow peers to rise up and stand up against anti-Black racism. We need to start the conversations about institutionalized racism, white supremacy, and cultural appropriation. Along with organizing, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are held accountable every time a Black life is lost and we did nothing stop it. With more Black lives at risk each day, now in particular we must start practicing social justice and activism. I will continue to try and create a safe space on my campus for South Asians so we can start the conversation and show support to the BLM movement. I encourage you all to organize as well in support of the revolution, in any way possible.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Martin Niemöller


Priya Sabharwal

Young Leaders Institute Fellow, 2015

The Young Leaders Institute 2015 is sponsored by:


Double Consciousness of the South Asian Identity

Every time I am asked “what are you” or “where are you from” I don’t really put much thought into it anymore. I have come to realize that my answer doesn’t really matter because regardless of what I tell you, I will continue to be what you want me to be—a manifestation of the image that you have been fed of my people, my culture, my history, no matter how twisted that image may be.

When I came across the concept of “double consciousness” coined by W.E.B. Du Bois, I found a connection in the way that I felt I was  perceived by others and the way that Du Bois explained this idea. In his 1903 work “The Souls of Black Folk” Du Bois defined his double consciousness as “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” He goes on further to apply this concept to what it meant to be Black in America by saying:

“The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife–this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American.”

Double consciousness is the constant feeling of in between-ness and it is the feeling of straddling multiple borders at once. It is not knowing where your body fits in either place that you call home and not knowing how to respond to the way these homes will exploit you. Du Bois presented this term originally in the realm of being African American during the early 1900s, and the idea has grown into something that is applied to the experience of living in diasporic spaces as a whole, as well as the feeling of otherness. How can one be multiple identities at once? And how can one do so authentically when they are constantly seeing themselves through the eyes of those who exploit them?

White supremacy is the idea that whiteness is superior to other attributes and characteristics of a person’s identity. It serves as a construct that perpetuates the social, political, and economic oppression of all those who are not white. Whiteness has its own view of the other; as the global west has its own view of the global south and east. When I tell whiteness that my family is Indian, whiteness projects it’s own view of India onto me. When whiteness thinks of India, it sees colors thrown in the air, elephant gods, cows being worshipped on the street, Bollywood dances, and impoverished children living on the streets. When whiteness thinks of India, it thinks of “Eat, Pray, Love” and soul searching in the nostalgic backwardness of a third world country while trying to avoid food poisoning. When whiteness thinks of India, it dehumanizes Indians. Examples of these projected views can be found easily in popular culture—Major Lazer’s music video for “Lean On,” Iggy Azalea’s music video for “Bounce,” the entirety of the short-lived NBC sitcom “Outsourced,” and Coldplay’s music video for “Hymn for a Weekend.” When I see all of these modern representations of South Asia in the media I find myself wondering: how this is still the narrative? How is it that South Asia continues to be bastardized and depicted as a mystical dreamland sprinkled with slumdogs covered in colored powder that are existing only to be consumed by whiteness? The discussion surrounding these examples is often one of appropriation but it is important to go beyond that—this is an issue of colonization, Orientalism, and capitalism.

The relationship that colonizers had within South Asia can be seen as one that allowed them power and hegemony over the region. The legacy that colonialism left in South Asia is reminiscent of the way that the colonizers worked to ensure that whiteness could continue dominating and restructure the region in ways that benefited whiteness most. This is how the colonizer ruled over “the Orient,” a term often used in the context of Asia and the Middle East, meaning the East in relation to Europe. Historically, western discourse surrounding “the Orient” could be seen as parallel with the discourse surrounding the criminals, the “mentally insane,” and the impoverished of Europe. Because of this, over time usage of the word “oriental” to describe a person or group of people has been challenged greatly by Asian Americans due to it’s loaded history. “The Orient” has always been looked through instead of seen or understood and analyzed as a problem meant to be solved instead of as a region of diverse peoples. Westerners could always go back home and tell everyone just how stereotypically Oriental “the Orient” really was. Perhaps this history of Orientalism lends to the continued representation of South Asia as exotic and mystical.

The colonial legacy perpetuates structural violence of poverty, caste, and hindu supremacy that were created during British rule and these structures can still be clearly seen in South Asia today. 2013 Census data from India showed that over 65 million people were living in slums, which are defined by the survey as “residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation because they are dilapidated, cramped, poorly ventilated, unclean, or any combination of these factors which are detrimental to the safety and health.” Many of the slums existing in India today were created because of forceful urbanization brought on by colonialism. The British colonial government expelled poor natives of colonial settlements and when these natives built their own settlements, the government invested nothing to the sanitation or infrastructure of these areas. These slums continue to exist because of the structures of class and caste from which the colonizers capitalized. Additionally, tens of thousands have been killed in South Asia due to Hindu-Muslim communal violence since the violent partition of India and Pakistan on a religious basis. This violence exists in the way that it does today due to the violent and polarizing policies put in place by colonizers. So when the west continues to be fascinated by India’s slums and poverty as well as Hindu iconography and traditions, it dehumanizes Brown bodies while perpetuating the violence that South Asia has faced for hundreds of years at the hand of Orientalists and colonizers.

When I am asked “what are you” or “where are you from” I know that my answer doesn’t matter and the reason for that is deeply rooted in the history of exploitation of Black and Brown bodies.  W.E.B. Du Bois explained through double consciousness what it means to be looked at as an “other” in your own home and be expected to perform the identity that is placed upon you by a white, western gaze. For years my Brownness existed in a way that was comfortable for those around me—it was an identity that I didn’t speak of until it was spoken to. I danced along to the Pussycat Dolls’ version of the song Jai Ho when everyone around me was suddenly into Bollywood. I chuckled along with the snide comments from my peers about getting an arranged marriage after returning from a winter break spent in India. I’m sure many of my Black and Brown peers living in the diaspora have felt forced to whitewash their own identities in similar ways. Though at this point in my life I have embraced my ethnic identity, I am still working hard to learn how to navigate living authentically in this Brown body without having my various identities working against me. The long history of exploitation makes it hard for me to believe that this space will become easier to navigate in the near future, but with generational shifts and continued personal reclamation of Black and Brown bodies I am hopeful that it will be one day. In the meantime, to the Major Lazers, Iggy Azaleas, and Coldplays of the world—South Asia is not your mystical dreamland. My people do not exist for your consumption.


Vandana Pawa

Young Leaders Institute Fellow, 2015

The Young Leaders Institute 2015 is sponsored by: