Festival of Lights: “A Flicker of Hope”

Pratishtha & Manar

As I entered the warm hallways last week at the White House Diwali, it dawned upon me that exactly a year ago, on November 4th, 2012, the possibilities in my life had expanded – it was the day I received my approval for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But I never imagined a day when I would celebrate Diwali at the White House.

I was honored to step into such designated, renowned halls; halls that witnessed the proudest and perhaps hardest times in American history. These halls were a testament to how acknowledging the existence and struggles of America’s immigrant youth build upon its honor. As I walked them, I remembered the morning of June 15th, 2012 again, the day that President Obama announced his executive order, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  While it seemed such a small change, the result is that I and many like me are able to live with dignity – to work, attend state universities, and freely be community leaders without the fear of being punished by the system. As I celebrated my own possibilities for the future however, I could not forget the millions of undocumented individuals – over 240,000 Indians alone – who remain in the shadows.  I remembered the hardships of my parents who struggle to make ends meet: my father, a fifty-nine year old, diabetic who still works fourteen to sixteen hours a day and my mother, a long term minimum wage worker, who recently suffered a brain hemorrhage. As I looked around the room, I realized that everyone in the room was probably a first, second, third, or fourth generation South Asian American. I was standing amongst those who live their American DREAM every day. This was my flicker of “hope and change.”

I could finally see myself living my American DREAM, going to medical school and one day, practicing medicine in disadvantaged areas around the world. My DREAM is one that follows the core American ideologies, to help those who are less fortunate, extend a hand in time of need, and be the hope and change for others. As an audience to the First Lady’s Diwali wishes, I was in the presence of advocates and activists, Members of Congress, judges, officers from the armed forces, business persons, and ambassadors from the South Asian community. In this moment, I could not help but wonder about my future as a South Asian American and the future of all immigrants.  And, I yearned for the celebratory day when the “land of the free and home of the brave” accepts all its immigrant communities as Americans. A day when those who long for their “flicker of hope” have a chance at their AMERICAN DREAM.

Pratishtha Khanna

Among the 11 million undocumented people living in this country are South Asians, including those from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  Many are students who seek to go to college, spend time with friends and family, and pursue their professional interests.  If you are undocumented and South Asian, you might be eligible for assistance under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.  Find out more at: http://saalt.org/south-asian-and-undocumented/

Young Leaders Institute 2015–2016

SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute (YLI) is an opportunity for undergraduate students and other young adults to build leadership skills, connect with activists and mentors, and explore social change strategies around issues that affect South Asian and immigrant communities in the US. The 2015–2016 Young Leaders Institute will focus on addressing and confronting anti-Black racism. Students will develop projects to address and confront anti-Black racism among South Asian Americans on their campuses and in their communities.

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The Time is Now! What Immigration Reform Means for the South Asian American Community

“You should take those to the Hispanic grocery stores,” says Ahmed, a Pakistani immigrant who sells phone plans outside the local Indian market. He says it in an effort to help me improve my outreach around citizenship resources. He and I have met several times, and each time he tells me the Latino community needs more help becoming U.S citizens. Before he even finishes his thought however, Ahmed calls out to nearby friend in case I have any resources for him. The friend is an Indian man in his 70s who, due to a fraudulent attorney and employer, lost his visa status, and has been undocumented for over a decade. He continues to work under the table in the U.S., in order to send money home and support the family hasn’t seen in 17 years. Ahmed’s friend tells me he has worked with several lawyers, and is now just waiting for the laws to change. He has been paying taxes through the social security number he received upon arrival and is hopeful that with a new law he may gain status again. Ahmed shakes his head as his friend speaks, clearly frustrated with the sheer injustice of the situation. I wonder how Ahmed can hear stories such as these and still believe that the Latino community needs more help with citizenship and immigration than ours. Yet have South Asian Americans engaged enough in the conversations and push towards comprehensive immigration reform?

Last Tuesday night at SAALT’s Maryland Town Hall on Immigration Reform, I thought back to my conversations with the Ahmed. At the town hall, I had the opportunity to hear three more community members tell their story, and speak on struggles they’ve faced due to our current immigration system. Pratishtha, a student at UMBC and a DREAMer, described barriers to common rites of passage and earned accomplishments that people with valid immigration status can take for granted. Being undocumented she couldn’t celebrate her acceptances into university or obtain a driver’s license the way other students could. Yves, another DREAMer and activist, shared the story of his parent’s deportation and his ongoing separation from them. He described emotions that don’t quite translate into words, including the sorrow of not being with his parents to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary the next day. Finally, Mini, stood up and shared how she left behind her family in Kerala for a job opportunity as a domestic worker. Yet, she was so exploited and mistreated in her position that she had to run away, losing her visa status in the process. Today, domestic worker meetings at CASA de Maryland are her lifeline and inspiration, as she too waits for a new law that will give her pathway to citizenship. The struggles that each of these community members faces is unique, yet an overarching theme rang strong; in the South Asian American community, the time is now to fix our broken immigration system. Our community, like the Latino community and many others, is in dire need of a comprehensive immigration reform.

After the community members spoke, the audience had a chance to hear an analysis of pieces and ask questions about the Senate immigration bill (S. 744) from SAALT’s Policy Director Manar Waheed, CASA de Maryland’s Legal Program Manager Sheena Wadhawan, and Caseworker Angel Colon-Rivera from Senator Ben Cardin’s office. Despite the need for a comprehensive immigration reform in our community, it was clear from the questions and comments made by the audience that there are many flaws in the current version bill. Though the Senate Bill represents a huge step forward in the immigration debate and proposes many positive changes, it is still needs much work, particularly in with respect to family reunification and an effective and inclusive prohibition on the profiling, among others. As various immigration bills are currently being debated in the House and the outcomes in the House and Senate still need to be resolved in Conference Committee, there is still time to ask for changes and make our voices heard.

After a powerful two hours of sharing stories, analysis from the panelists, and questions and comments from the South Asian American community on immigration reform, it is unmistakable that we need to take action. We need to put a South Asian face to the call for immigration reform. Let’s continue to share our stories, for the undocumented senior who hasn’t seen his family in 17 years, and never met his grandson. Let’s call on our representatives to take action for the legal permanent residents who are tirelessly working and waiting, sometimes decades, for the siblings and adult married children they sponsored to gain their visas. Let’s demand that our government prohibit the baseless and ineffective measures of profiling that violate the civil rights of all Americans. Let’s rally behind Yves, Pratishtha, and Mini who deserve unrestricted access to higher education, real living wages, and family reunification. Please join SAALT and engage in the discussion around immigration reform by sharing your immigration story, and joining our upcoming town halls in Houston and Detroit.

*Some of the names in this entry have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

SAALT will be hosting more conversations on immigration reform. View our calendar of events for more information.

Avani Mody
Maryland Outreach Coordinator, AmeriCorps
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT


Under Suspicion, Under Attack

Xenophobic Political Rhetoric and Hate Violence against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Communities in the United States
This new analysis finds that South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities are subject to an increasingly hostile climate in the United States, characterized by frequent hate violence and rising xenophobic political rhetoric in the national political debate.
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South Asian and Undocumented?

Among the 11 million undocumented people living in this country are South Asians, including those from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Many are students who seek to go to college, spend time with friends and family, and pursue their professional interests. In fact, there were approximately 240,000 undocumented Indians in 2011 alone, making India the seventh highest country of origin for undocumented individuals in the United States. If you are undocumented and South Asian, you might be eligible for assistance under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.