SAALT calls on Biden campaign to condemn Islamophobia and Hindu Nationalist violence

Recently, legitimate concerns have arisen about Amit Jani, the AAPI Outreach Coordinator on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, regarding his connections to the BJP and support of the Modi Administration, which has unleashed violence aimed at Muslims, Dalits, and other minority populations. Amit Jani was a participant in SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute (YLI) in 2012. We hope that our alumni will always take a stand against hate violence targeting South Asian communities in the U.S. and globally. 

As a non-partisan organization (c3), SAALT is prohibited from taking positions about people who are either running for elected office and/or connected to political campaigns. Nevertheless, we are allowed to ask a campaign to share its positions on issues of concern to our communities. Our communities have been personally and directly impacted by the rising tide of state sanctioned anti-Muslim violence and discrimination in India and Kashmir as well as in the U.S. We ask the Biden campaign to condemn Islamophobia and Hindu nationalist violence across the world and acknowledge the impact it has on South Asian communities everywhere. 

As an organization rooted in values of dignity and inclusion, we believe that South Asians holding positions of political influence must be responsive to the most critical issues in our community, including Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia. When it comes to hate violence and discrimination, neutrality is not an option.

South Asian American Organizations Condemn Violence in Delhi

As members of South Asian organizations in the U.S. that believe in the values of dignity, justice and inclusion for all, we are horrified by the violence targeting Indian Muslims in Delhi this week.  Since Sunday, at least 40 people have been killed and hundreds more injured. We are struck by the heart wrenching footage of Muslims fleeing their homes, stores and homes burnt to ashes, the desecration of mosques and violent attacks by mobs on Muslim communities.

What is most alarming is the role of the police in inciting the violence and the speech of a local politician from the Hindu nationalist BJP party warning protestors of the brutality  that would be unleashed on them if they failed to clear the streets before Trump’s visit. This is state sanctioned violence, as chief officers of the Delhi police stood behind him in solidarity.

 As members of the Diaspora we cannot be silent.

These events are horrifying. And disturbingly, they are not entirely unexpected.  They come after a series of exclusionary and unjust actions targeting religious and caste minorities and vulnerable populations, particularly since the re-election of Modi. 

There have been wide scale protests throughout India since the government passed the inherently discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, which actively creates an unconstitutional, religion-based criteria to grant citizenship to select immigrants and lays the legal foundation to denaturalize millions of Indian minorities, effectively creating the largest network of concentration camps in the world. The CAA, in conjunction with the National Registration of Citizens (NRC) list, effectively renders India’s 200 million Muslims stateless

In Kashmir, India’s ongoing military occupation has intensified since August 5th, when communications were cut and the region was placed under an intense crackdown. The Indian state has effectively silenced Kashmiris and detained thousands of people including minors and many Kashmiris fear a settler-colonial project that would change the demographics of the region from a Muslim-majority state to a Hindu-majority state.

And across the country, there has been a surge in the number of lynchings of minorities, mostly Muslims, Dalits and Christians, under Modi’s leadership.

The Modi government is implementing a Hindu nationalist agenda, known as Hindutva, or right wing Hindu nationalism, which is rooted in the alarming notion that Hindus are racially and culturally superior to others. Similar to white supremacy, which South Asians (including Hindus) in the United States contend regularly with, Hindutva threatens the rights, bodies, freedoms, and livelihoods of non-Hindus in India. 

These supremacist ideologies implicitly and explicitly sanction hate – and put our communities in danger- both in the U.S. and in the subcontinent.  SAALT has documented more than 542 incidents of hate violence in the U.S. targeting Muslims and those racialized as Muslim since November 2015. 

The current situation in India, fueled by nationalism and Hindutva, has global implications. Over the past five years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Indian nationals seeking asylum in the U.S. People seeking asylum from persecution range from Sikh political activists to religious minorities to those facing caste oppression. The anti-Muslim measures in India are a part of a tide of rising Islamophobia, and comes as the Trump Adminisration just expanded its own Muslim Ban.

As South Asian organizations working toward building power and capacity with our communities, we urge all South Asian Americans to understand the connections between white supremacy and Hindutva, to unite around human rights, to support policies that uphold dignity and inclusion for all, and to denounce hate violence in all its forms.  

We urge South Asians to: ask their Members of Congress to join Representatives Beyer, Raskin, Omar, Castro, Tlaib, and Jayapal; and Senators Sanders and Warren in condemning the violence targeting Indian Muslims, caste oppressed communities and Kashmiris (including co-sponsoring House Resolution 745); to educate themselves and their own communities about the implications and impacts of Hindutva; and show up to the protests at Indian consulates on February 28th and organize their personal networks, temples, and cultural institutions to defund hate and stop supporting the BJP and RSS now. The time to stop genocide is now. 

Signed,

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC)

Equality Labs 

Stand with Kashmir

Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR)

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus 

DesiQ Diaspora (DQD)

Sakhi for South Asian Women

South Asia Solidarity Initiative

Students Against Hindutva (SAH)

Atlanta Kashmiri Community

Alliance of South Asians Taking Action

Burmese Rohingya Community of Georgia 

The Sikh Coalition 

Council Of Peoples Organization 

API Chaya

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

South Asians Building Accountability & Healing (SABAH)

India Home

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)

Chhaya CDC

Coalition of Seattle Indian-Americans (CSIA)

South Asian Workers’ Center – Boston

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)

Jakara Movement

Adhikaar

South Asian Youth in Houston Unite (SAYHU)

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SAALT welcomes new Executive Director and Board Chair

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The SAALT Board is extremely happy to mark the beginning of the new year, the new decade, and this next era for SAALT with exciting news:

We are thrilled to welcome Lakshmi Sridaran as SAALT’s new Executive Director and Simran Noor as SAALT’s new Board Chair.

Lakshmi played a crucial role as SAALT’s Interim Executive Director in the past year, managing the organization’s operations and infrastructure while simultaneously leading on policy and campaigns.

Lakshmi’s strong commitment to SAALT’s mission and specifically to building movements for justice across communities of color was deepened while serving as Director of National Policy and Advocacy at SAALT for over 4 years. She developed SAALT’s policy and legislative agenda focused on immigration, racial profiling, and combating hate violence. During this time, she expanded the scope of SAALT’s coalition partners at the local and national levels, including facilitating more influence for South Asian American communities on Capitol Hill.

Before joining SAALT, Lakshmi served as the Policy Director for The Praxis Project, a national organization focused on health justice in communities of color. Prior to that, Lakshmi spent six years in New Orleans working with directly impacted communities on recovery and economic justice issues immediately after Hurricane Katrina. She comes to the Executive Director role at SAALT with 15 years of experience working in nonprofits and holds a Masters degree in City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in Ethnic Studies from The University of California, Berkeley.

Simran has over a decade of experience working in the public policy and nonprofit worlds to advance racial, social and economic justice. She currently runs her own strategy firm and works with organizations to institute processes and programs to achieve racial equity. She’s a past Race Forward fellow and served as Vice President for Policy and Programs for the Center for Social Inclusion. Simran holds a dual bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a dual masters degree in Public Administration and Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania. Simran has served on the SAALT Board since 2017 and her varied expertise in philanthropy, movement building, and organizational development make her ideally situated to move to the position of SAALT’s Board Chair.

“I couldn’t be more excited to support Lakshmi and SAALT in the coming years. We look forward to continuing to position SAALT to be a national leader in visibilizing the issues faced by South Asian communities and working with awesome local and national partners to create more power and justice,” said Simran.

2020 also marks SAALT’s 20 year anniversary. Since SAALT’s inception, the threats and challenges our communities face have diversified, but the need to stand strong, united, and organized against injustice as a community remains just as urgent.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead SAALT after being grounded in our communities and the issues we confront over the last five years. I look forward to helping strengthen our movement and shift narratives within and about South Asian American communities,” said Lakshmi.

We are eager to have Lakshmi and Simran provide the leadership this moment calls for as we usher in this new era and we will count on your support to continue to build community power at this crucial time.

Please join us in welcoming Lakshmi and Simran by tweeting welcome messages to them at @SAALTweets, @lsridaran  and @SimranNoo.

Contact: Sophia@saalt.org

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Administration Acts on Threat to Expand Muslim Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 31, 2020

Earlier today, just days after the third anniversary of the Muslim Ban, the Trump Administration struck again by adding six more countries to this racist policy. Nationals of Myanmar, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan and Eritrea will be banned from seeking immigrant visas and nationals of Sudan and Tanzania will be banned from the diversity visa lottery. While it is expected that Nigerians will be most impacted in number, it is also painful to see that Muslim refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar will be turned away by our nation just as Jewish refugees were decades ago during the Holocaust.

“One thing is clear, the Muslim Ban was this administration’s first family separation policy just days after the presidential inauguration in 2017, and it has served as the foundational policy for targeting communities of color ever since. Since then, we have seen attacks on DACA, TPS, diversity lottery, green cards, public benefits, refugees, asylum seekers, pregnant women, and more to institutionalize a white supremacist agenda,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, SAALT’s Interim Executive Director.

Since January of 2017, SAALT has documented an uptick in white supremacist hate violence aimed at Muslims and those racialized as Muslim, including 350 incidents of hate and 200 instances of xenophobic or Islamophobic rhetoric from media outlets and elected officials. SAALT’s 2018 report “Communities on Fire” found that Muslim women wearing hijab and individuals with darker skin color were more frequently the targets of the most violent acts of hate. This runs parallel to today’s expansion of the Muslim Ban targeting Muslim majority African nations.

Congress has the power to end all of this by passing the NO BAN Act. This legislation would immediately rescind the Muslim Ban and limit the executive branch’s authority to exercise such wide and unchecked discretion in issuing racist policies. Today’s expansion of the Muslim Ban underscores the need to pass a clean NO BAN Act with zero exceptions because even the smallest opening can unleash such widespread destruction.

Contact: sophia@saalt.org
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On Third Anniversary of Muslim Ban, Asian American Organizations Say Pass NO BAN Act

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Washington, DC – Three years ago today, the Trump Administration placed a travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations that has continued to separate and displace thousands of Muslim families in the United States. The impact of the ban has also prevented individuals from accessing medical treatment, along with educational and professional opportunities.

To counteract the Muslim Ban, Congresswoman Judy Chu introduced the NO BAN Act last year, which would end this ban and any other bans based on religous discrimination. This year, as the White House threatens to expand the Muslim Ban to include an additional seven countries to the list, we stand united in urging Congress to pass H.R. 2214 NO BAN Act to ensure the Trump Administration’s agenda of discrimination can go no further.

Becky Belcore, Director of NAKASEC, said:

To deny entry into the United States based on religious affiliation or racial identity is racist and discriminatory. Trump’s first iteration of the Muslim Ban singularly targeted Muslim majority countries. This rumored expansion strikes at mainly non-white majority countries. Trump’s institution of the Muslim Ban is couched in moral bankruptcy, Islamophobia, and White Supremacy. We as a society and community must do better. We must reject these racist, anti-Muslim policies and ensure that such bans can never exist by passing the NO BAN Act!

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Executive Director of SAALT, said:

Institutionalized racism like the Muslim Ban has not only directly impacted thousands of Muslims whose lives were torn apart because of this racist ban, but it has emboldened white supremacists, sanctioning their violence aimed at black and brown communities. Since the Muslim Ban was announced, we have tracked at least 350 incidents of hate violence targeting Muslims and those racialized as Muslims, and 200 instances of xenophobic and/or Islamophobic rhetoric from media and elected officials. As this Administration threatens to expand the destructive Muslim Ban and issue additional bans on pregnant women and immigrants without health insurance, we must stop this from going any further by demanding Congress pass the NO BAN Act immediately.

Quyen Dinh, executive director of the SEARAC, said:

Southeast Asian American communities remain steadfast in our support of Muslim American communities and continue to denounce the Muslim Ban. We must protect the integrity of our immigration system by fighting against discrimination and intolerence with equity and justice. We stand with the Asian American and immigrant rights community by calling on Congress to pass the NO BAN Act to prevent further biases in our laws and ensure that communities across the country can continue to reunite with their loved ones.”

Contacts
Sam Yu, NAKASEC
syu@nakasec.org / 213-703-0992

Sophia Qureshi, SAALT
sophia@saalt.com / 202-997-4211

Elaine Sanchez Wilson, SEARAC
elaine@searac.org / 202-601-2970

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5 South Asian men in detention reach 75th day of hunger strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 16, 2020

JENA, LOUISIANA — Five South Asian men have reached the 75th day of a hunger strike in the GEO Group-operated LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana where they have been subjected to the tortuous procedure of forced-hydration and force-feeding. According to medical professionals, 75 days without adequate nutrition is when vital organs begin to fail.

Freedom for Immigrants(FFI) has filed two complaints with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) on behalf of the five men, demanding DHS address the systemic civil rights violations the men have faced under ICE custody. FFI alongside Detention Watch Network(DWN), South Asian Americans Leading Together(SAALT), local advocates, and medical professionals in the Louisiana area are warning the men are on the brink of death and call for their immediate release.

The first CRCL complaint calls on ICE to use its prosecutorial discretion to release all five men. Each of them have formal sponsors in the United States committed to supporting and housing them while they fight their asylum case.

The second complaint, submitted in collaboration with Physicians for Human Rights, addresses the significant delays in receiving critical medical records from ICE. Beginning in November, an FFI affiliated volunteer submitted multiple requests to ICE for these records, with the consent of the men engaging in hunger strikes. However, ICE has refused to release these records. Without this critical information, independent physicians cannot conduct an assessment of the medical treatment these men are receiving while in detention.

“Under ICE’s own policies, people in detention have the right to independent medical evaluation. However, staff at the LaSalle Detention Facility have denied our repeated requests, which were made in line with their policies, for accurate and updated medical records. This makes it impossible for us to have a clear understanding of the hunger strikers’ current medical conditions and completely negates their access to independent evaluations, which is especially crucial as they enter the critical time in their hunger strike when vital organ functioning begins to shut down,” said Dr. Catherine Jones, MD, a licensed physician in New Orleans.

External medical review of individuals on hunger strikes is critical given ICE’s long history of systemic medical neglect writ large and specific concerns with the treatment of hunger strikers in its custody. On October 2019, Dr. Parveen Parmar, a licenced medical professional, reviewed the medical records of a man who had been on hunger strike for approximately three months while detained at the El Paso ICE Processing Center. Upon review of the medical documents Dr. Parmar stated that it was “the worst medical care I have seen in my 10 years of practice.”

Per ICE’s own standards, individuals in their custody and their representatives are entitled to medical records. Freedom for Immigrants has identified licensed medical professionals in the area who are willing to review the medical records.

Statements:

“The men in Jena-LaSalle are on the brink of death. They would not have been forced to resort to a hunger strike if the conditions of their detention weren’t so brutal and they were released on bond. We are extremely disturbed by the patterns of abuse we’ve been tracking against South Asian asylum seekers in detention since 2014. No one should have to go to such great lengths simply to have their cases heard and to gain their freedom. They should not be in detention in the first place and the only legitimate alternative is release,“ said Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Executive Director of SAALT.

“On a recent visit to the men on a hunger strike at LaSalle, I was verbally told one man being force-fed had a blood pressure that was life-threateningly low. Because we do not have access to his medical record, it is impossible to verify and ensure he is receiving the necessary medical attention. No one should be subject to torture for simply seeking a better life for themselves,” said Michelle Graffeo, a volunteer with a Freedom for Immigrants-affiliated visitation group in Louisiana.

“The growing number of hunger strikes in ICE prisons across the country are no coincidence. It is indicative of complete disbelief in a fair legal process and the lengths ICE is willing to go to indefinitely detain them. Some of these men have been locked up for nearly 2 years,. We are deeply concerned that ICE appears willing to let these men die in detention to make an example of them rather than be released to community, where each man has family or close friends willing to provide housing and support,” said Sofia Casini, southern regional coordinator at Freedom for Immigrants.

“These men are demanding freedom after months in abusive ICE custody. They are bravely protesting with the only measure that they have control over — their bodies, which even ICE is violently interfering with through forced-hydration and feeding. The answer here is clear and can be acted on immediately: ICE must release these men from its custody or risk responsibility for causing preventable deaths,” said Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network.

Contact: sophia@saalt.org

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ICE initiates force-feeding process for South Asian asylum seekers on hunger strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 13, 2019

ICE agents are force-hydrating at least five asylum seekers from India detained at Jena-LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana and force-feeding three South Asian men at the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. The eight men have been on prolonged hunger strike, some nearing two months without eating. 

The five men in Louisiana are being subjected to forced hydration, which is carried out by a team of five to six people who hold the person down while an IV is administered. Local advocates say forced-hydration began on Nov. 18 and that the men are expected to face force-feeding by naso-gastric tube any day.

 All three men detained in El Paso, including one man who has been detained for nearly three years, are currently being force-fed via naso-gastric tubes. 

Force-feeding, a practice that has been denounced as torture by the United Nations, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Association, and the World Medical Association, has been occurring in the El Paso facility throughout the year. Since January, local advocates report at least 16 people have been or are currently being subjected to force-feeding practices at that detention facility. All of them have been force-fed with tubes that are nearly twice the size of the tubes denounced internationally that were used in Guantanamo. Some of the men hunger striking were deported without a strict re-feeding protocol, a process which according to Physicians for Human Rights, can lead to death. 

Mr. Singh (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) is an Indian asylum seeker currently in the Jena-LaSalle facility who is fleeing religious persecution. In a written statement he said:

Since January 21st, 2019, I have been imprisoned inside four walls. For almost one year, I have been suffering. I have never in my entire life lived like this inside four walls nor am I accustomed to living in imprisonment. I do not know how long my asylum case will take, which is why I want to fight my case from outside this prison […] I only have one demand: I want freedom and I want to fight my case from outside. 

Over 34,000 South Asian migrants have been apprehended at U.S. borders since 2008. The number of Indian migrants apprehended at the border tripled from almost 3,000 in 2017 to nearly 9,000 in 2018. SAALT and partners tracked a pattern of abuse towards South Asian migrants in detention since 2014 that drove many to hunger strike including: inadequate or non-existent language access, denial of religious accommodations, use of solitary confinement as a form of retaliation, gross medical neglect, and high bond amounts resulting in prolonged detention.

We are extremely disturbed by the patterns of abuse against South Asian asylum seekers in detention. No one should have to go to such great lengths simply to have their cases heard and to gain their freedom. They should not be in detention in the first place and the only legitimate alternative is release, said Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Executive Director of SAALT.

Full press release with coalition partners here.

Media contact: sophia@saalt.org

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FBI Releases 2018 Hate Crimes Report: Hate in the U.S. is getting deadlier

November 12, 2019

Washington, D.C.: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released its annual hate crimes report for 2018 early this morning. The report documented 7,120 hate incidents in 2018, down slightly from 7,175 in 2017. Despite the minor decrease, hate violence was more deadly and violent than it has been since the surge of violence against communities after the September 11th attacks in 2001.

Major findings of the report:

  • 2018 was the deadliest and most violent year for hate since 2001. There were 24 hate crime related deaths and 3,099 violent crime offenses in 2018.
  • Hate crimes towards Sikhs in the U.S. TRIPLED from 20 incidents in 2017 to 60 incidents in 2018.
  • There were 82 Anti-Arab hate crimes recorded in 2018 –  the second-highest total since the FBI added an anti-Arab category in 2015.
  • There were 188 anti-Muslim hate crimes recorded, down slightly from last year but the fifth-highest total on record.
  • There were 14 anti-Hindu hate crimes recorded in 2018 – down from 15 in 2017.
  • Of the known offenders, over 50% identified as white​ 

Data collection and underreporting of hate violence remains a significant problem. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports an average of 250,000 hate crimes every year in the U.S. That’s 35 times more than what the FBI documented in 2018. Only 13% of the over 16,000 participating law enforcement agencies reported any hate crimes in their jurisdictions. Disturbingly, the murders of Khalid Jabara, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and Heather Heyer in 2016 and 2017, like so many other hate crimes, have not been included in official FBI statistics. The vast majority of crimes are going unreported.

And as we saw in 2017, white supremacy continues to be a primary motivation behind hate violence in the US. In both 2017 and 2018, over 50% of known offenders of reported hate crimes identified as white.

Of the over 500 incidents of hate violence targeting South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans thatSAALT has documented since November 2016, at least 80% have been motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. In SAALT’s 2018 report “Communities on Fire,” one in every five perpetrators of hate violence referenced President Trump, a Trump administration policy, or Trump campaign slogan.

White supremacist violence, fanned by the flames of racist rhetoric and policies at the federal level like the Muslim Ban and family separation, continues to devastate Black and brown communities. Anti-Black hate crimes accounted for more than 25% of violent hate crimes reported in 2018 and the majority of incidents motivated by race.

The current Administration continues to promote rather than address the root causes of this violence. Comprehensive data collection is a critical component of documenting the problem, but acknowledging and actively combating white supremacy is the most important step to ensuring this violence doesn’t continue to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

Contact: sophia@saalt.org

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SAALT Statement on 18th Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 11, 2019 

Today, 18 years after September 11, 2001, we mourn the lives lost that day, and the thousands who were and continue to be violently targeted in the ensuing “War on Terror.”

Just four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh business owner, was planting flowers outside of his gas station in Mesa, Arizona when he was shot and killed.  We later learned that his shooter had reportedly told a waitress at Applebees “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel heads,” and “We should kill their children, too, because they’ll grow up to be like their parents.” This was the first of 645 incidents of violent backlash aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans in just that first week after 9/11.

Over the last two decades, the federal government has enacted policies repeatedly justifying the racial profiling of South Asian, Muslim, and Arab American communities and those racialized as such. This includes the very creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, Countering Violent Extremism, and the Muslim Ban to name a few.  These state sanctioned policies were historically perfected on the backs of other communities of color, and we cannot separate them from the continued violence our communities face from organized white supremacist action. 

Earlier this year, a white supremacist killed 51 people at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Just last month, a white supremacist shot and killed 22 people in a Walmart shopping center in El Paso, Texas. SAALT has documented over 500 acts of hate violence targeting our communities and over 270 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric since November 2016 alone.

Despite the parallel efforts to ban, deport, criminalize, and target our communities with violence, we still have opportunities to reclaim our power:

  • Demand that your Member of Congress REJECT the creation of NEW domestic terrorism charges to fight white supremacy. This would only serve to further harm communities of color who have always been the targets of such policies.  
  • Join the fight to repeal the Muslim Ban by supporting the No Muslim Ban Ever campaign and DEMAND Congress to pass the NO BAN Act. Stay tuned for more information on the September 24th Congressional hearing on the Muslim Ban.
  • URGE your Member of Congress to support the Khalid Jabara Heather Heyer NO HATE Act, a comprehensive bill that promotes more accurate hate crimes data collection and would provide support for hate crime victims and their families. It is named in honor of two recent victims of hate crimes, whose deaths were omitted from the FBI hate crimes statistics.

Contact: sophia@saalt.org

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