Letters to Congress from Community Members

From Atif Akhter

The tragedy of 9/11 and the fol­low­ing War on Ter­ror has deeply affect­ed South Asian, Arab, and Mus­lim Com­mu­ni­ties across the globe. Recent­ly, through explor­ing the work done by orga­ni­za­tions such as the Jus­tice for Mus­lims Col­lec­tive (JMC) as well as South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), I can bet­ter vocal­ize the pain I have felt as a mem­ber of both of these com­mu­ni­ties. Their work encour­ages us, as young peo­ple who do not remem­ber a world before Mus­lims were con­sid­ered a per­ma­nent ene­my. State-spon­sored vio­lence has tak­en a toll on my peo­ple as we have been bru­tal­ized and vil­lainized over the course of 20 years due to poli­cies which sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and explic­it­ly tar­get us. These decades have not slowed the onslaught of sur­veil­lance that is almost tan­gi­ble and this con­cur­rent demand that we prove that we are patri­ot­ic, even if we were born here and after the attack on the Twin Tow­ers. We desire not only safe spaces and heal­ing, but also to see such dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and racist poli­cies repealed and con­demned.

Islam­o­pho­bia is deeply ingrained into our cul­ture now. Even today on the streets of the most diverse city in the world, women who wear the hijab fear retal­i­a­tion from Islam­o­phobes. But beyond this vil­fi­ca­tion of our cus­toms and tra­di­tions has been an effort to spy on our fam­i­lies in an effort to val­i­date law enforce­ments’ pre-exist­ing igno­rant assump­tions. In the years imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing 9/11, with­out cause, author­i­ties came fre­quent­ly to our mosques and New York City uni­ver­si­ties’ Mus­lim Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tions. We real­ized intu­itive­ly that ally­ship could often be super­fi­cial, or more dan­ger­ous­ly, covert mon­i­tor­ing.

As a South Asian and Mus­lim stu­dent at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, it also became quick­ly clear that if there was any pos­i­tive out­come from these years of cen­sure, it has been that our sense of com­mu­ni­ty had expand­ed to oth­ers who are not Mus­lim or not South Asian, but have shared expe­ri­ences because of how Islam­o­pho­bia often affects peo­ple because of how they are per­ceived. In many ways, there is new sol­i­dar­i­ty amongst Sikh, Hin­du, and Jain youth as well as with Black and Arab Mus­lims.

We have lost too many peo­ple to sense­less attacks, endured too much scruti­ny and harass­ment, and had to tell our par­ents that in spite of their Amer­i­can Dreams, we still face chal­lenges that they nev­er could have imag­ined would affect us still. Not a sin­gle suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tion should have to live under the War on Ter­ror.

From Has­san Javed

I am a Mus­lim Pak­istani-Amer­i­can. To present myself in this iden­ti­ty is a tes­ta­ment to the strength I’ve build over the years. Ever since I was a child, my peers tried to teach me the hard way that this soci­ety war­rants your Amer­i­can iden­ti­ty to be a com­plete recluse from your iden­ti­ties. Mus­lim-Amer­i­can, Pak­istani-Amer­i­can, or what­ev­er else was on the left side of your hyphen­at­ed iden­ti­ty, my peers told me that it was only the Amer­i­can that mat­tered and was wor­thy of their respect. I grew up hear­ing Amer­i­ca was a melt­ing pot — but what good was this melt­ing pot if a few ingre­di­ents dom­i­nat­ed all oth­ers?

Per­haps, it wasn’t even just the “Amer­i­can” that was wor­thy of their respect — it was the only iden­ti­ty safe from their hatred. Every oth­er iden­ti­ty was cause for my teacher to ask me incon­sid­er­ate ques­tions about my identities…my par­ents’ work­place to get its win­dows smashed in an act the police was adamant not to call a hate crime…the unhinged man with a knife on the sub­way to loop around me yelling slurs. Amer­i­ca had accept­ed that my oth­er iden­ti­ties could triv­i­al­ize my sur­vival. I had accept­ed that it could not have been any oth­er way.

And, who was pulling the strings if none oth­er than the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments, both at the fed­er­al and state lev­els. From just 2010–2016, 194 anti-sharia bills were intro­duced in leg­is­la­tion, and they are a tes­ta­ment to how the gov­ern­ment views and por­trays Islam. As Pro­fes­sor Tisa Wenger of Yale Uni­ver­si­ty has said best, these leg­is­la­tions “rep­re­sent a demo­niza­tion of Islam” and invent “a spec­trum of dam­age that doesn’t actu­al­ly exist.” And this faux “spec­trum of dam­age” is all the gov­ern­ment needs to make Islam­o­pho­bic main­stream.

What my peers said to me at school and what I faced out­side of my home was just a micro­cosm of the racial pro­fil­ing the gov­ern­ment made com­mon­place. My peo­ple were sub­ject to sur­veil­lance, deten­tion, and depor­ta­tion sole­ly on the basis of their reli­gious iden­ti­ty. The Mus­lim Stu­dents Asso­ci­a­tion I am involved in here at Colum­bia was sur­veilled exten­sive­ly; what was it about us pray­ing and open­ing our fasts togeth­er that threat­ened Amer­i­ca… that caused Amer­i­ca to look at us under a micro­scope? How do I, along with every Mus­lim-Amer­i­can youth, reel from our gov­ern­ment treat­ing us as if we’re bac­te­ria in their pond­wa­ter?

You stereo­typed me. Your media mis­portrayed me. You taught against me in your schools. You jailed me over unjus­ti­fied sus­pi­cion. You treat­ed me as a less­er. So, the teenage me replied with faux patri­o­tism. If what it took for you to stop treat­ing me like an out­sider was to be patri­ot­ic, or rather, accept your Amer­i­can igno­rance and hatred with­out a word,teenage me did it. But I am no longer my teenage self. I am no longer afraid of your hatred. I am no longer faux patri­ot­ic.

If all you ever want­ed was to make me feel like an out­sider, then let me reclaim being an Amer­i­can. Let me take pride in being Mus­lim-Amer­i­can. Let me take pride in being Pak­istani-Amer­i­can. Let me col­or Amer­i­ca with the iden­ti­ties you can’t stand the exis­tence of. I am reflec­tive of the pow­er in my com­mu­ni­ties. I am reflec­tive of the strength of my peo­ple. Use sur­veil­lance, deten­tion, or what­ev­er you can to make us feel like we do not belong, we will orga­nize and rise against your de fac­to and de jure injus­tice. My ances­tors over­came your impe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism; now, their child will over­come your Islam­o­pho­bia and racism.

SAALT Demands An Action Plan That Protects All Afghans

This week’s news revolves around two truths: Our Afghan com­mu­ni­ties, both here in the U.S. and in Afghanistan, are in dire need of imme­di­ate and sus­tained sup­port that ensures their and their loved ones’ safe­ty in a time of cri­sis – and the Biden administration’s cur­rent rushed with­draw­al plan from Kab­ul has com­pro­mised this. 

As fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als leave Afghanistan, many are land­ing in our inhu­mane deten­tion cen­ters along­side the grow­ing num­ber of Hait­ian refugees, and addi­tion­al­ly fac­ing the numer­ous and entrenched injus­tices of this cru­el sys­tem. 

What is most unfor­tu­nate is that our Afghan sib­lings could have expe­ri­enced far less harm, had the evac­u­a­tion process begun ear­li­er – whether it was on May 6, when refugee rights advo­ca­cy groups (includ­ing Human Rights First, the Inter­na­tion­al Refugee Assis­tance Project, No One Left Behind, and the Luther­an Immi­gra­tion and Refugee Ser­vice) met with White House offi­cials and called for a mass evac­u­a­tion plan that did not rely on a severe­ly back­logged SIV pro­gram, or lat­er on June 24th, when Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Seth Moul­ton unveiled a detailed evac­u­a­tion plan to ensure safe­ty for over 17,000 Afghans to Guam. 

As a coun­try with the resources to sup­port evac­u­a­tion and evac­uees, we can and must move now to mit­i­gate harm. Most impor­tant­ly, this is com­pound­ed by the truth that our inter­ven­tion and con­tin­ued pres­ence in Afghanistan, dri­ven fore­most by the desire to uphold U.S. occu­pa­tion, has desta­bi­lized the coun­try and direct­ly put Afghans at fur­ther risk. As such, we have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to change our course of action. 

If we want to ensure the end of a long, violent, and terrible war, we must move with an unwavering commitment to human rights. We at SAALT, following the leadership of Afghan community members and allies in the Evacuate Our Allies coalition, are calling on President Biden to prioritize safe for all Afghans by:

  • Keeping the Kabul airport open for as long as necessary, and allowing military, charter, and commercial airflight.
  • Working with the Department of Defense and the State Department to ensure safe passage for Afghans to and through the airport, and onto flights.
  • Putting out a call for individuals certified for consular services, while continuing consular processing.
  • Providing necessary information to evacuees in as many culturally-relevant languages as possible, including Dari, Pashto, Urdu, and Arabic.
  • Centering the evacuation of vulnerable populations, including refugees, SIV applicants and their families, immigrant visa applicants and their family members (beyond spouses and minor children), P2 referrals, Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders, religious minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups.
  • Expedite the processing of visas for all of the populations listed above and waive all associated fees.
  • Ensure safe arrival of Afghans in the U.S. by facilitating humanitarian parole using DHS parole authority – whether at ports-of-entry or in advance.

As we approach the 20th anniver­sary of 9/11, the news may right­ful­ly focus on the U.S.’s impe­r­i­al his­to­ry and haste of this war, but what Pres­i­dent Biden does today and tomor­row can ensure that next week’s news also speaks to our nation’s will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize the con­se­quences of this “War on Ter­ror” and the cost that our South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, and Arab com­mu­ni­ties have paid as a result both here and abroad, and active­ly work to dis­man­tle the racism and mil­i­tarism baked into all sys­tems of our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

SAALT Mourns the Murder of Eight in Atlanta and Calls for Investment in Community-Led Responses

On the night of Tues­day, 16 March, a 21-year-old white man attacked three spas in the metro Atlanta area, shoot­ing and killing eight peo­ple. Six of the eight vic­tims were Kore­an Amer­i­can women. This attack is the worst pos­si­ble out­come of the rise in coro­n­avirus-dri­ven anti-Asian hatred – anoth­er mass shoot­ing root­ed in white suprema­cy and goad­ed by politi­cians’ xeno­pho­bic rhetoric. 

The inci­dent is a hor­rif­ic peak in the big­otry we’ve all wit­nessed over the past year: once again, mar­gin­al­ized work­ing-class immi­grants are tar­get­ed at a time of glob­al cri­sis; once again, we wit­ness our nation’s inabil­i­ty to rec­og­nize the dom­i­nance of gen­dered white suprema­cist vio­lence and racism in all of its struc­tures; once again, our heal­ing is dis­rupt­ed.

Still, local police are not cat­e­go­riz­ing this mass shoot­ing as a hate crime, nor rec­og­niz­ing the sig­nif­i­cant role of both race and gen­der in the shap­ing of this tragedy. But we must be clear: sev­en of the eight vic­tims were women; six of the eight vic­tims were Asian Amer­i­can. It is clear the shoot­er (who has cit­ed “sex­u­al deviance” as his moti­va­tion for mur­der) also had some bias in his tar­get­ing, whether explic­it or implic­it. This, in turn, demands that we – as Asian and Pacif­ic Islander Amer­i­cans, as Amer­i­cans of col­or, as Amer­i­cans gen­er­al­ly – ques­tion how embed­ded anti-Asian rhetoric is in Amer­i­can cul­ture and how Amer­i­can cul­ture ben­e­fits from patri­ar­chal white suprema­cy and era­sure. And more specif­i­cal­ly, these inter­sec­tions point to the clear his­to­ry of dan­ger­ous sex­u­al­iza­tion of Asian women in the U.S. Last night’s shoot­ing can only be under­stood and approached as an act of race‑, class‑, and gen­der-based sex­u­al vio­lence.

Con­sid­er­ing these com­plex­i­ties, it is our respon­si­bil­i­ty as mem­bers and allies of the broad­er APIA com­mu­ni­ty to push for an inter­sec­tion­al analy­sis that under­stands the racism fac­ing Asian and Pacif­ic Islander Amer­i­cans, as well as the vio­lent and sex­u­al­ized misog­y­ny aimed at our East Asian and South­east Asian sis­ters. Our role in this moment is to both remem­ber the pain of our past com­mu­ni­ty expe­ri­ences with mass vio­lence, and hon­or and move towards the point of heal­ing and repa­ra­tion.

Below are some allies who have ties to the vic­tims, their fam­i­lies, and their com­mu­ni­ties; please fol­low them to stay updat­ed on calls to action and news.
- Asian Amer­i­cans Advanc­ing Jus­tice (AAAJ) — Atlanta
- Red Canary Song
- Sur­vived & Pun­ished
- Nation­al Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Wom­en’s Forum (NAPAWF)

If you’d like to direct resources and sup­port to vic­tims’ fam­i­lies as well as orga­niz­ers on the ground, please use this form (https://bit.ly/georgiaAAPIcommunitycare).

SAALT mourns the loss of our Kore­an Amer­i­can sib­lings’ lives, and in their hon­or, reaf­firms our respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­tect­ing oth­ers from sim­i­lar harm.

SAALT Statement on the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021

Yes­ter­day marked the intro­duc­tion of the U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship Act of 2021, by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sanchez (D‑CA-38) and Sen­a­tor Menen­dez (D‑NJ). The bill is a his­toric piece of leg­is­la­tion that pro­pos­es a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for 11 mil­lion immi­grants, includ­ing more than 650,000 undoc­u­ment­ed South Asians. 

Among oth­er things, this bill address­es issues that are fun­da­men­tal to the well­be­ing of South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing lan­guage that:

  • Creates an earned roadmap to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, pro­vid­ing  Dream­ers, TPS hold­ers, and some farm­work­ers with an expe­dit­ed three-year path to cit­i­zen­ship, and giv­ing all oth­er undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants an eight-year path.
  • Reforms the family-based immigration system to keep families together by recap­tur­ing visas from pre­vi­ous years to clear back­logs, includ­ing spous­es and chil­dren of green card hold­ers as imme­di­ate fam­i­ly mem­bers, and increas­ing per-coun­try caps for fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion. It also elim­i­nates dis­crim­i­na­tion against LGBTQ+ fam­i­lies, pro­vide pro­tec­tions for orphans, wid­ows and chil­dren, and allows immi­grants with approved fam­i­ly-spon­sor­ship peti­tions to join fam­i­ly in the U.S. on a tem­po­rary basis while they wait for green cards.
  • Updates the employment-based immigration system, elim­i­nat­ing per-coun­try caps, improv­ing access to green cards for work­ers in low­er-wage indus­tries, giv­ing depen­dents of H‑1B hold­ers work autho­riza­tion, and pre­vent­ing chil­dren of H‑1B hold­ers from aging out of the sys­tem. The bill also cre­ates a pilot pro­gram to stim­u­late region­al eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, and incen­tivizes high­er wages for non-immi­grant, high-skilled visas to pre­vent unfair com­pe­ti­tion with Amer­i­can work­ers. 
  • Supports asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations by elim­i­nat­ing the one-year dead­line for fil­ing asy­lum claims, reduc­ing asy­lum appli­ca­tion back­logs, increas­ing pro­tec­tions for U visa, T visa, and VAWA appli­cants, includ­ing by rais­ing the cap on U visas from 10,000 to 30,000.

We look for­ward to the pos­si­bil­i­ties this leg­is­la­tion presents. How­ev­er, we also urge Con­gress to address some of its harm­ful pro­vi­sions that exclude immi­grants who have been harmed by the racist crim­i­nal legal sys­tem, and hin­der immi­grants from access­ing health care and oth­er vital ser­vices on their path to cit­i­zen­ship. 

Pres­i­dent Biden and his admin­is­tra­tion must not only fol­low through with the above com­mit­ments but also trans­form the immi­gra­tion sys­tem to explic­it­ly account for cli­mate change, reli­gious per­se­cu­tion, and grow­ing right-wing fas­cism in South Asia. 

Amid mass depor­ta­tions of Black immi­grants, the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, and ongo­ing inte­ri­or enforce­ment threats, SAALT will con­tin­ue to advo­cate to strength­en the bill and ensure that all immi­grants and their fam­i­lies have access to a humane immi­gra­tion sys­tem. A thought­ful immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy lifts us all. 

#ByeBan: SAALT Statement on the Rescission of the Muslim & African Bans

Since Jan­u­ary 27th, 2017, count­less fam­i­lies have been sep­a­rat­ed, detained, and refused fair treat­ment under the Mus­lim Ban – but as of yes­ter­day, hope and jus­tice feel near­er, as Pres­i­dent Biden has signed an exec­u­tive order to end the Ban, repeal­ing an explic­it­ly racist immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy and stand­ing with Arab, Black, and Mus­lim Amer­i­cans.

SAALT spent the last four years as a part of the No Mus­lim Ban Ever cam­paign, mobi­liz­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and elect­ed offi­cials to stand against the Ban, and stand up for our com­mu­ni­ty. Yesterday’s vic­to­ry is the fruit of our col­lec­tive resis­tance to white suprema­cy, and our con­tin­ued defense of (im)migrant rights.

With the rescis­sion of the anti-Black, xeno­pho­bic, and Islam­o­pho­bic pol­i­cy, SAALT and our allies now have a clear­er path to fight for the pro­tec­tion of all migrants and immi­grants, regard­less of their back­ground. Still, of course, the Mus­lim Ban is just one cog in a high­ly flawed immi­gra­tion sys­tem, which must be trans­formed in its entire­ty; the enact­ment of the Mus­lim Ban only high­light­ed the entrench­ment of Islam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia in Amer­i­can cul­ture. Therefore, it is critical that the 118th Congress pass and enact the No Ban Act to limit executive authority from issuing future discriminatory bans based on religion and national origin.

It’s equal­ly cru­cial for our com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize that Pres­i­dent Biden’s rescis­sion of the Ban only marks the begin­ning of an ardu­ous heal­ing process – a chal­lenge which we must come togeth­er to address. This is why SAALT is pri­or­i­tiz­ing and prac­tic­ing restora­tive jus­tice strate­gies in our con­tin­ued fight against insti­tu­tion­al­ized Islam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia. Our col­lec­tive abil­i­ty to hold space for heal­ing will deter­mine the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of our move­ment, and we ask our com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize the harms that these dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies have on the men­tal and phys­i­cal well-being of impact­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers for gen­er­a­tions to come.

As hope and jus­tice draw near­er, we call on Pres­i­dent Biden and his admin­is­tra­tion to con­tin­ue show­ing sup­port for Black, Indige­nous and all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and con­tin­ue to con­demn and act against white suprema­cy and hatred.

SAALT staff and allies at a #NoMus­lim­Ban­Ev­er ral­ly out­side the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States in April 2018.

Please reach out to sruti@saalt.org with any ques­tions or requests.

SAALT Statement on January 6th Events

Yes­ter­day, white suprema­cy was on full dis­play at the US Capi­tol and at gov­ern­ment build­ings across the nation. These attacks rep­re­sent a bla­tant and ille­gal attempt to deter democ­ra­cy and pro­mote white suprema­cist beliefs ​— which harm every­one. All of us have a duty to respond, not only with con­dem­na­tion, but with sus­tained action against the insti­ga­tors and their sup­port­ers.

Though Con­gress has cer­ti­fied the results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, they must do more. They must call for the removal of Pres­i­dent Trump and begin impeach­ment pro­ceed­ings ​imme­di­ate­ly. Repub­li­can lead­er­ship must ensure there is a peace­ful tran­si­tion of pow­er on and past Inau­gu­ra­tion Day​, and all mem­bers of Con­gress who incit­ed, encour­aged, or par­tic­i­pat­ed in this attack must be expelled for break­ing their Oaths of Office. Those respon­si­ble for yesterday’s attacks must be held ​equal­ly account­able under the law.  

We must also be care­ful about how to char­ac­ter­ize yesterday’s events. SAALT’s work on nation­al secu­ri­ty and immi­gra­tion issues since 9/11 has made it clear that label­ing acts of extrem­ist vio­lence as ter­ror­ism is dan­ger­ous and paves the way for the tar­get­ing of Black and Brown communities​, as seen through the War on Ter­ror frame­work. We can ​and must stand vig­i­lant against yesterday’s attacks with­out resort­ing to such char­ac­ter­i­za­tions by demand­ing that what hap­pened yes­ter­day is ​char­ac­ter­ized as white suprema­cist vio­lence. SAALT stands with our Black allies, who are right­ful­ly point­ing out the dou­ble stan­dards in how the white suprema­cists behind yesterday’s events are being treat­ed, as com­pared to the peace­ful pro­test­ers dur­ing last summer’s upris­ings.

“For our own com­mu­ni­ties, who were retrau­ma­tized by yesterday’s events, we are with you. The past four years have been a relent­less surge of poli­cies and attacks against the bod­ies and rights of so many com­mu­ni­ties, ours includ­ed. SAALT will con­tin­ue to press for the rever­sal of these xeno­pho­bic and racist poli­cies from the Trump era and push for bold solu­tions that will improve the lives of every­one.”

Sim­ran Noor, SAALT Board Chair

As South Asians, we also have work to do with­in our com­mu­ni­ties. There are reports of Indi­an Amer­i­cans being present at ​and encour­ag­ing yesterday’s attempt­ed  coup. Giv­en what we wit­nessed from the ​2020 Howdy Modi event in Texas fea­tur­ing Trump and Modi, this is no sur­prise. We have work to do with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties to raise aware­ness about the links between Hin­du nation­al­ism and white suprema­cy, and the dan­gers of ally­ing with the ele­ments who orches­trat­ed yesterday’s events. Sim­ply put: We can­not con­demn one fas­cist and excuse anoth­er. SAALT calls on its entire com­mu­ni­ty to hold these truths and stand unit­ed against nation­al­ism, fas­cism, and impe­ri­al­ism on all its fronts.

SAALT will con­tin­ue to share news and cov­er­age of the vio­lence, as well as help con­nect those affect­ed by the chaos with local resources. Please reach out to sruti@saalt.org with any ques­tions or requests.


SAALT Releases Report Mapping Impact of COVID-19 on South Asian American Communities

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Washington, DC., September 29, 2020: South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) released the report Unequal Con­se­quences: The Dis­parate Impact of COVID-19 Across South Asian Amer­i­cans today, high­light­ing the urgent need for fun­ders and pol­i­cy mak­ers to gath­er accu­rate dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data on South Asian com­mu­ni­ties in the U.S. to be able to under­stand and respond to the needs that have emerged since the onset of the pan­dem­ic.

The report exam­ines areas of the U.S. with among the largest South Asians pop­u­la­tions includ­ing New York, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, and the Bay Area and Central Valley in California and draws pri­mar­i­ly on inter­views with com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers who are mem­bers of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions (NCSO), a nation­al com­mu­ni­ty sur­vey, and media reports. SAALT also launched an inter­ac­tive map and video tes­ti­mo­ni­als to fur­ther high­light the impact of the pan­dem­ic on South Asians.

Key find­ings of the report include:

  • South Asian Americans who were already vulnerable have been most directly impacted by the pandemic - whether due to their immi­gra­tion sta­tus, their expe­ri­ences with domes­tic vio­lence, liv­ing with under­ly­ing health con­di­tions, or unsafe work­ing envi­ron­ments. Every inter­vie­wee shared that, as a result, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are expe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health chal­lenges.
  • Data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are currently incomplete as sta­tis­tics are under count­ed in South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, often labeled as “oth­er Asian” or “unknown” race cat­e­gories. 
  • South Asians are at high risk if they contract COVID-19; they are four times more like­ly than the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion of hav­ing heart dis­ease or dia­betes, putting them at greater risk of coro­n­avirus-caused death. Oth­er com­pound­ing risk fac­tors include mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional hous­ing, lack of lan­guage acces­si­ble pub­lic health mate­ri­als and gov­ern­ment resources, and insuf­fi­cient pro­tec­tions based on employ­ment or immi­gra­tion sta­tus. 
  • Every survivor-support organization SAALT interviewed explicitly named a drastic increase in gender-based domestic violence.
  •  Government agencies have neglected to provide Limited English Proficient (LEP) community members with culturally appropriate services and language accessible information, imped­ing access to gov­ern­ment ser­vices and relief funds.
  • 85% of respondents to SAALT’s community survey are worried about immigration - specif­i­cal­ly being able to trav­el out­side of the U.S., as well as anx­i­ety over recent exec­u­tive orders tar­get­ing green cards, H‑1B work visas, and stu­dent visas.
  • South Asian American community organizations are filling in the gaps in access to health, food, hous­ing, and employ­ment as a rem­e­dy to fail­ing gov­ern­ment social infra­struc­ture. 

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, said “One of the most impor­tant lessons from water­shed moments of cri­sis, like 9/11, the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and now the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, is that South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties have deeply divid­ed expe­ri­ences. The South Asian pop­u­la­tions in the U.S. who were pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ed after 9/11, most impact­ed by this Admin­is­tra­tion’s racist poli­cies, and most vul­ner­a­ble to COVID-19 are also the pop­u­la­tions most mar­gin­al­ized with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties because of immi­gra­tion sta­tus, class, caste, reli­gion, and LGBT + iden­ti­ty. While devel­op­ing a shared nar­ra­tive across these dif­fer­ences is valu­able for build­ing col­lec­tive pow­er, only by cen­ter­ing the expe­ri­ences of these pop­u­la­tions do we tru­ly under­stand the mag­ni­tude and range of impact of these crises.”

September 11, 2020

19 years ago today, 3,000 peo­ple were killed on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. Our gov­ern­men­t’s response known as the “War on Ter­ror,” has cost more than 500,000 lives world­wide. This num­ber does not even include the lives lost to inter­per­son­al hate vio­lence ignit­ed by this state vio­lence.

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 Apple­beesI’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 the first week after 9/11.

Inci­dents of hate vio­lence tar­get­ing our com­mu­ni­ties have con­tin­ued unabat­ed since since 9/11. SAALT has tracked 679 inci­dents since 2015 alone. Today we renew our com­mit­ment to fight­ing the deeply entrenched fed­er­al poli­cies that emerged from the “War on Ter­ror,” includ­ing the cur­rent Mus­lim Ban.

In those ear­ly days fol­low­ing 9/11, we didn’t stand by and watch as our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers were harassed, tar­get­ed, and sur­veilled by the gov­ern­ment. We came togeth­er, raised our voic­es, and demon­strat­ed our pow­er. Out of that moment came the cre­ation of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions, the Nation­al South Asian Sum­mit, and the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute and long stand­ing coali­tion part­ner­ships work­ing toward sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­cy wins like the end of the 2002 Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Entry-Exit Reg­is­tra­tion Sys­tem (NSEERS) pro­gram all the way to the recent House pas­sage of the NO BAN Act

In the midst of this cur­rent pub­lic health tragedy that has dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties and has led to the death of near­ly 200,000 peo­ple in the U.S., we’ve simul­ta­ne­ous­ly seen a dra­mat­ic rise in COVID-relat­ed hate vio­lence attacks tar­get­ing Asian Amer­i­cans. In SAALT’s forth­com­ing COVID-19 report, we mark the dif­fer­ent forms of hate vio­lence, once again ignit­ed by our gov­ern­ment since the pan­dem­ic, which you can pre­view here.

This cur­rent cri­sis, like all crises, has rein­forced that we don’t all expe­ri­ence moments of cri­sis equal­ly. Depend­ing on class, immi­gra­tion sta­tus, caste, reli­gious or eth­nic back­ground, South Asians are tar­get­ed at dif­fer­ent scales and mag­ni­tudes. At SAALT we’re ded­i­cat­ed to acknowl­edg­ing these dis­parate expe­ri­ences, but also what unites us across com­mu­ni­ties. Ear­li­er this month in Irv­ing, Texas, a South Asian fam­i­ly received hate mail say­ing if Indi­an and Chi­nese immi­grants don’t stop tak­ing Amer­i­can jobs, “we will have no choice but to shoot mer­ci­less­ly immi­grants of Chi­nese and Indi­an descent…” White suprema­cists don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly dis­tin­guish with­in our com­mu­ni­ties with the same effi­cien­cy as our gov­ern­ment, which is why build­ing col­lec­tive pow­er is so crit­i­cal.

On this anniver­sary, we hon­or all the lives destroyed by hate vio­lence and state vio­lence, and ask you to join us in fight­ing racism and white suprema­cy in all its man­i­fes­ta­tions.

Learn about the impact of 9/11 on South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties by…
- Fol­low­ing the ways in which post‑9/11 poli­cies have changed over the decades, and SAALT’s chang­ing advo­ca­cy in response.
- Watch­ing “Rais­ing our Voic­es”, a doc­u­men­tary about post‑9/11 xeno­pho­bic back­lash.
- Read­ing our month­ly hate reports.

Take a stand against hate vio­lence by…
- Par­tic­i­pat­ing in bystander train­ing.
- Learn­ing about abo­li­tion and strate­gies to com­bat vio­lence that do not involve police.

17 Years After 9/11: Detentions, Deportations, Diminished Civil Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sep­tem­ber 11, 2018

Today marks the 17-year anniver­sary of the trag­ic attacks of Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. This anniver­sary falls at a time of ram­pant immi­gra­tion enforce­ment and racial pro­fil­ing poli­cies direct­ed at South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, Hin­du, Mid­dle East­ern, and Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, this esca­la­tion of bru­tal and dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies is accom­pa­nied by a ris­ing tide of hate vio­lence impact­ing our com­mu­ni­ties. Near­ly two decades after the events of Sep­tem­ber 11th, hate vio­lence tar­get­ing South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, Hin­du, Mid­dle East­ern, and Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties has now sur­passed lev­els only seen imme­di­ate­ly after that tragedy.

SAALT has already doc­u­ment­ed over 400 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric tar­get­ing our com­mu­ni­ties since the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Trag­i­cal­ly, we can now draw a direct link between divi­sive polit­i­cal rhetoric and its role in spurring hate vio­lence: one in five of the hate incidents documented in our 2018 report, Communities on Fire, involved perpetrators who verbally referenced President Trump, one of his administration’s policies, or one of his campaign slogans while committing an act of violence.

Since the events of Sep­tem­ber 11th, suc­ces­sive admin­is­tra­tions have lever­aged a ‘nation­al secu­ri­ty’ lens to advance anti-immi­grant and xeno­pho­bic poli­cies that tar­get our com­mu­ni­ties and our place in this nation. This list of poli­cies that seek to lim­it and exclude our rights includes but is not lim­it­ed to the Patri­ot Act, the Coun­ter­ing Vio­lent Extrem­ism pro­gram, and the Mus­lim Ban. Sev­er­al dev­as­tat­ing poli­cies aimed at immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties have been unveiled in the last year alone. Exam­ples include the deci­sion to ter­mi­nate Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) for indi­vid­u­als from sev­er­al coun­tries includ­ing Nepal, Hon­duras, El Sal­vador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan; a wave of depor­ta­tions of doc­u­ment­ed and undoc­u­ment­ed res­i­dents; sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies and detain­ing chil­dren in cages; and denat­u­ral­iz­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. In short, we are in the midst of a cam­paign to cre­ate an Amer­i­ca that is sep­a­rate and unequal for the for­eign-born and their fam­i­lies. The onslaught is slat­ed to con­tin­ue esca­lat­ing through the administration’s plans to fur­ther crim­i­nal­ize immi­grants for uti­liz­ing pub­lic ben­e­fits by issu­ing a ‘pub­lic charge’ rule and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­ly includ­ing a ques­tion on cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus in the 2020 Cen­sus.

It appears this dan­ger­ous con­ver­gence of poli­cies, rhetoric, and vio­lence will not end soon. In April 2018, a Hous­ton Mus­lim woman wear­ing a hijab was stabbed by an attack­er yelling “Oh my God, it’s a r**head” “sand n******” and oth­er racial­ly deroga­to­ry terms. In July and August 2018, two Cal­i­for­nia Sikh men wear­ing tur­bans were vio­lent­ly attacked in sep­a­rate inci­dents. In one inci­dent, the per­pe­tra­tor yelled “Go back to your coun­try!” SAALT con­tin­ues to col­lect data on inci­dents of hate vio­lence in our public, online database, and pro­vides month­ly updates on trends.

Lat­er this week, SAALT will host a Con­gres­sion­al Brief­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Con­gres­sion­al Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus (CAPAC) to high­light the inter­sec­tion between cur­rent inci­dents of hate vio­lence, the Mus­lim Ban, and immi­gra­tion enforce­ment. SAALT is com­mit­ted to address­ing the under­ly­ing fac­tors that spur hate vio­lence against our com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies and the growth in orga­nized white suprema­cy. We are ded­i­cat­ed to ensur­ing the next decade sees a decline in hate vio­lence and an effort to regain this nation’s core ideals of equal­i­ty and jus­tice.

Young Leaders Institute 2018–2019

Meet the 2018–2019 YLI cohort!
“Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Defense”

The 2018–2019 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI) theme was Com­mu­ni­ty Defense, and projects will take on anti-immi­grant poli­cies and hate vio­lence. Shared below are project descrip­tions from this year’s cohort.

Apoorva Handigol: My project will stem from my senior the­sis research on how antiblack­ness and Black-Brown sol­i­dar­i­ty have man­i­fest­ed over gen­er­a­tions of South Asian Amer­i­cans in Chica­go. I will start with orga­niz­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive event at my school focus­ing on nar­ra­tives of pain and love among South Asian and Black Amer­i­cans. After this, I will take the project to my com­mu­ni­ty in the Bay Area and reframe this com­mu­ni­ty need as one of sup­port for a group of peo­ple who has gone through much the same as we have, plus oth­er injus­tices we have the priv­i­lege to for­get. I will trans­late what I learned from the event on cam­pus and my research into address­ing my South Asian community’s antiblack­ness, lack of aware­ness of our 150+ years of Black sol­i­dar­i­ty, and need to strength­en our com­mu­ni­ty defense.

 

Farishtay Yamin: My pro­pos­al cen­ters around cre­at­ing a rapid response sys­tem to ICE activ­i­ty and hate crimes using an app. I would like to use the exist­ing mem­ber base and net­work present in Athens, GA to dupli­cate the mod­el in Nashville, TN.

 

 

Hiba Ahmad: My project is to cre­ate a finan­cial lit­er­a­cy pro­gram for prison inmates in aims to reduce recidi­vism rates around the Unit­ed States, which is main­ly caused by lack of attain­able finan­cial edu­ca­tion and resources. US pris­ons
dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get peo­ple of col­or, so the suc­cess­ful
imple­men­ta­tion of this pro­gram will hope­ful­ly pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties of col­or against fur­ther unjust detain­ment, and arm them with the edu­ca­tion nec­es­sary to com­bat the dif­fi­cul­ty of reen­ter­ing the work­force.

Mahi Senthikumar: I will explore the inter­sec­tions of rights and reli­gion through a series of pub­lic talks and YouTube videos. By cre­at­ing inter­faith forums to dis­cuss
reli­gion along­side activism, I hope to break down social bar­ri­ers with­in our com­mu­ni­ty and uncov­er shared val­ues which com­pel us to stand togeth­er for jus­tice.

 

 

Meghal Sheth: For my project I will be work­ing to co-pro­gram with oth­er cul­tur­al and iden­ti­ty- based groups on Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis’ cam­pus to cre­ate a “Jus­tice Through Free­dom” Week. The week will include a vig­il, call-in, pan­el dis­cus­sion on com­mu­ni­ty defense, and a gala with oth­er var­i­ous stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions.

 

Myra Khushbakht: For my project, I plan to cre­ate an open dis­cus­sion town hall event at Howard in the com­ing aca­d­e­m­ic year. I hope to ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion about col­orism with­in minori­ties on my cam­pus.

 

 

Naisa Rahman: My com­mu­ni­ty defense project will focus on improv­ing my university’s report­ing and response sys­tem for bias, dis­crim­i­na­tion, and harass­ment. My goal is for our insti­tu­tion to respond time­ly to stu­dents and to bet­ter sup­port them dur­ing any crises.

 

 

Sarah Rozario: Sarah hopes to cre­ate a video com­posed of her cam­pus com­mu­ni­ty’s immi­grant and undoc­u­ment­ed voic­es address­ing anti-immi­gra­tion poli­cies. The project will pro­vide a space for stu­dents to voice their con­cerns as well as act as a dis­play of sup­port.

 

 

Vrinda Trivedi: Com­ing from Ohio, I think sub­ur­ban and rur­al loca­tions are sore­ly over­looked in regards to being seen as spaces con­ducive to com­mu­ni­ty build­ing. There­fore, I would like to find a way to con­nect LGBTQIA+ South Asians, through host­ing a retreat sim­i­lar to YLI, but on a small­er scale, and geared towards address­ing the unique themes faced by LGBTQIA+ South Asians in sub­ur­ban and rur­al spaces.

 

Yasmine Jafery: My project is cre­at­ing an on cam­pus club that pro­vides a safe space for peers to talk to one anoth­er about dif­fi­cult things they are going through. This club would pro­vide strug­gling stu­dents a place to meet and learn from their peers that are fight­ing sim­i­lar obsta­cles.

 

 

Neha Valmiki: Neha will have a ses­sion on her cam­pus called Break­ing Bar­ri­ers, where will bring in speak­ers to talk about men­tal health in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty and the
neces­si­ty for civic engage­ment. The goal is to break the stig­ma of men­tal health and to break the idea that your vote does­n’t count. Her goal is it make sure each stu­dents knows that they have a voice and they are valid.

 

Rupkatha Banarjee: Sum­mits and con­fer­ences often attract large audi­ences and trans­mit mes­sages of sup­port and aware­ness through­out the com­mu­ni­ty. In lieu of stu­dent involve­ment and increased par­tic­i­pa­tion, I aim to orga­nize a TEDx type con­fer­ence with mul­ti­ple speak­ers to expli­cate sto­ries of immi­grants who’ve expe­ri­enced tar­get­ed racial vio­lence.

 

Jaspreet Kaur: Brown Girl Joy [an IG plat­form] explores the inter­sec­tions of beau­ty one brown girl [includ­ing gen­der non con­form­ing + non­bi­na­ry per­son] at a time. We hope to recon­struct par­a­digms of beau­ty to be more inclu­sive and accept­ing for peo­ple of col­or.

 

 

Sana Hamed: I pro­pose to start SEMS (Shar­ing Every Mus­lims’ Sto­ry), an ini­tia­tive that would serve to unite Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions on cam­pus through the com­mon thread of sto­ry­telling. The project would include var­i­ous ways to put a pos­i­tive spot­light on who Mus­lims are in Amer­i­ca and would include cre­at­ing short nar­ra­tive videos to be shared through social media, writ­ten fea­tures for an anthol­o­gy, and even a show­case fea­tur­ing Mus­lim cre­atives through which we could fur­ther engage the com­mu­ni­ty.

 

 

For more infor­ma­tion around Young Lead­ers Insti­tute, fol­low SAALT on Twit­ter at @SAALTweets, or con­tact Almas Haider at almas@saalt.org