Values, Goals of Freedom Riders Still Apply Today

Over the past two years, I have steeped myself in understanding the civil rights context for South Asian, Sikh, Muslim and Arab American communities as a Program Associate at SAALT.  My recent experience to join the original Freedom Riders from Freedom Summer on a bus ride from DC to Richmond helped me to realize how connected people of color are in terms of their experiences, hopes and dreams for the future.

On July 2, 2014, I received an opportunity to freedomrideparticipate in the 50th Anniversary commemorating the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with the office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public as well as promoting equality in voting. I joined 48 other student leaders across the country, along with many original Freedom Riders from Freedom Summer to the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. The Freedom Rides brought together civil rights activists who rode interstate buses from DC into the segregated South in 1961 to challenge the non-enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. During the journey from DC to Richmond last week, I explored history firsthand from leaders who paved the way for all of us.

This experience allowed me to reflect on the difference the Freedom Riders made for Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities as these communities are part of this long civil rights history. They were the same age as I when they left their homes and Universities and signed wills before embarking on a journey knowing they were risking their lives. As a Sikh American, the 1964 Civil Rights Act is of tremendous significance as it addressed religious discrimination.  Prior to 1964, employers could discriminate based on the applicant’s religion and for Sikhs, turbans or long beards represent articles of faith.  While today the law stands that racial discrimination is in violation of the Civil Rights Act, the backlash our communities face are still prevalent including at workplaces and schools. The Freedom Riders expressed that at the time that there was a sense of urgency for the climate to be changed. I think today the climate is thirsty for change again as America is becoming more diverse and there is a need for a society that respects people of various backgrounds and faiths.

The morning send-off was held at the Department of Education where Freedom Rider Hank Thomas spoke about his experience joining the movement. He reflected on his time serving in Vietnam and knowing that even if he came back with a Medal of Honor, he would not be able to sit in the front of the bus. Hank spoke on behalf of African American soldiers back then as he explained that, “We loved a country that did not love us.” Listening to his words, I found myself already strategizing with other student leaders on how to continue this fight that these leaders fought before us as how we could organize to make sure injustices were prevented for the future generation.

During the ride on the way to Richmond, I was seated next to Freedom Rider Rev. Reginald Green. When he was a student at Virginia Union University, Rev. Green heard about the Freedom Rides and decided to join.  He did not tell his parents and was arrested and jailed in Mississippi. Rev. Green reflected on his reasons for joining the Freedom Rides and noted that it was time for the climate of our nation to change. Many of the Freedom Riders were in college and paused their own education to take part in activities that would ensure equal education for everyone one day. We arrived at the Virginia State Capitol where the Freedom Riders were welcomed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. He reflected on the great strides the Freedom Riders made and how, “They stood up when others failed to do so.” The Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, Catherine Lhamon, discussed the modern day cases her office faces and how she believes, “No student should have to choose between getting an education and being treated with dignity.” The reality is that bias based bullying and discrimination still happens in the classrooms whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. After 9/11, incidents of bias based bullying heightened for the South Asian communities and racial and religious profiling as a whole increased towards the community. While we commemorate the work that has already been done for by the Department of the Education to make sure our schools are safe, we need to make sure our classrooms allow for students to attend safely and with dignity.

Throughout this experience, it was difficult to imagine the hardships the Freedom Riders went through to fight for civil rights. Their tires were popped and the windows were broken but they continued to ride. They did not want to sit at the back of the bus, go to only a few restaurants, use separate bathrooms or not be able to vote. The progress that they made to move away from racial segregation is remarkable. They inspired me along with 48 other students to join the movement and make sure that during the next 50 years, we are actively engaged in the struggle for racial justice.

Manpreet Teji
Former SAALT Staff Member
Law Student, John Marshall Law School

Take On Hate: “The Power of Change is Driven by Us”

On Monday, the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) launched their long-awaited Take On Hate campaign, which is aimed at addressing the pervasive prejudice and discrimination faced by Arab and Muslim Americans. Numerous organizations, including SAALT, supported the campaign’s official launch at the National Press Club in DC.

After opening remarks from Nadia Tonova, Executive Director of NNAAC, civil rights allies spoke about the patterns of discrimination across communities and the importance of this campaign’s goal to create real, long-term change. take on hateMee Moua, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), reminded the audience of the importance of changing the narrative for all communities. “We need to change the conversation around Arab Americans from villains to everyday heroes,” she said, recalling the common theme that all communities of color have faced at some point in time. Hilary Shelton, Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy of the NAACP, connected this campaign to the civil rights movements in the 1960s and the need for collaboration between all communities of color. Deepa Iyer, current Strategic Advisor and former Executive Director of SAALT, described the South Asian and Arab communities as sister communities based on their similar experiences with post-9/11 backlash and discrimination. Iyer asserted that the current hate committed against both groups has developed into a way of life that allows for such actions and instills fear in our communities. She continued the thoughts of Moua and Shelton with an emphasis on coalition-building and collaboration: “We can use Take On Hate to help us talk about hate in all forms. The power of change is driven by us.”

Take on Hate is a much needed reminder that we do have the power to instill change. In the constant and overwhelming face of prejudice and discrimination against people of color, it is crucial that our voices are heard and uplifted to drive forward change. Whether it was Fred Korematsu with the support of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in challenging the US government’s policy of internment during World War II, or Jose Antonio Vargas speaking out on behalf of undocumented immigrants throughout the US, we must play an active role in changing the dialogue and reactions of our society around those that are “othered,” so that society may finally begin to understand that we are Americans, we are human, and we all deserve dignity and respect. Skin color, religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, class, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other “identifiers” do not define us as worthy of anything less.

This nationwide campaign will begin in four cities this year – Chicago, Detroit, New York, and San Francisco, and will gradually grow as it is mobilizes support in different areas of the country. Through public education, social media, and coalition building, Arab and Muslim Americans will ensure their voices are heard in order to confront discrimination and advocate for policy change that benefits numerous communities.  Once we all commit to “Take On Hate,” maybe we can begin to move towards a country where all people are treated equally.

In support of the Take On Hate campaign, SAALT and NNAAC hosted a briefing this morning at the Capitol on racial and religious profiling as it impacts Arab and South Asian communities. Join the Take On Hate campaign today!

Victoria Meaney
Program/Policy Fellow
South Asian Americans Leading Together

Impact of NYPD Surveillance: Limiting the Voices of Our Youth

Like any student who embarks on their journey through college, I spent much of my undergraduate years at American University discovering my identity, sense of belonging and interests in life.  As I reflect on those days not so long ago, I now realize how important being a part of a cultural student group was for me and the impact it had on my sense of identity. For me, my involvement in the Philippine Student Association played a significant role in how I came to identify, both individually and within a community. Knowing that, it is difficult for me to imagine experiencing those moments of self-searching and struggle while also having restrictions on my ability to find my community.

Imagine having your student organization be the target of a police surveillance program just for the mere fact that your student organization is racially, ethnically, or religiously-based.

Well, it happened in New York and beyond. Student groups, in this instance Muslim student groups, were targeted by the New York Police Department (NYPD). But, it doesn’t just stop there.

It’s not a secret that the NYPD has long-been spying on student organizations, places of worship and businesses.


Image from Politicker

In fact, just a few months ago, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released a report which documents this surveillance program and its impact on the Muslim community since its inception in 2002. Needless to say, the effects on the Muslim community have been drastic, causing individuals to restrict their speech and religious practice as well as their everyday activities. And, with the recent release of evidence that the NYPD has been conducting in-depth surveillance on Muslim Americans by designating them as “terrorism enterprises” and trying to infiltrate at least one local community organization, I can only imagine the impact that this will have on individuals. Moreover, as a recent college graduate, I can’t help but wonder what this means for 17 and 18 year olds as they embark on their college experience, a time many Americans use to find themselves, figure out where they belong, and build community.

Being a part of a student group and participating in cultural activities helped me to feel a sense of belonging and allowed me to learn more about Filipino culture and history during my four years at American University. It provided me a space in which to connect with peers who shared similar experiences and struggles. It’s disheartening to know that my peers will not have the same opportunity, which is such a big part of the college experience. What’s worse, if they chose to explore their identity in these traditional ways, their civil rights may be violated as well as their privacy.

We cannot not let the NYPD or other government agencies limit the ability of youth to find their identity or of anyone else to engage in their community by threatening their civil rights and religious freedom. We must demand accountability from our government agencies and officials. We must move forward — not backwards – because a better future is ahead of us. We owe this much to our youth, our communities, and our nation.

AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

In Pursuit of the “Dream”: We Reflect and Recommit


Photo Credit: Bao Lor, SEARAC

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. This past weekend, to commemorate this important occasion, Asian American organizations joined thousands of people who gathered in the nation’s capital to participate in a march and rally titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream March”.. The purpose of this march and rally was not just to remember the legacy of Dr. King and the progress since his speech over 50 years ago, but to show that even today in 2013, inequality persists.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT staff rallying in solidarity

Among the Asian American organizations present at the March were representatives from SAALT, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). And as part of the program on Saturday, Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF spoke and shared the stage along with other civil rights leaders.

The work still continues, especially within the South Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities when it comes to decreasing hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and racial profiling following 9/11, and the tremendous disparities within South Asian communities from the standpoint of access to educational equity, jobs, and health care.

SAALT Programs Intern and recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Victoria Meaney, reflected on the significance of the March, “Attending the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was monumental to me as a South Asian American. My ability to participate, in collaboration with SAALT really exemplifies the progress that has been made, based on the work of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their examples show the importance of the individual’s voice, and, by allying with others, the steps to a just society are possible. My hope is that future marches to come will have an even greater representation of South Asians and Asian Pacific Americans, because civil rights belong to all, but we will not be heard if we do not advocate for ourselves.”

We marched and rallied in solidarity for jobs, justice, peace and equality along with Americans of all races, faith and backgrounds.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

In giving her reasons for the importance of this March, Roksana Mun a DRUM Youth Organizer reflected on the theme of the March in 1963, which was “the need for jobs and the ever growing economic and social inequality between people of color communities and white communities”. And today she notes, “…we’re living at a time when the same exact issues of working-class, people of color are struggling to find jobs, decent pay (or in many cases any pay), increased cuts to education, health care and social service systems still persist. The Poor People’s March is still needed”

We showed that even though 50 years has passed since Dr. King’s speech calling for equality and justice we still have yet to pursue that dream.

As Fahd Ahmed, Legal and Policy Director of DRUM states, “It was important for DRUM to have a presence at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington because we have directly benefited from gains made by the Civil Rights movement. Both in terms of actual rights, won, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, but also in having learned strategies and tactics. Our current struggles for immigrant rights, racial justice, and worker’s rights, are a continuation of that legacy.”

Let us reflect and recommit as SAALT Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, notes “South Asians are indebted to the civil rights movement and the African American leaders and community members who marched today 50 years ago. The pivotal anti-discrimination and immigration laws that were enacted in 1965 have preserved the rights of millions of people of color and immigrants. Now, 50 years later, South Asians must continue to be a critical and visible constituency in the ongoing struggle for equity.”

So today, on the actual date of the March on Washington, as we commemorate Dr. King, his legacy and the struggles that were endured to defend our civil rights, let us not forget that problems still persists and that we are still in pursuit of the “Dream”.

AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT


Originally posted in Colorlines on August 16, 2013

Note from Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT and Rinku Sen, President, Applied Research Center:

When the Twitterversy around Kal Penn’s tweets about the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy arose, we felt that it was important for South Asians to share our view of racial profiling and its impact. We wrote something and asked some people to sign on. That statement is below.

Simultaneously, we reached out to Kal Penn to express our disappointment and concern over his tweets. We started a conversation that resulted in his endorsing this statement. Penn has also agreed to engage in a process of dialogue, learning, engagement and action on racial profiling and stop and frisk policies with the institutions and communities working on this issue, including Colorlines and SAALT. You’ll find Penn’s own statement at the bottom of ours.

This week, news of actor Kal Penn’s tweets apparently supporting the NYPD’s stop and frisk program has generated a debate about which we – South Asian activists, scholars, writers, artists and lawyers – have strong opinions. In his follow-up yesterday, Penn asks: “As people of color is this [stop and frisk program] effective? Does it have merit? How do we make our own communities of color safer?”

Our unequivocal answers to these questions are: no, no and not with stop and frisk.

Sikh Coalition

Stopping, interrogating, detaining or searching people based on characteristics such as their actual or perceived race, national origin, immigration status or religion is racial profiling. In a democracy, there has to be a reason to stop and search someone. Being a person of color isn’t a good enough reason.

Stop and frisk sounds so benign yet it covers up the violent humiliation experienced by hundreds of thousands of young black and brown men annually. Beneath the numbers is the human impact of this sort of policing. It involves being thrown to the ground face down. It involves cops dumping your belongings on the street while they taunt you with predictions that you’ll never amount to anything. It involves having this happen to you a dozen times before you’re 16 years old, and continuing into your adulthood. This sort of police enforcement not only hurts the individual, but also entire communities whose members are treated as “others” and automatically deemed unwelcome suspects in their own neighborhoods.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers, predominantly blacks and Latinos, have been stopped and interrogated on the street by police more than 4 million times since 2002, and nine out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent. Facts cited by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Floyd v. City of New York case,

which was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, include that between 2004 and 2009, cops searched 2.28 million people for weapons, and that 2.25 million of them (98.5 percent) had none. Out of 4.4 million stops, only 6 percent led to an arrest, which means that cops were wrong 16 times more often than they were right.

These numbers confirm that there is absolutely no evidence that stop and frisk reduces crime. New York City’s crime rate had started falling before stop and frisk was ever instituted, and cities and states across the country have also reduced crime rates without using such an unconstitutional and destructive practice.The negative racial impact and ineffectiveness of stop and frisk would be reason enough to oppose it. And, South Asian communities have an additional stake in this debate.


Desis Rising Up and Moving

Especially since September 11th, South Asians are routinely targeted as would-be terrorists in many settings. Plenty of people say that South Asians, Sikhs and Muslims commit more terrorist acts to justify that profiling. South Asians have endured harassment at airports and at the border, interrogations and detentions by immigration authorities in the name of national security, and surveillance of Muslim Students Associations, mosques, and restaurants. In fact, the NYPD is facing lawsuits for their surveillance of Muslim communities.

A recent report by South Asian American organizations in New York City and nationally reveals the deep impact of racial and religious profiling on South Asian New Yorkers, many of whom are young, working class people who struggle with being singled out by authorities, including the NYPD.  Indeed, plenty of young South Asians themselves have been victims of stop and frisk policies – in both terrorism and non-terrorism related contexts – even in schools.

We urge South Asians to join the growing multiracial movement to bring stop and frisk practices, as well as other policies that criminalize and target communities of color, in New York City and across our country to a speedy end.

(Affiliations Provided for Identification Purposes Only)
Rinku Sen, President of the Applied Research Center, publisher of Colorlines
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Seema Agnani, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC
Chitra Aiyar, Board Member, Andolan – Organizing South Asian Workers
Chandra S. Bhatnagar, American Civil Liberties Union
Shahid Buttar, Executive Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Mallika Dutt, Executive Director, Breakthrough
Ami Gandhi, Executive Director, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI)
Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director, Rights Working Group
Aziz Huq
Chaumtoli Huq, Academic/Law@theMargins
Vijay Iyer, Musician
Anil Kalhan, Associate Professor of Law, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law
Aminta Kilawan J.D., Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union
Pramila Jayapal, Distinguished Taconic Fellow, Center for Community Change
Saru Jayaraman, Co Director, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
Subhash Kateel, Radio Show Host, Let’s Talk About It!
Farhana Khera
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Policy Director Forward Together
Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director, South Asian Network (SAN)
Rekha Malhotra (DJ Rekha)
Monami Maulik, Executive Director, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
Samhita Mukhopadhyay
Vijay Prashad, Author, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, and Karma of Brown Folk
Naheed Qureshi
Luna Ranjit, Executive Director, Adhikaar
Hina Shamsi, Director, National Security Project, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder and Director of Programs, Sikh Coalition
Sivagami Subbaraman, Director, LGBTQ Resource Center, Georgetown University
Manar Waheed, Policy Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

From Kal Penn: “I support the statement from South Asian community leaders on the impact of racial profiling. I have and still do oppose racial profiling in any form. I want to thank SAALT and Applied Research Center for reaching out and starting to educate & dialogue with me about these issues. I plan on being in regular contact with these great community leaders and allies around the issue of racial profiling, and to dialogue with and engage others about it. It’s important for all our communities to be educated, informed, and mobilized.”

Supreme Court Watch: Fisher v. UT Austin and the South Asian Community

On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, involving the university’s use of race in its admissions policy. Here at SAALT, we eagerly awaited the Supreme Court’s ruling, as we had joined an amicus brief filed by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice in the Fisher case last year in support of the UT-Austin admissions policy.

In its decision, the Court upheld the broader principles from existing precedent from Grutter v. Bollinger, which allowed for race to be used as one of various factors given the compelling state interest in promoting diversity within education. However, rather than ruling on the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ policy itself, the Court returned the case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court asked the lower court to review whether the consideration of race in the admissions policy in question was narrowly tailored and necessary in order to achieve educational diversity.

Despite common misperceptions to the contrary, South Asians support and benefit from holistic race-conscious admission policies like the one implemented by the University of Texas. South Asian students, along with all other students, enjoy a richer learning environment when they are immersed in a diverse educational setting.  The ability to learn from students and peers various backgrounds helps better prepare them for the workforce and the real world. In fact, in light of ongoing discrimination that South Asians encounter in this country, it is vital that students from other racial backgrounds learn about our experiences and we, in turn, learn about theirs. It is also important for us to remember that it was not too long ago in our own recent history that our community has been denied equal opportunity in this country and race-conscious admissions policies bring us closer to equality. In fact, Asian Americans, including South Asians, strongly support affirmative action and race-conscious policies in educational settings, as shown by recent polling from the National Asian American Survey.

We are heartened by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold precedent regarding holistic race-conscious policies and are confident that the lower court will uphold the policy upon its review of the case.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

The Community Safety Act: Accountability for the NYPD and Its Importance to the South Asian Community

On June 27, 2013, the New York City Council passed two bills of the Community Safety Act, introduced last year, which curbs discriminatory policing practices and establishes accountability mechanisms for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). One of the bills, the End Discriminatory Profiling Act (Intro. 1080), would establish an enforceable ban against profiling and discrimination by the NYPD; expand the bases for prohibited profiling and discrimination (currently, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin) to include age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability or housing status; establish a private right of action allowing profiling victims to file lawsuits against the NYPD; and allow individuals to file claims based on intentional discrimination and/or disparate impact. The second bill, the NYPD Oversight Act (Intro. 1079), would grant independent oversight authority over the NYPD to the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation through reviews of the police department and require public reports regarding its findings. SAALT applauds the passage of the Community Safety Act as well as the efforts of local organizations in New York City, such as DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, to ensure these bills become law.

The passage of the Community Safety Act is vital for all residents of New York City – including African American and Latino individuals who have been subjected to an exorbitant and disproportionate percentage of stop-and-frisk encounters. Most notably, since September 11th, South Asian community members have been similarly subjected to arrests, questioning, and harassment simply based upon race, religion, and appearance.  In a joint report released in March 2012, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling, by DRUM, The Sikh Coalition, UNITED SIKHS, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, and SAALT, community members’ personal experiences revealed the toll that such discrimination has taken on their lives. Interactions with NYPD included that of a young Bangladeshi man, while simply waiting for his friends, being subjected to warrantless searches by police; a police officer asking a South Asian student about his religion; and an Indian Hindu individual being asked about his ethnicity and whether he had drugs. Community members have also been asked whether they are Muslim, where they pray, and even been pressured to spy on their own communities and report on “terrorist activity.” Indeed, reports from the Associated Press in 2011 revealed the widespread spying and surveillance by the NYPD on Muslim communities and student associations, both within and beyond New York City. (In fact, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the CLEAR Project at the City University of New York, recently filed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory surveillance practices of the police department.) As a result, individuals reported that such interactions harmed their relationships with friends and family and, also, made them more hesitant to reach out to police in times of need.

SAALT has joined our partner organizations in New York City in calling for the enactment of robust and expansive anti-profiling policies and strengthening government and civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies in the city. We commend the City Council’s passage of the legislation, which would go into effect in January 2014, if enacted, and urge the Mayor to sign the bills into law.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.


Supreme Court Watch: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the South Asian Community

On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights of 1965 ruling it unconstitutional. SAALT strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which has been pivotal in protecting minority voters’ ability to participate in the American democracy. In January 2013, SAALT joined an amicus brief in the case, along with 27 other Asian American organizations, arguing in favor of the Voting Rights Act, particularly given its importance related to language access and political representation.

With the backdrop of egregious racial discrimination against minority voters, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act articulates a formula to determine which jurisdictions are required to have any changes in their voting laws pre-cleared by the Department of Justice or a federal court (under Section 5 of the legislation) to ensure that minority voters’ ability to vote is not diminished. The trigger formula used to designate such jurisdictions, as outlined in Section 4, is based on various factors, including historical evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices, impact on language minority groups, and low minority voter turnout. While the Court recognized that racial discrimination continues to plague the ability for many to vote, it stated that the coverage formula used in Section 4 was “outdated” in light of recent increased minority voter turnout, disapproved of states being treated differently under the law, and suggested that Congress update the formula in order to pass constitutional muster. This counterintuitive reasoning ignores that Sections 4 and 5 have been pivotal in promoting enfranchisement, considerable evidence proves racial discrimination at the polls continues, and federal legislators have recognized the importance of keeping the Voting Rights Act in effect. In fact, the Voting Rights Act, including Section 4, has increasingly enjoyed significant bipartisan support within Congress over the years and was most recently reauthorized almost unanimously in 2006.

The right to vote has been a long-fought battle for communities of color in the United States. The Voting Rights Act is an historic and crucial piece of legislation that was borne out of our country’s Civil Rights Movement and the pioneering struggles of the African American community in the 1960s. Indeed, the South Asian community’s own path to attain naturalization, conferring the right to vote, has been a rocky one. In 1923, the Supreme Court then ruled that South Asians were not considered white by the common person and thus could not be considered citizens; this remained in effect until legislation was enacted decades later. In more recent years, as documented by election monitoring and exit polling efforts, South Asian and other voters of color continue to encounter barriers at the polls because of race, religion, and language ability and restrictive voter identification proposals continue to threaten the right to vote. South Asians will not be immune from today’s disappointing ruling, particularly given our community’s overall size and growth in jurisdictions previously covered under the Section 4 formula, including Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia.

This ruling is a grave setback for voting rights and equality in the country that ignores both the historical and contemporary evidence of discrimination that minority voters face. Community members are encouraged to join a petition calling for an amendment to protect the rights of all voters. Looking forward, SAALT will continue to work with allies when Congress develops a new coverage formula in light of today’s ruling and ensure that it addresses discrimination against racial, ethnic, and language minorities.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.