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 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.

Last Chance to Force Congress to Vote On and Pass a Clean DREAM Act

Since Pres­i­dent Trump ter­mi­nat­ed the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram in Sep­tem­ber, you have heard about our efforts to speak truth to pow­er. Dur­ing a 2‑day mobi­liza­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. last month, South Asian DREAM­er, leader, and SAALT ally Chi­rayu Patel asked elect­ed offi­cials at a ral­ly on Capi­tol Hill, “What is the lega­cy you want to leave behind?” You heard SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Suman Raghu­nathan, demand a clean DREAM Act with­out any com­pro­mis­es on increased bor­der enforce­ment that will neg­a­tive­ly impact immi­grant fam­i­lies.

Over the last three months, DREAM­ERs have been deport­ed by the thou­sands, with over 100 DREAM­ers falling out of sta­tus every day because Congress’s fail­ure to act. Addi­tion­al­ly, the gov­ern­ment is ter­mi­nat­ing Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) for sev­er­al coun­tries that are still reel­ing from war, dis­ease, and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters. So far Nicaragua, Hon­duras, and Haiti have been on the chop­ping block. Nepal and oth­ers could be up next.

We are now at the end of the year and Congress needs to deliver.

Fund­ing for the gov­ern­ment expires this Fri­day, Decem­ber 8th and Con­gress plans to pass a short-term Con­tin­u­ing Res­o­lu­tion (CR) to keep the lights on. This is like­ly the last must-pass spend­ing bill of the year, and the last chance for us to get the DREAM Act and TPS leg­is­la­tion through Con­gress this year.

Here’s what you can do today to force Congress to vote on and pass a clean DREAM Act and TPS legislation now: 

Call your elect­ed offi­cials and tell them why they must include the DREAM Act in the last must-pass spend­ing bill of the year. Urge them to with­hold their vote on any spend­ing bill that does not include a clean DREAM Act. It is crit­i­cal that calls are made this week before a Con­tin­u­ing Res­o­lu­tion is passed on Decem­ber 8th. Click here to find your Mem­ber of Con­gress.

See below for a sample script!

“I am call­ing to urge you to sign on to the bi-par­ti­san DREAM Act of 2017. As a South Asian Amer­i­can con­stituent, I am call­ing on you to sup­port the DREAM Act now and ensure that it is includ­ed in the year-end spend­ing bill. 

This leg­is­la­tion would allow our DREAM­ers who are as Amer­i­can as you or me to remain in the only coun­try they have ever known or called home. You may be sur­prised to know that there are at least 450,000 undoc­u­ment­ed Indi­ans alone in the U.S. and there are at least 23,000 Indi­ans and Pak­ista­nis who are eli­gi­ble to remain in the coun­try, be shield­ed from depor­ta­tion, and legal­ly work through the DREAM Act.

We need you to exer­cise courage and lead­er­ship on behalf of our fam­i­lies and our com­mu­ni­ties so we can all thrive. I urge you to sign on to a clean DREAM Act with no bor­der enforce­ment. Will you com­mit to vot­ing NO on a year-end spend­ing bill that does not include the DREAM Act? I am hap­py to share more infor­ma­tion if use­ful or con­nect you with South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing our com­mu­ni­ties in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.” 

SAALT Slams White House’s Immigration ‘Priorities’ List as Unacceptable; Calls on Leaders to Pass Clean DREAM Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

In response to the White House’s release of a series of hard-line mea­sures required in exchange for allow­ing DREAM­ers to remain in the Unit­ed States through the pro­posed DREAM Act, Suman Raghu­nathan, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT, released the fol­low­ing state­ment:

“SAALT has vocal­ly sup­port­ed the pas­sage of a clean DREAM Act since the Trump administration’s deci­sion to ter­mi­nate the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram on Sep­tem­ber 5, 2017. In demand­ing a clean DREAM Act, we are stat­ing unequiv­o­cal­ly that any leg­is­la­tion must not include mea­sures to increase bor­der or inte­ri­or enforce­ment, no cuts to fam­i­ly immi­gra­tion, and no threats to legal immi­gra­tion. All of these unac­cept­able pro­vi­sions were includ­ed in the Administration’s pri­or­i­ties list issued this week­end.

Specif­i­cal­ly, these ‘pri­or­i­ties’ include ramp­ing up bor­der and inte­ri­or enforce­ment, includ­ing the con­struc­tion of a wall along the Mex­i­co bor­der, a fur­ther crack­down on sanc­tu­ary cities, an extreme cap on refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, and a deep slash to fam­i­ly and legal immi­gra­tion num­bers.

It is a patent­ly false con­struct to assume that ramp­ing up enforce­ment and cut­ting immi­gra­tion from every angle is a nec­es­sary step to ensure a leg­isla­tive solu­tion, one that is des­per­ate­ly need­ed after the inhu­mane rescis­sion of the DACA pro­gram by this admin­is­tra­tion.

Over 27,000 Asian Amer­i­cans, includ­ing 5,500 Indi­ans and Pak­ista­nis, have already received DACA. An addi­tion­al esti­mat­ed 17,000 indi­vid­u­als from India and 6,000 from Pak­istan are eli­gi­ble for DACA, plac­ing India in the top ten coun­tries for DACA eli­gi­bil­i­ty. These indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies must be pro­tect­ed through leg­is­la­tion with­out a bar­rage of uncon­scionable mea­sures attached there­in.

Immi­grants are not a threat to our nation­al secu­ri­ty. Instead, as numer­ous stud­ies have shown, they enhance our nation and give us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to live up to our ideals as a coun­try. More­over, two-thirds of Amer­i­cans sup­port the DREAM Act as well as over 50% of elect­ed offi­cials across par­ty lines.

With this pub­lic man­date behind them, our lead­ers must stay strong and ensure that this administration’s ‘pri­or­i­ties’ do not serve as a start­ing point for any bar­gain­ing at the expense of immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. What we deserve is a clean DREAM Act root­ed in dig­ni­ty and inclu­sion for all immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. We will not set­tle for any­thing less.”

***

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) is a nation­al, non­par­ti­san, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that fights for racial jus­tice and advo­cates for the civ­il rights of all South Asians in the Unit­ed States. Our ulti­mate vision is dig­ni­ty and full inclu­sion for all.

Con­tact: Vivek Trive­di — vivek@saalt.org

Minority leader Pelosi joins CAPAC and Asian American DREAMers to demand immediate passage of the DREAM Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al civ­il rights and racial jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion, ful­ly sup­ports calls by Rep. Nan­cy Pelosi, Rep. Judy Chu, and oth­er mem­bers of Con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship for the imme­di­ate pas­sage of the DREAM Act. These demands come on the heels of last week’s deci­sion by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to ter­mi­nate the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram, the lat­est in this admin­is­tra­tion’s anti-immi­grant poli­cies that puts 800,000 peo­ple at risk of depor­ta­tion from the only coun­try they’ve ever called home.

“This administration’s heart­less, end­less efforts to tar­get and mar­gin­al­ize immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties makes the imme­di­ate pas­sage of a clean DREAM Act all the more urgent,” stat­ed Suman Raghu­nathan, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT. “SAALT joins Con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship in staunch sup­port of the imme­di­ate pas­sage of the DREAM Act, and we call on all elect­ed and appoint­ed offi­cials to defend our com­mu­ni­ties through their words and actions.”

At a press con­fer­ence on the DREAM Act, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Nan­cy Pelosi not­ed, “It’s an hon­or to be here with DREAM­ers, who are advanc­ing the Amer­i­can dream. With their courage, with their opti­mism, and with their inspi­ra­tion, they make Amer­i­ca more Amer­i­can.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Judy Chu stat­ed, “It was only last week that Pres­i­dent Trump issued one of the cru­elest orders he ever could, the end of DACA, forc­ing 800,000 peo­ple to face depor­ta­tion to coun­tries that they do not even know. We are here to say, ‘We will fight for our DREAM­ers.’”

Chi­rayu Patel, Co-Founder of the DACA Net­work and a DREAM­er him­self, stat­ed, “I have built a life here: gone to ele­men­tary, mid­dle school, high school, and col­lege. The deci­sion by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma in 2012 to enact the DACA pro­gram was a con­se­quen­tial day for me, as I believed this was the first step to earn my Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship. Last week’s deci­sion by Pres­i­dent Trump turned my life upside down. We will not be used as bar­gain­ing chips in polit­i­cal games­man­ship between the par­ties. We are call­ing on Con­gress to pass a clean DREAM Act now. Now is the time for Con­gress to make a deci­sion on whether they’re going to sup­port us or if they’re going to stand in the way of progress.”

Over 27,000 Asian Amer­i­cans, includ­ing 5,500 Indi­ans and Pak­ista­nis, have already received DACA. An addi­tion­al esti­mat­ed 17,000 indi­vid­u­als from India and 6,000 Pak­istan respec­tive­ly are eli­gi­ble for DACA, plac­ing India in the top ten coun­tries for DACA eli­gi­bil­i­ty. With the ter­mi­na­tion of DACA, these indi­vid­u­als could face depor­ta­tion at the dis­cre­tion of the admin­is­tra­tion.

Our immi­gra­tion laws are bad­ly bro­ken — dis­re­gard­ing our val­ues is not the answer to fix­ing them. We call on Con­gress to do its job and imme­di­ate­ly pass a clean DREAM Act that cre­ates a roadmap to cit­i­zen­ship for aspir­ing new Amer­i­cans. This is the only way to align our immi­gra­tion laws with the val­ues Amer­i­cans hold dear.

CONTACT: Vivek Trive­di — vivek@saalt.org

Civil Rights Coalition Denounces ACT For America’s Anti-Muslim Online Campaign; Calls on the President to #CounterACTHate

Wash­ing­ton – Civ­il rights lead­ers, faith based, human rights, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions con­demn today’s big­ot­ed, anti-Mus­lim online cam­paign by ACT for Amer­i­ca, report­ed­ly the nation’s largest anti-Mus­lim hate group.  This online cam­paign was sched­uled for just two days before the anniver­sary of Sep­tem­ber 11 to tar­get and man­u­fac­ture hatred for Amer­i­can Mus­lims at a time when vio­lence against Mus­lim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh com­mu­ni­ties is reach­ing his­toric highs.

ACT orig­i­nal­ly planned to coor­di­nate 67 anti-Mus­lim ral­lies across 36 states under the theme “Amer­i­ca First.”  How­ev­er, after thou­sands of Amer­i­cans came out in peace­ful resis­tance to white suprema­cy and racism in Char­lottesville and Boston, ACT decid­ed to call off its ral­lies and shift to today’s online cam­paign, a clear sig­nal that mes­sages of jus­tice and sol­i­dar­i­ty are drown­ing out mes­sages of hate nation­wide.

This is not the first time civ­il rights groups and anti-racist pro­tes­tors stared down ACT’s big­otry.  In June ACT held anti-Mus­lim ral­lies in 30 cities across the nation under the theme “March Against Shari­ah”.  This cam­paign was met with strong resis­tance from civ­il rights groups who held alter­na­tive events that telegraphed calls for love, fair­ness, and jus­tice. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion was silent in response.

ACT’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has made her racism clear. She has said, “Every prac­tic­ing Mus­lim is a rad­i­cal Mus­lim” and has argued, out­ra­geous­ly, that Mus­lims are a “nat­ur­al threat to civ­i­lized peo­ple of the world, par­tic­u­lar­ly West­ern soci­ety.”  In a video mes­sage launch­ing the Amer­i­ca First ral­lies, Ms. Gabriel exclaims, “Let’s show our pres­i­dent that we are behind him in secur­ing our nation.” In accor­dance with the big­otry that ACT pro­motes, its pre­vi­ous anti-Mus­lim ral­lies have attract­ed a host of armed mili­tia-type groups and white nation­al­ists.

Like­wise, Pres­i­dent Trump has made no secret of his big­otry„ stat­ing on the record, “I think Islam hates us” and mov­ing for­ward with his administration’s dogged pur­suit of a “Mus­lim Ban,” among oth­er poli­cies.  The words and actions of the admin­is­tra­tion, includ­ing high-lev­el advi­sors who are known stan­dard-bear­ers for white suprema­cist move­ments, as well as the Pres­i­dent him­self, increas­ing­ly fuel and val­i­date vio­lence tar­get­ing Mus­lims and peo­ple per­ceived as Mus­lim. The FBI’s 2015 hate crimes sta­tis­tics, the most updat­ed data avail­able, show a 67% increase in hate crimes against Mus­lims in 2015, while vio­lence aimed at South Asian, Sikh, and Arab com­mu­ni­ties con­tin­ue to rise. The xeno­pho­bic state­ments by the Pres­i­dent and Gabriel run counter to the val­ues of jus­tice and inclu­siv­i­ty that we seek to uphold.

Peace­ful resis­tance by civ­il rights groups, immi­grant and faith com­mu­ni­ties, and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or has been the strongest coun­ter­weight to the insults and injuries of white suprema­cists and this admin­is­tra­tion. We demand this admin­is­tra­tion, and all elect­ed and appoint­ed offi­cials, con­demn groups that ped­dle hate in the strongest pos­si­ble terms, and back that con­dem­na­tion with swift action and poli­cies that con­tribute to the trans­for­ma­tion of our insti­tu­tions. The hatred must stop now. As a coali­tion of diverse orga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and immi­grants at the nation­al, state, and local lev­els, we are com­mit­ted to con­demn­ing big­otry of all kinds and advanc­ing the prin­ci­ples of racial jus­tice.

Suman Raghu­nathan, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, said, “ACT for America’s racism and fear mon­ger­ing are incom­pat­i­ble with core Amer­i­can val­ues of jus­tice and equal­i­ty in a nation where peo­ple of col­or will con­sti­tute a major­i­ty of res­i­dents with­in the next two decades.  ACT’s deci­sion to shift from nation­wide ral­lies to an online cam­paign, while still tox­ic, is in no small terms a vic­to­ry and emblem­at­ic of the pow­er of stand­ing togeth­er, unit­ed from all faiths and back­grounds against big­otry. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion must end its anti-Mus­lim, anti-immi­grant cam­paign that embold­ens hate groups to com­mit hor­rif­ic acts of vio­lence against our com­mu­ni­ties. Silence is no longer an option. The Pres­i­dent, along with all elect­ed and appoint­ed offi­cials, must con­demn Islam­o­pho­bia and white suprema­cy and ensure that our com­mu­ni­ties can live in a just and inclu­sive soci­ety for all Amer­i­cans.”

SAALT Condemns President Trump’s Decision to Terminate DACA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al civ­il rights and racial jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion, con­demns Pres­i­dent Trump’s deci­sion to ter­mi­nate the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram, the lat­est in a litany of this admin­is­tra­tion’s anti-immi­grant poli­cies.  This morn­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ses­sions announced the destruc­tive change, cit­ing DACA’s exec­u­tive over­reach as the main source of cri­tique, reflect­ing this admin­is­tra­tion’s amne­sia and its uncon­sti­tu­tion­al actions to date, not the least of which include the “Mus­lim Ban.”

“Amer­i­ca’s val­ues are found­ed on the ide­al that all peo­ple are cre­at­ed equal and deserve jus­tice. The Pres­i­den­t’s deci­sion to ter­mi­nate DACA puts 800,000 indi­vid­u­als at risk of depor­ta­tion from the only coun­try they’ve ever called home. End­ing DACA is the lat­est evi­dence of this admin­is­tra­tion’s utter lack of com­mit­ment to our nation’s found­ing val­ues of equal­i­ty and fair­ness,” stat­ed Suman Raghu­nathan, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT.  “Our cur­rent patch­work of immi­gra­tion poli­cies and pro­grams is bro­ken, and we demand Con­gress does its job to craft a com­mon­sense immi­gra­tion process that cre­ates a roadmap to cit­i­zen­ship for aspir­ing new Amer­i­cans. This is the only way to align our immi­gra­tion laws with the val­ues Amer­i­cans hold dear.”

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion will phase out DACA after a six-month delay, punt­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty to Con­gress to craft leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect Dream­ers. Pass­ing the DREAM Act 2017 is an impor­tant first step, but what the nation needs is com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform.

Over 27,000 Asian Amer­i­cans, includ­ing 5,500 Indi­ans and Pak­ista­nis, have already received DACA. An addi­tion­al esti­mat­ed 17,000 indi­vid­u­als from India and 6,000 Pak­istan respec­tive­ly are eli­gi­ble for DACA, plac­ing India in the top ten coun­tries for DACA eli­gi­bil­i­ty.  With the ter­mi­na­tion of DACA, these indi­vid­u­als could face depor­ta­tion at the dis­cre­tion of the admin­is­tra­tion.

The CEOs of Apple, Google and Face­book and many oth­er busi­ness lead­ers have all staunch­ly sup­port­ed DACA and opposed its ter­mi­na­tion, cit­ing their need for tal­ent­ed work­ers in a direct rebut­tal to claims that DACA has hurt the Amer­i­can econ­o­my.

When asked about DACA in Feb­ru­ary the Pres­i­dent stat­ed, “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.”  Yet today the Attor­ney Gen­er­al called the ter­mi­na­tion of DACA a com­pas­sion­ate deci­sion, reveal­ing how tone deaf and incon­sis­tent this admin­is­tra­tion is to its past state­ments and Amer­i­can val­ues. The admin­is­tra­tion has announced sev­er­al per­mu­ta­tions of the “Mus­lim Ban”; con­tin­u­al­ly called for the con­struc­tion of a wall on the south­ern bor­der of the Unit­ed States; has rolled back Deferred Action for Par­ents of Amer­i­cans and Law­ful Per­ma­nent Res­i­dents (DAPA); sup­port­ed the RAISE Act that seeks to slash immi­gra­tion in half with­in a decade; and encour­aged, endorsed, and embold­ened big­otry, white suprema­cy, and hatred toward immi­grants, Mus­lims, and peo­ple of col­or across the nation. That is not the type of ‘heart’ this nation needs.

Since its incep­tion, this admin­is­tra­tion has demon­strat­ed a cru­cial lack of heart, com­pas­sion, val­ues, and respect for the law when it comes to DACA and immi­gra­tion.  It is time for Con­gress to step up and pass com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform, and for all elect­ed and appoint­ed offi­cials to defend our com­mu­ni­ties through words and actions.  We are here to stay, we have the same rights to Amer­i­ca as any­one else, and we are not going away.

Con­tact:  Vivek Trive­di — vivek@saalt.org

Invisible Bhutanese Communities in My Own Backyard

Victoria Headshot

Vic­to­ria Meaney
Program/Policy Fel­low
SAALT

I have lived in the state of Mary­land my entire life. I attend­ed school in Mont­gomery Coun­ty from ele­men­tary through high school, and attend­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, Col­lege Park in Prince George’s coun­ty. Yet, I still had no idea that there is a sig­nif­i­cant Bhutanese pop­u­la­tion in this state, both in Prince George’s and Bal­ti­more coun­ties – until recent­ly.

On Jan­u­ary 15, 2014, I attend­ed a brief­ing host­ed by the Asian & Pacif­ic Islander Amer­i­can Schol­ar­ship Fund (APIASF), at which the orga­ni­za­tion released a report enti­tled Invis­i­ble New­com­ers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the Unit­ed States. This exten­sive report cov­ered the his­to­ry of refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan, their migra­tion pat­terns before set­tling in the US, and their set­tle­ment process­es upon arriv­ing in the US.

The report sup­plies an in-depth his­to­ry of how many of the Bhutanese have become refugees. For both refugee groups, polit­i­cal unrest began in their home coun­tries, pre­dom­i­nate­ly because of eth­nic ten­sions. Many Nepalis had migrat­ed to Bhutan, and became known as Lhot­sham­pas, or “Peo­ple from the South.” These Nepali immi­grants were large­ly Hin­du and set­tled in Bud­dhist Bhutan. By 1958, Bhutanese laws had come into effect that pre­vent­ed the Lhot­sham­pas from main­tain­ing cit­i­zen­ship and teach­ing the Nepali lan­guage. In the late 1980s, demon­stra­tions on behalf of human rights and democ­ra­cy had begun, and demon­stra­tors were being arrest­ed and tor­tured. As a result of this per­se­cu­tion, by 1992, more than 100,000 Lhot­sham­pas had fled to Nepal, where the UNHCR had estab­lished refugee camps. It wasn’t until 2007 that refugees began to set­tle in the US, and by 2011 the Bhutanese refugee pop­u­la­tion had risen to 26%. For those that came here, the US was the third coun­try in which refugees have lived – begin­ning in their home coun­tries, then relo­cat­ing to a refugee camp in anoth­er coun­try, and final­ly set­tling in the US.

How­ev­er, upon set­tling in Amer­i­ca, the strug­gle for Bhutanese com­mu­ni­ties has con­tin­ued – they con­tin­ue to face numer­ous bar­ri­ers here as well. For exam­ple, refugees are pro­vid­ed gov­ern­men­tal assis­tance for a lim­it­ed amount of time, such as cash assis­tance for eight months, lim­it­ed access to med­ical ser­vices, Eng­lish lan­guage class­es, and employ­ment sup­port ser­vices. As a result, many Bhutanese have to fig­ure out how to make their lives and homes quick­ly in order to sur­vive. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, for a refugee who comes here with lim­it­ed Eng­lish pro­fi­cien­cy and no pre­vi­ous for­mal edu­ca­tion, over­com­ing these bar­ri­ers is a long-term process. Refugees require the nec­es­sary resources and ser­vices to ful­ly allow them to suc­ceed, but the ser­vices need to real­is­ti­cal­ly address the bar­ri­ers that refugees face, and should be acces­si­ble as they are need­ed. Because two of the main bar­ri­ers pre­vent­ing access to ser­vices and self-suf­fi­cient include lan­guage bar­ri­ers and job train­ing, these areas espe­cial­ly must be devel­oped in order to bet­ter accom­mo­date the needs of refugees.

Orga­ni­za­tions such as the Asso­ci­a­tion of Bhutanese in Amer­i­ca work to help refugees APIASF Bhutanese Reportbecome accus­tomed to liv­ing in Amer­i­ca, but it is not easy. In 2011, the Wash­ing­ton Post wrote a few arti­cles on Bhutanese refugees when they first start­ed migrat­ing to Prince George’s Coun­ty, Mary­land in large groups. They inter­viewed indi­vid­u­als such as Lax­man Dulal and Khar­nan­da Rizal. Dulal, an employ­ee of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Bhutanese in Amer­i­ca works with his wife Maya Mishra to host lessons for refugees to help them learn how to sup­port them­selves in Mary­land. Even for those that do find a job, many of them are the sole providers for their fam­i­lies, which makes it dif­fi­cult to make ends meet. Rizal under­stands this strug­gle, as he start­ed a board­ing school in Nepal almost twen­ty years ago, but is now work­ing at a gas sta­tion and car­ing for three chil­dren in the US, while his wife is still in Nepal.

APIASF has made pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions in order to bet­ter help sup­port refugees com­ing into the US. Some of these rec­om­men­da­tions include:

  • Mod­i­fy­ing and inten­si­fy­ing arrival ori­en­ta­tions and var­i­ous train­ings to more real­is­ti­cal­ly pre­pare refugees for the cul­tur­al and eco­nom­ic real­i­ties of US soci­ety
  • Extend­ing the length of time that adult refugees may be sup­port­ed with social ser­vices and Eng­lish lan­guage edu­ca­tion
  • Cre­at­ing self-help orga­ni­za­tions in order for refugees to have access to resources
  • Pro­vid­ing job trainings/development in order to help refugees to find per­ma­nent work posi­tions
  • Pro­vid­ing resources to help par­ents and chil­dren bet­ter under­stand each oth­er dur­ing a dif­fi­cult time such as tran­si­tion

Like all immi­grants, refugee com­mu­ni­ties need a safe­ty net, wel­com­ing com­mu­ni­ties, and access to basic ser­vices and ben­e­fits in order to thrive in our coun­try. As mem­bers of immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, we need to sup­port those that have had to leave their homes in oth­er coun­tries to come here. We need to advo­cate for the bet­ter inte­gra­tion of refugees into US soci­ety through improved access and sup­port ser­vices. How­ev­er, in order to sup­port and advo­cate with these com­mu­ni­ties, we must know they exist, we must under­stand the bar­ri­ers, and we must help cre­ate solu­tions. Every­one deserves the resources and tools nec­es­sary to help them best suc­ceed, so that they are no longer the invis­i­ble com­mu­ni­ties in our back­yards.
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Vic­to­ria Meaney
Program/Policy Fel­low
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT

Domestic Workers and Diplomats: Struggle for Justice Continues

Photo credit: Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice

Pho­to by Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Jus­tice

By Elizabeth Keyes

When I heard the sto­ry about Sangee­ta Richard, the remark­ably coura­geous domes­tic work­er demand­ing her just due from a sys­tem set up to fail her, I could­n’t help think­ing of “Mary.” Mary, too, worked for a diplo­mat, and she was one of my first clients when I grad­u­at­ed from law school a decade ago. Among the oth­er hor­ri­fy­ing details I learned about Mary’s sto­ry, I learned that the diplo­mat’s wife told Mary, while beat­ing her with a shoe, “go ahead and call the police. I am a diplo­mat.”

The sys­tem tru­ly is set up to fail work­ers like Mary and Sangee­ta. What I saw from han­dling many, many such cas­es between 2004 and 2011 were fail­ures at every lev­el. Diplo­mats entered into con­tracts that they had no inten­tion of hon­or­ing, con­tracts that almost uni­form­ly promised 40 hour work­weeks and com­pen­sa­tion at or above the U.S. fed­er­al min­i­mum wage. The U.S. con­sulates over­seas approved the visas dur­ing inter­views when some­times only the diplo­mat talked, or where the diplo­mat act­ed as the inter­preter for the work­er. With only one excep­tion, the for­eign embassies in the Unit­ed States sided with the diplo­mat, not the work­er, and did not even attempt to bro­ker solu­tions to resolve the con­flicts. And for far too long, the State Depart­ment sat idly by as com­plaints were filed by the rel­a­tive­ly small por­tion of work­ers who found their way out (an even small­er sec­tion of whom found legal coun­sel).

I have heard every excuse in the book about why exploit­ing them is “justified”–they are bet­ter off in Amer­i­ca, they are treat­ed “like fam­i­ly,” their wages are worth a lot back home, or the diplo­mat does not earn enough to pay the con­trac­tu­al wage. None of these excus­es in any way jus­ti­fies what hap­pens to the peo­ple, who come here hop­ing to work hard and earn mon­ey to help improve their lives and the lives of their fam­i­lies. And none of these excus­es in any way changes the way the diplo­mats are com­mit­ting fraud in issu­ing these con­tracts and secur­ing these visas.

  • Are work­ers “bet­ter off” in Amer­i­ca? Hard­ly. My clients were paid any­where from 35 cents an hour to zero cents an hour, while work­ing all hours of the day, and some­times well into the night. For exam­ple, on top of pro­vid­ing child­care, cook­ing and clean­ing dur­ing the day, Mary had to sleep with the fam­i­ly’s baby in the liv­ing room of the small Green­belt apart­ment, so she could tend to the baby at night when the child awoke. In return, the diplo­mats threat­ened them with depor­ta­tion if they com­plained, beat them, some­times sex­u­al­ly assault­ed them, and/or threat­ened the lives of fam­i­ly mem­bers back home. That is not what I call being “bet­ter off.”
  • Are work­ers “like fam­i­ly?” Maybe, but only because fam­i­ly, too, can be exploit­ed. In some of the coun­tries where my clients came from, elite families–the very kinds of fam­i­lies that might join the diplo­mat­ic corps at some point–had tra­di­tions of bring­ing dis­tant rel­a­tives in from the coun­try­side to work in the fam­i­ly home. Tech­ni­cal­ly, yes, this was fam­i­ly. But the pur­pose was to obtain cheap, com­pli­ant labor and exploit it for the fam­i­ly’s com­fort and pres­tige. The visa sys­tem for bring­ing work­ers here mere­ly mir­rors that prac­tice from the home country–but with the stamp of approval of our gov­ern­ment.
  • Are the pal­try wages in the U.S. worth a lot back home? Yes, but utter­ly beside the point. If they want­ed to earn those wages, they could have stayed home, clos­er to fam­i­ly and friends who would have been a source of sup­port for them if the employ­ment turned abu­sive.  Work­ers incur a huge cost leav­ing home to do what will like­ly be long, hard, dif­fi­cult and pos­si­bly abu­sive labor. Earn­ing the promised wages would have made that cost worth­while. Every sin­gle client of mine expressed her feel­ing that if she had known what it would be like here, she would have stayed home to earn the same wage with­out los­ing their safe­ty net.
  • Diplo­mats do not earn enough to pay the con­trac­tu­al wage? The enti­tle­ment demon­strat­ed by this “excuse” is not so much buried as shin­ing bright­ly in tall neon let­ters. I, too, do not earn enough to pay a full-time domes­tic work­er the min­i­mum wage. But some­where along the way, prob­a­bly well before I was ten years old, I learned that if you can’t afford some­thing, you don’t get to have it. The diplo­mats talk them­selves into believ­ing that they can­not do their jobs with­out these work­ers tak­ing care of the home front, sit­ting for the chil­dren while they attend evening func­tions, cook­ing for lav­ish par­ties diplo­mats are expect­ed to host, and so forth. And I know these work­ers do make the diplo­mats’ jobs and lives eas­i­er. Of course they do. But there is sim­ply no way to jus­ti­fy leap­ing from that truth to the moral­ly bank­rupt propo­si­tion that “there­fore” work­ers do not deserve the full pay promised. My want­i­ng an eas­i­er life does not let me rob a work­er of her wages—it real­ly is just that sim­ple.

Mary, like Sangee­ta, knew what was hap­pen­ing to her was wrong, and she fled. She fled with­out her belong­ings but with her sense of jus­tice and worth so ful­ly intact that one of the first places she went was a court; with only an out­raged clerk to steer her to the right forms, she sued to get her pass­port. She won, at which point the diplo­mat informed the court that he was immune to suit. Judg­ment dis­missed.

But let us not dis­miss our own judg­ment of these diplo­mats who exploit their work­ers.  Groups like Mujeres Acti­vas y Unidas, Adhikaar, CASA de Mary­land, the Human Traf­fick­ing Pro Bono Legal Cen­ter, Domes­tic Work­ers Unit­ed, and the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­er Alliance are hold­ing diplo­mats’ feet to the fire in a vari­ety of ways: pub­licly sham­ing them, pri­vate­ly seek­ing resti­tu­tion, work­ing with the gov­ern­ment to find bet­ter ways to pre­vent abus­es. And occa­sion­al­ly find­ing a brave ally like the pros­e­cu­tor in Ms. Richard’s case, Preet Bharara, who (like Ms. Richard her­self) is with­stand­ing stri­dent crit­i­cism from many, includ­ing some of Ms. Richard’s com­pa­tri­ots in India and from the Indi­an dis­apo­ra. Hap­pi­ly, groups like SAALT, and the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions, are stand­ing firm­ly in sup­port of Ms. Richard and Mr. Bharara.

Mr. Bharara sees through all these excus­es at least as clear­ly as I do, and had the courage to do some­thing about it. May we all be moved to see things as clear­ly.

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Elizabeth Keyes
Uni­ver­si­ty of Bal­ti­more School of Law, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Law Immi­grant Rights Clin­ic
Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @LizkeyesTkPk