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.
***************

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.

***********************************************************************************************

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

A Compelling Day for Immigrants in New Jersey

“One day I just couldn’t take it any more and decid­ed to end it all and called the sui­cide helpline,” said Megh­na, a com­mu­ni­ty mem­ber and advo­cate who shared her per­son­al sto­ry at SAALT’s recent New Jer­sey Immi­gra­tion Town­hall.  Megh­na arrived in the U.S. on her depen­dent spouse visa (H‑4 sta­tus) which did not allow her to work, despite hav­ing a Mas­ters degree and exten­sive pro­fes­sion­al work expe­ri­ence in India.  Megh­na was deprived of a career and forced to stay home for years due to her immi­gra­tion sta­tus.  As a result, she expe­ri­enced lone­li­ness, depres­sion, and a loss of iden­ti­ty, which led to her feel­ing sui­ci­dal.  Despite hit­ting rock bot­tom, her strug­gles inspired her to be a pio­neer and advo­cate for oth­ers like her.  A few years ago, she pro­duced her first film, “Hearts Sus­pend­ed,” a short doc­u­men­tary that reveals the untold sto­ry of South Asian immi­grant women, who strug­gle to sur­vive hav­ing been denied the basic right to work.

In addi­tion to Megh­na, the New Jer­sey Town­hall high­light­ed the expe­ri­ences of two oth­er com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who shared their immi­gra­tion strug­gles.  Hina, an undoc­u­ment­ed youth, faced many bar­ri­ers grow­ing up with­out immi­gra­tion sta­tus in Amer­i­ca.  She had to hide her sta­tus and was unable to share in ado­les­cent Amer­i­can rights of pas­sage like obtain­ing a driver’s license and dream­ing of col­lege life and career oppor­tu­ni­ties.  With lim­it­ed access to high­er edu­ca­tion, she was unable to plan for her future beyond two years even as a DACA­ment­ed youth.  She relayed her frus­tra­tions, ask­ing the audi­ence, “Can you imag­ine what it’s like for any young per­son want­i­ng to plan their future, but know­ing full well that they can’t think past two years or plan too far ahead due to their undoc­u­ment­ed sta­tus — even though they have only known U.S. as their home?”  Final­ly, Mah­fu­jur, an undoc­u­ment­ed restau­rant work­er and an active mem­ber of the advo­ca­cy group Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing (DRUM), spoke about his expe­ri­ence putting in long hours, get­ting paid far less than the min­i­mum wage, and often, being mis­treat­ed.  He expressed his fears and those of his friends and fam­i­ly in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions and their reluc­tance to com­plain, fear­ing retal­i­a­tion from their employ­ers or depor­ta­tion.

After hear­ing these coura­geous and com­pelling sto­ries, a pan­el of advo­cates pro­vid­ed detailed expert analy­sis on the impact of immi­gra­tion reform for South Asians in the U.S. and addressed numer­ous ques­tions posed by over 75 engaged com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers in atten­dance.  One of the final com­ments raised high­light­ed per­haps the most impor­tant and often over­looked issue in the immi­gra­tion reform debate: chal­lenges faced by immi­grants in Amer­i­ca are more than “immi­gra­tion issues” – they are fun­da­men­tal civ­il rights issues.  Eleven mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed per­sons are in the Unit­ed States today, forced to live in the shad­ows and often denied their basic rights to par­tic­i­pate in soci­ety.  Over 550,000 South Asians are wait­ing to be reunit­ed with their sib­lings or adult mar­ried chil­dren.  Work­ers are repeat­ed­ly denied fair wages and job mobil­i­ty, and are often exploit­ed.  Indi­vid­u­als are fre­quent­ly pro­filed and placed in depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings.  Immi­grant women are denied the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work, to have sta­tus inde­pen­dent of their spous­es, and to be afford­ed immi­gra­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties like those of men.

SAALT’s New Jer­sey Immi­gra­tion Town­hall was one of six com­mu­ni­ty dia­logues designed to spark debate, coali­tion-build­ing, and advo­ca­cy around immi­gra­tion reform this year. In Cal­i­for­nia, Mary­land, Michi­gan, Texas, and this week­end, in Illi­nois, the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty is increas­ing­ly engaged on these issues. And, we are con­fi­dent that the con­ver­sa­tion will not end there.  These forums are sim­ply the begin­ning of a dia­logue about how we as a com­mu­ni­ty can raise our voic­es around immi­gra­tion poli­cies as they impact us.  From all these com­mu­ni­ty events, one mes­sage remains clear: the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty will be heard today, tomor­row, and for many days to come.

Navneet Bhalla
New Jer­sey Pol­i­cy and Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT

Engage in the immi­gra­tion con­ver­sa­tion, by shar­ing your sto­ry, learn­ing how to engage with your Mem­ber of Con­gress, and start­ing a dia­logue in your local com­mu­ni­ty. For more infor­ma­tion on these actions or to learn more about upcom­ing town­halls, please con­tact info@saalt.org.