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

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.

Festival of Lights: “A Flicker of Hope”

Pratishtha & Manar

As I entered the warm hall­ways last week at the White House Diwali, it dawned upon me that exact­ly a year ago, on Novem­ber 4th, 2012, the pos­si­bil­i­ties in my life had expand­ed – it was the day I received my approval for Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA). But I nev­er imag­ined a day when I would cel­e­brate Diwali at the White House.

I was hon­ored to step into such des­ig­nat­ed, renowned halls; halls that wit­nessed the proud­est and per­haps hard­est times in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. These halls were a tes­ta­ment to how acknowl­edg­ing the exis­tence and strug­gles of Amer­i­ca’s immi­grant youth build upon its hon­or. As I walked them, I remem­bered the morn­ing of June 15th, 2012 again, the day that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma announced his exec­u­tive order, “Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals.”  While it seemed such a small change, the result is that I and many like me are able to live with dig­ni­ty – to work, attend state uni­ver­si­ties, and freely be com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers with­out the fear of being pun­ished by the sys­tem. As I cel­e­brat­ed my own pos­si­bil­i­ties for the future how­ev­er, I could not for­get the mil­lions of undoc­u­ment­ed indi­vid­u­als – over 240,000 Indi­ans alone – who remain in the shad­ows.  I remem­bered the hard­ships of my par­ents who strug­gle to make ends meet: my father, a fifty-nine year old, dia­bet­ic who still works four­teen to six­teen hours a day and my moth­er, a long term min­i­mum wage work­er, who recent­ly suf­fered a brain hem­or­rhage. As I looked around the room, I real­ized that every­one in the room was prob­a­bly a first, sec­ond, third, or fourth gen­er­a­tion South Asian Amer­i­can. I was stand­ing amongst those who live their Amer­i­can DREAM every day. This was my flick­er of “hope and change.”

I could final­ly see myself liv­ing my Amer­i­can DREAM, going to med­ical school and one day, prac­tic­ing med­i­cine in dis­ad­van­taged areas around the world. My DREAM is one that fol­lows the core Amer­i­can ide­olo­gies, to help those who are less for­tu­nate, extend a hand in time of need, and be the hope and change for oth­ers. As an audi­ence to the First Lady’s Diwali wish­es, I was in the pres­ence of advo­cates and activists, Mem­bers of Con­gress, judges, offi­cers from the armed forces, busi­ness per­sons, and ambas­sadors from the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. In this moment, I could not help but won­der about my future as a South Asian Amer­i­can and the future of all immi­grants.  And, I yearned for the cel­e­bra­to­ry day when the “land of the free and home of the brave” accepts all its immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties as Amer­i­cans. A day when those who long for their “flick­er of hope” have a chance at their AMERICAN DREAM.

Pratishtha Khan­na
DREAM­er

Among the 11 mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple liv­ing in this coun­try are South Asians, includ­ing those from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pak­istan and Sri Lan­ka.  Many are stu­dents who seek to go to col­lege, spend time with friends and fam­i­ly, and pur­sue their pro­fes­sion­al inter­ests.  If you are undoc­u­ment­ed and South Asian, you might be eli­gi­ble for assis­tance under the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals pol­i­cy.  Find out more at: http://saalt.org/south-asian-and-undocumented/

The Time is Now! What Immigration Reform Means for the South Asian American Community

“You should take those to the His­pan­ic gro­cery stores,” says Ahmed, a Pak­istani immi­grant who sells phone plans out­side the local Indi­an mar­ket. He says it in an effort to help me improve my out­reach around cit­i­zen­ship resources. He and I have met sev­er­al times, and each time he tells me the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty needs more help becom­ing U.S cit­i­zens. Before he even fin­ish­es his thought how­ev­er, Ahmed calls out to near­by friend in case I have any resources for him. The friend is an Indi­an man in his 70s who, due to a fraud­u­lent attor­ney and employ­er, lost his visa sta­tus, and has been undoc­u­ment­ed for over a decade. He con­tin­ues to work under the table in the U.S., in order to send mon­ey home and sup­port the fam­i­ly hasn’t seen in 17 years. Ahmed’s friend tells me he has worked with sev­er­al lawyers, and is now just wait­ing for the laws to change. He has been pay­ing tax­es through the social secu­ri­ty num­ber he received upon arrival and is hope­ful that with a new law he may gain sta­tus again. Ahmed shakes his head as his friend speaks, clear­ly frus­trat­ed with the sheer injus­tice of the sit­u­a­tion. I won­der how Ahmed can hear sto­ries such as these and still believe that the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty needs more help with cit­i­zen­ship and immi­gra­tion than ours. Yet have South Asian Amer­i­cans engaged enough in the con­ver­sa­tions and push towards com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform?

Last Tues­day night at SAALT’s Mary­land Town Hall on Immi­gra­tion Reform, I thought back to my con­ver­sa­tions with the Ahmed. At the town hall, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear three more com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers tell their sto­ry, and speak on strug­gles they’ve faced due to our cur­rent immi­gra­tion sys­tem. Pratishtha, a stu­dent at UMBC and a DREAM­er, described bar­ri­ers to com­mon rites of pas­sage and earned accom­plish­ments that peo­ple with valid immi­gra­tion sta­tus can take for grant­ed. Being undoc­u­ment­ed she couldn’t cel­e­brate her accep­tances into uni­ver­si­ty or obtain a driver’s license the way oth­er stu­dents could. Yves, anoth­er DREAM­er and activist, shared the sto­ry of his parent’s depor­ta­tion and his ongo­ing sep­a­ra­tion from them. He described emo­tions that don’t quite trans­late into words, includ­ing the sor­row of not being with his par­ents to cel­e­brate their 22nd wed­ding anniver­sary the next day. Final­ly, Mini, stood up and shared how she left behind her fam­i­ly in Ker­ala for a job oppor­tu­ni­ty as a domes­tic work­er. Yet, she was so exploit­ed and mis­treat­ed in her posi­tion that she had to run away, los­ing her visa sta­tus in the process. Today, domes­tic work­er meet­ings at CASA de Mary­land are her life­line and inspi­ra­tion, as she too waits for a new law that will give her path­way to cit­i­zen­ship. The strug­gles that each of these com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers faces is unique, yet an over­ar­ch­ing theme rang strong; in the South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty, the time is now to fix our bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem. Our com­mu­ni­ty, like the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty and many oth­ers, is in dire need of a com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform.

After the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers spoke, the audi­ence had a chance to hear an analy­sis of pieces and ask ques­tions about the Sen­ate immi­gra­tion bill (S. 744) from SAALT’s Pol­i­cy Direc­tor Man­ar Waheed, CASA de Maryland’s Legal Pro­gram Man­ag­er Sheena Wad­hawan, and Case­work­er Angel Colon-Rivera from Sen­a­tor Ben Cardin’s office. Despite the need for a com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform in our com­mu­ni­ty, it was clear from the ques­tions and com­ments made by the audi­ence that there are many flaws in the cur­rent ver­sion bill. Though the Sen­ate Bill rep­re­sents a huge step for­ward in the immi­gra­tion debate and pro­pos­es many pos­i­tive changes, it is still needs much work, par­tic­u­lar­ly in with respect to fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion and an effec­tive and inclu­sive pro­hi­bi­tion on the pro­fil­ing, among oth­ers. As var­i­ous immi­gra­tion bills are cur­rent­ly being debat­ed in the House and the out­comes in the House and Sen­ate still need to be resolved in Con­fer­ence Com­mit­tee, there is still time to ask for changes and make our voic­es heard.

After a pow­er­ful two hours of shar­ing sto­ries, analy­sis from the pan­elists, and ques­tions and com­ments from the South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty on immi­gra­tion reform, it is unmis­tak­able that we need to take action. We need to put a South Asian face to the call for immi­gra­tion reform. Let’s con­tin­ue to share our sto­ries, for the undoc­u­ment­ed senior who hasn’t seen his fam­i­ly in 17 years, and nev­er met his grand­son. Let’s call on our rep­re­sen­ta­tives to take action for the legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents who are tire­less­ly work­ing and wait­ing, some­times decades, for the sib­lings and adult mar­ried chil­dren they spon­sored to gain their visas. Let’s demand that our gov­ern­ment pro­hib­it the base­less and inef­fec­tive mea­sures of pro­fil­ing that vio­late the civ­il rights of all Amer­i­cans. Let’s ral­ly behind Yves, Pratishtha, and Mini who deserve unre­strict­ed access to high­er edu­ca­tion, real liv­ing wages, and fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion. Please join SAALT and engage in the dis­cus­sion around immi­gra­tion reform by shar­ing your immi­gra­tion sto­ry, and join­ing our upcom­ing town halls in Hous­ton and Detroit.

*Some of the names in this entry have been changed to pro­tect the pri­va­cy of the indi­vid­u­als.

SAALT will be host­ing more con­ver­sa­tions on immi­gra­tion reform. View our cal­en­dar of events for more infor­ma­tion.

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Avani Mody
Mary­land Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor, Ameri­Corps
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT