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

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Pho­to Cred­it: Bao Lor, SEARAC

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

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT staff ral­ly­ing in sol­i­dar­i­ty

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

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

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

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

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing (DRUM)

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

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

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

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

So today, on the actu­al date of the March on Wash­ing­ton, as we com­mem­o­rate Dr. King, his lega­cy and the strug­gles that were endured to defend our civ­il rights, let us not for­get that prob­lems still per­sists and that we are still in pur­suit of the “Dream”.
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Auri­a­Joy Asaria
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Admin Assis­tant
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT

Supreme Court Watch: United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry and the South Asian Community

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its opin­ions in two crit­i­cal cas­es involv­ing the issue of mar­riage equal­i­ty. In a land­mark deci­sion, Unit­ed States v. Wind­sor, the Court inval­i­dat­ed Sec­tion 3 of the Defense of Mar­riage Act (DOMA), which defined mar­riage as between “one man and one woman” and only rec­og­nized oppo­site-sex mar­riages for pur­pos­es of fed­er­al law. Fol­low­ing the enact­ment of DOMA in 1996, same-sex part­ners were denied fed­er­al ben­e­fits, includ­ing those under fed­er­al tax, hous­ing, Social Secu­ri­ty, and immi­gra­tion laws, and exclu­sive­ly grant­ed them het­ero­sex­u­al mar­ried cou­ples. Pri­or to the deci­sion in Wind­sor, denial of such ben­e­fits was allowed, even if cou­ples lived in indi­vid­ual states that rec­og­nized their mar­riage. In its deci­sion, the Court found that DOMA vio­lat­ed prin­ci­ples of “equal lib­er­ty of per­sons” enshrined in the 5th Amend­ment. (It is impor­tant to note that the Court did not rule on Sec­tion 2 of DOMA, which per­mits indi­vid­ual states to enact leg­is­la­tion that refus­es to rec­og­nize mar­riages between same-sex part­ners.) In a sep­a­rate case, Hollingsworth v. Per­ry, the Supreme Court dis­missed an appeal to rein­state Propo­si­tion 8, a bal­lot ini­tia­tive passed by Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers in 2008 that pro­hib­it­ed mar­riage between same-sex part­ners and was sub­se­quent­ly barred from being enforced by low­er courts, on the grounds that those seek­ing appeal did not have the legal stand­ing to do so. As a result, the low­er court rul­ing pre­vent­ing the enforce­ment of Propo­si­tion 8 remains intact.

As an orga­ni­za­tion that has long sup­port­ed mar­riage equal­i­ty, SAALT applauds the rul­ings by the Supreme Court in these two cas­es. In par­tic­u­lar, the Wind­sor deci­sion will pos­i­tive­ly trans­form the lives of South Asian Amer­i­cans involved in com­mit­ted rela­tion­ships by ensur­ing that they can no longer be denied vital fed­er­al ben­e­fits sim­ply based upon whom they love or mar­ry. This deci­sion also paves the way for the South Asians in same-sex bina­tion­al mar­riages (rec­og­nized by the state or coun­try where they were mar­ried) to avail them­selves of fed­er­al immi­gra­tion ben­e­fits, includ­ing the abil­i­ty to spon­sor their spouse under the fam­i­ly immi­gra­tion sys­tem and peti­tion for loved ones liv­ing abroad. For too long, cou­ples in this sit­u­a­tion have lived in a per­ilous legal lim­bo, as we dis­cussed in a recent oped. Such uncer­tain­ty often results in indi­vid­u­als over­stay­ing their visas to remain togeth­er or liv­ing abroad in exile. SAALT com­mends the Court’s deci­sions to reaf­firm the prin­ci­ples of equal­i­ty and fair­ness and looks for­ward to work­ing with fed­er­al agen­cies to ensure that com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers will be able to access the fed­er­al ben­e­fits pro­vid­ed to them as a result of this rul­ing.

For fur­ther infor­ma­tion on the Court’s deci­sion on DOMA will affect eli­gi­bil­i­ty for var­i­ous fed­er­al ben­e­fits, check out the ACLU’s web­site here.

For fur­ther infor­ma­tion on how the Court’s deci­sion on DOMA will affect immi­grant fam­i­lies and cou­ples, check out Immi­gra­tion Equality’s FAQ.

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

287(g) and Morristown, New Jersey

A dis­patch from SAALT’s New Jer­sey Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor, Qudsia Raja, on state and local enforce­ment of immi­gra­tion laws and what it means in NJ.

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As advo­cates and com­mu­ni­ties nation­wide mobi­lize to cam­paign for more just and humane immi­gra­tion laws in the US, New Jer­sey res­i­dents pre­pare to cope with the actu­al­iza­tion of ten­ta­tive­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry man­dates that will, if put into place, adverse­ly affect the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in the state. 287(g), a fed­er­al immi­gra­tion pro­gram ini­ti­at­ed by Immi­gra­tions and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), allows for local law enforce­ment agen­cies to go beyond their call of duty of enforc­ing local and state laws by addi­tion­al­ly allow­ing them the lib­er­ty to enforce fed­er­al immi­gra­tion laws.

Ear­li­er this year, sev­er­al coun­ties in New Jer­sey, includ­ing Mor­ris, Hud­son, and Mon­mouth Coun­ties, applied to become a part of the 287(g) pro­gram. Mor­ris­town was approved for the pro­gram last month, and May­or David Cre­sitel­lo has every inten­tion of sign­ing onto the pro­gram, which would be in effect for 3 years.

The idea of dep­u­tiz­ing local law enforce­ment agen­cies has long been con­tro­ver­sial, with strong advo­cates on both ends of the debate hold­ing firm to their beliefs on whether the pro­gram should or should not be put into place. SAALT, like many oth­er immi­grant advo­cates local­ly and nation­wide, believes that 287(g) does in fact neg­a­tive­ly impact the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty at large. By dep­u­tiz­ing law enforce­ment, we would essen­tial­ly be cre­at­ing a bar­ri­er between law enforce­ment and the com­mu­ni­ties they are sworn in to serve – an irony so obvi­ous that I can’t seem to under­stand why some pub­lic offi­cials are so adamant about putting the man­date into place.

Con­sid­er this. New Jer­sey is not only home to a large, diverse, and emerg­ing immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty, but also thrives eco­nom­i­cal­ly because of the con­tri­bu­tions of this very com­mu­ni­ty, accord­ing to a report pub­lished ear­li­er this year by Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty. As an emerg­ing com­mu­ni­ty, how­ev­er, com­ing from numer­ous cul­tur­al, lin­guis­tic, eth­nic, and reli­gious back­grounds, it’s impor­tant for us as pub­lic offi­cials, advo­cates, ser­vice providers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to be mind­ful of the needs of our fel­low com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. These needs could range from being aware of cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic needs in access­ing basic gov­ern­ment and pub­lic ser­vices; nav­i­ga­tion the school, med­ical, and legal sys­tems; and address­ing racial and reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion tar­get­ed towards immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, often more vul­ner­a­ble when they are unable to com­mu­ni­cate because they are lim­it­ed-Eng­lish pro­fi­cient (LEP), or because they are unaware of the prop­er chan­nels avail­able to them to report inci­dences and crimes of the sort. Addi­tion­al­ly, many immi­grants migrate from coun­tries where the rule of law is often cor­rupt, mak­ing them fear­ful of approach­ing (or being approached by) law enforce­ment.

287(g) has been crit­i­cized by immi­grant advo­cates for many jus­ti­fied rea­sons, one of the most dis­con­cert­ing being that the man­date would allow for local law enforce­ment to essen­tial­ly pro­file immi­grant con­stituents in the process of mak­ing arrests based on ‘sus­pi­cion’. It will detract from their job of keep­ing the peace in local com­mu­ni­ties and pro­tect­ing con­stituents by cre­at­ing a sense of fear amongst the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty of being round­ed up by the police based on the col­or or their skin, or the accents in speech.

Recent­ly, New Jer­sey Attor­ney Gen­er­al Anne Mil­gram issued a strong­ly word­ed let­ter to Hud­son, Mor­ris, and Mon­mouth Coun­ty offi­cials warn­ing them to not use 287(g) as a mech­a­nism to racial­ly pro­file con­stituents. Addi­tion­al­ly, she made clear that the man­date does not allow for sweeps or ‘on-the-street-encoun­ters’, where law enforce­ment uses round ups as a means to con­duct immi­gra­tion checks, and that any inci­dences of vio­lat­ing NJ laws will be dealt with by the AG’s office.

All that aside, though, what does it real­ly mean to be an immi­grant in New Jer­sey, where 287(g) may ten­ta­tive­ly be put into place?

Imag­ine this. You are an immi­grant moth­er of two. You speak lim­it­ed Eng­lish, and rely on your hus­band to deal with the intri­ca­cies of life out­side of your home. You have been in this coun­try for many years, and your chil­dren are enrolled in the local school sys­tem. Your hus­band spon­sored you to migrate to this coun­try when you first mar­ried. You find your­self in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship, and con­sid­er reach­ing out to the police to inter­vene. How­ev­er, your hus­band tells you that report­ing him to the police will result in your depor­ta­tion, that they’ll take away her chil­dren and she’ll nev­er see them again. So, you weigh out the pros and cons, and some­how jus­ti­fy stay­ing in a vio­lent mar­riage for the sake of your chil­dren, and for the fear of being deport­ed back to your coun­try of ori­gin, where you may face even more vio­lence for leav­ing your hus­band. Some­how, the thought of dai­ly vio­lence isn’t as bad as the thought of approach­ing the police, the threat of depor­ta­tion and sep­a­ra­tion from your chil­dren loom­ing over­head.

Imag­ine this. You are a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion immi­grant. You are Mus­lim, with a very com­mon first and last name. You are dri­ving late at night on your way home, and you are pulled over because you are speed­ing. Along with your license and your reg­is­tra­tion, you are asked for your immi­gra­tion papers – some­thing you don’t car­ry around with you, because you are a legal res­i­dent and you tell them this much. You are asked to come to the sta­tion. You grudg­ing­ly com­ply, think­ing of it as an incon­ve­nience, but that you will be out as soon as they run your name through the sys­tem. Your name, a com­mon one, shows up with some alarm­ing news attached to it. You tell them it’s a mis­take, and that you are in fact not that indi­vid­ual. You are detained for sev­er­al hours, per­haps days, as they sort out the sit­u­a­tion and real­ize that you are in fact not who they think you are. In the mean­time, you are not allowed to make a call to fam­i­ly mem­bers or a lawyer, and no one knows of your where­abouts. You are told that this is nor­mal pro­ce­dure – a crim­i­nal until proven inno­cent. You are let out even­tu­al­ly, but with a bit­ter taste in your mouth in regards to local law enforce­ment. You know you will think twice about approach­ing them should a prob­lem arise in the future, if only to avoid the painful and humil­i­at­ing process they have just sub­ject you to.

Imag­ine hun­dreds of oth­er sce­nar­ios that immi­grant con­stituents will face should 287(g) go into affect. Imag­ine being racial­ly pro­filed and being treat­ed like a crim­i­nal. Imag­ine being fear­ful of the police when you need them most, when you are placed in a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, but the fear (be it real or imag­ined) of being deport­ed holds you back from call­ing for help.

Is this the sort of com­mu­ni­ty you want to be a part of?

Death in Detention: Tanveer Ahmad

Here’s a case for you to pon­der about. When you first read it, you might not think it that sym­pa­thet­ic. But, by the time you read the end of this post, maybe you’ll change your mind.

The New York Times recent­ly report­ed on the sto­ry of Tan­veer Ahmad. He came to New York City from Pak­istan on a vis­i­tor’s visa. In 1997, he was arrest­ed for pos­sess­ing an unli­censed gun. He mar­ried U.S. cit­i­zens and applied for mar­riage-based green cards to stay in this coun­try. His wife was threat­ened with mar­riage fraud alle­ga­tions by the gov­ern­ment. Immi­gra­tion author­i­ties lat­er caught him in 2005 for over­stay­ing his visa and detained him because of his gun offense. A few weeks lat­er, he died in deten­tion in New Jer­sey.

At first blush, you might be think­ing, “Hey, the gov­ern­ment should be going after these crim­i­nals! Why should I care that he got locked up and hap­pened to die?” After all, the lat­est buzz word with­in immi­gra­tion enforce­ment cir­cles is to go after “crim­i­nal aliens”, right? But dig a lit­tle deep­er into the facts — things aren’t quite that cut and dry.

What’s the most shock­ing about this case? Is it that Mr. Ahmad showed his gun while pre­vent­ing a rob­bery at the gas sta­tion where he worked the night shift and that had been held up 7 times in about a month? Is it that fol­low­ing 9/11 his U.S. cit­i­zen’s wife’s friends said, “You bet­ter watch it. You may be mar­ried to a ter­ror­ist,” caus­ing him to always watch his back? Is it that he was detained near­ly 10 years after his offense even though he paid the req­ui­site $200 fine for the mis­de­meanor? Is it that his arrest was con­sid­ered a “col­lat­er­al appre­hen­sion in Oper­a­tion Secure Com­mute” as part of the gov­ern­men­t’s sweep of immi­grants over­stay­ing visas fol­low­ing the 2005 ter­ror­ist attacks in Lon­don? Or is it that when he suf­fered a heart attack in deten­tion, the jail guard report­ed­ly blocked med­ical atten­tion for one hour, even after the jail received numer­ous pre­vi­ous com­plaints about detainee abuse and neglect?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. But remem­ber that our immi­gra­tion and deten­tion poli­cies can change to become more humane. In fact, there is a bill in Con­gress known as the Immi­gra­tion Over­sight and Fair­ness Act (H.R. 1215) pro­posed by Con­gress­woman Roy­bal-Allard of Cal­i­for­nia that would cod­i­fy deten­tion stan­dards and improve med­ical care for immi­grant detainees.  In my mind, such a case should not have come to this, but, sad­ly, it did. And we can let Con­gress know that through pol­i­cy reform, hope­ful­ly, they won’t hap­pen again.

(Check out this pre­vi­ous arti­cle in the NYT on this sto­ry, too.)

Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no oth­er way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immi­gra­tion. The Sen­ate, through recent amend­ment votes, put their stamp on poli­cies that focus on pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment rather than just and humane solu­tions to fix the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Below is a quick round-up of leg­isla­tive activ­i­ty of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these poli­cies will def­i­nite­ly have a neg­a­tive impact on the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty … in ways that you may not expect. Pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment means that hard­work­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indi­ans alone made up the 10th largest undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. in 2008) will be fur­ther rel­e­gat­ed to the shad­ows out of fear of appre­hen­sion by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. But it also means that many law­ful­ly present immi­grants may inad­ver­tent­ly also be caught up in the web of enforce­ment. Take a look for your­self; the impact may sur­prise you …

Dur­ing debates on the Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty Appro­pri­a­tions Bill (which is basi­cal­ly leg­is­la­tion that allows the gov­ern­ment to spend mon­ey with regard to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty), sev­er­al anti-immi­grant amend­ments passed, includ­ing:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amend­ment passed pre­vent­ing funds from being used to rescind the much crit­i­cized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of back­ground, let­ters are sent by the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion to employ­ers when Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers pro­vid­ed by employ­ees do not match gov­ern­ment data­bas­es. Under the rule, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties could use these let­ters as evi­dence than an employ­er should have known than an employ­ee is not autho­rized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in the­o­ry. But, how good can it be when the data­bas­es used are know to be inac­cu­rate and could net a range of work­ers, regard­less of sta­tus? Or when a fed­er­al court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It does­n’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E‑Verify is a pilot employ­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that cer­tain employ­ers use to check the work autho­riza­tion of their work­ers. Again, this might sound good to you in the­o­ry, but one major prob­lem with the pro­gram is that it relies upon data­bas­es with unac­cept­ably high error rates. (Wan­na know more? Check out this resource by the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter for more info on what’s wrong with the pro­gram.) Instead of paus­ing for a moment and assess­ing the prob­lems that exist with­in its data­bas­es, the Sen­ate instead passed an amend­ment mak­ing the pro­gram per­ma­nent for all fed­er­al con­trac­tors; in addi­tion, they man­dat­ed that all employ­ers cur­rent­ly employ­ing E‑Verify to use it on ALL employ­ees, no mat­ter when they start­ed. Can you imag­ine work­ing for a com­pa­ny for over 20 years — even if you have work autho­riza­tion — and your name some­how pops up as being inel­i­gi­ble due to data­base errors or name mix-ups and then you face pos­si­bly los­ing your job all because of this? It’s a fright­en­ing prospect.
In these dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times, South Asians — like all oth­er Amer­i­cans — fear los­ing their jobs and have dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting by. If flawed pro­grams like the SSA No-Match Let­ters and E‑Verify are left unchanged, South Asian work­ers stand to lose, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus. Mea­sures that not only hurt immi­grants, but also the econ­o­my, don’t make sense — call your mem­bers of Con­gress and urge them to sup­port just and humane immi­gra­tion reform rather than set­tling for obsta­cles towards real solu­tions.

Helping ICE Doesn’t Mean They Won’t Turn Around and Deport You Anyway

Thanks to RaceWire, where I found the fol­low­ing sto­ry: A Pak­istani man had over­stayed his visa when he was con­tact­ed by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment agents who enlist­ed his help in gath­er­ing evi­dence against a para­le­gal fil­ing false immi­gra­tion claims. In exchange, they promised to help him stay in the coun­try and pos­si­bly get a green card. The para­le­gal was even­tu­al­ly indict­ed, I’m sure in no small part due to his efforts. He then went on to help ICE agents gath­er infor­ma­tion about ter­ror­ism-relat­ed activ­i­ties at a local mosque. How does ICE repay him? Giv­ing him false infor­ma­tion about his depor­ta­tion order and, now, ready­ing itself to deport the man who had helped them.

Tak­en with recent rev­e­la­tions about law enforce­ment ini­tia­tives to place infor­mants at Amer­i­can mosques, and the result­ing betray­al of trust for the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty, this sto­ry shows the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between nation­al secu­ri­ty, immi­gra­tion and the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. Amer­i­can Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions have repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that it is impor­tant for law enforce­ment agen­cies to build rela­tion­ships with the com­mu­ni­ty in an open and hon­est man­ner. More­over, the com­mu­ni­ty is com­mit­ted, like all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties, to con­tribut­ing to a strong and vibrant Amer­i­can soci­ety that affirms prin­ci­ples like reli­gious free­dom and equal­i­ty before the law. To see some­one who went out of their way to help ICE agents, no mat­ter how ques­tion­able the activ­i­ties, aban­doned by the agency and fac­ing depor­ta­tion puts a human face to how this tru­ly com­pli­cat­ed sys­tem is fail­ing peo­ple.

Read the whole sto­ry here.

Read the Islam­ic Cir­cle of North Amer­i­ca’s state­ment oppos­ing FBI infor­mants (you have to scroll down past the first state­ment).

One Community United Kickoff Town Hall in Atlanta

From Niralee, one of our amaz­ing sum­mer interns:

On Tues­day, June 16th, SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Deepa Iyer, along with NCSO part­ner Rak­sha, Indus Bar, the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union of Geor­gia, and Khabar, launched the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign with an inau­gur­al town hall in Atlanta. The event was the first in a series of com­mu­ni­ty forums to be held through­out the coun­try as part of the cam­paign.

The town hall took place at the Glob­al Mall in Atlanta on Tues­day evening, and about forty peo­ple attend­ed the event. The group was very diverse, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of South Asian orga­ni­za­tions, local stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and mem­bers of local places of wor­ship.

The heart of the dis­cus­sion was immi­gra­tion and human rights. From the very begin­ning, par­tic­i­pants eager­ly engaged in the dis­cus­sion, address­ing issues rang­ing from the rights of immi­grant work­ers, to deten­tion and depor­ta­tion, to the reuni­fi­ca­tion of fam­i­lies. Par­tic­i­pants also dis­cussed how the human rights of immi­grants are often vio­lat­ed in this coun­try. The event closed with a call to action, encour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pants to con­tact their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress, stay in touch with orga­ni­za­tions work­ing with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, and stay up to date on immi­gra­tion issues.

Many who attend­ed walked away feel­ing inspired to take action on immi­gra­tion reform in their com­mu­ni­ties. Van­dana said, “The town hall was extreme­ly eye-open­ing and thought pro­vok­ing… I am going to chalk-out a plan of action… and def­i­nite­ly con­tact some peo­ple that I know will share the same enthu­si­asm for the [Be the Change] project.” Noshin, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Refugee Reset­tle­ment and Immi­gra­tion Ser­vices of Atlanta, said he would “keep up with bills intro­duced and con­tact [his] rep­re­sen­ta­tives “ and “share [his] immi­gra­tion sto­ry with SAALT.” Many oth­ers expressed a strong desire to go back to their com­mu­ni­ties and address the issues dis­cussed at the town hall.

SAALT left the event look­ing for­ward to future town halls, to be host­ed in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, Chica­go, New Jer­sey, and Wash­ing­ton DC. It was great to see so many Atlanta com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers com­ing togeth­er to express their sup­port for immi­gra­tion reform. Over­all, the event was a very excit­ing kick-off for SAALT’s One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign.

For more infor­ma­tion about the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for Civ­il and Immi­grant Rights, vis­it here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

More Reflections from Atlanta Town Hall for Civil and Immigrant Rights

Here are more reflec­tion on the kick-off town hall in Atlanta, GA of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions’ One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for civ­il and immi­grant rights. This time we’re hear­ing from Nureen Gula­mali, intern at ACLU-Geor­gia  (one of the cospon­sors of the town hall):

I’m lucky to be intern­ing at the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU) of Geor­gia this sum­mer and was grate­ful to be a part of the SAALT/ACLU forum.  After attend­ing the Immi­gra­tion Forum, my per­spec­tive has been enlight­ened and tru­ly widened.  Immi­gra­tion is a hot top­ic in today’s world – tell me some­thing I don’t know.  But how it affects the actu­al immi­grants is tru­ly the issue at hand.  I’ve heard accounts of the tri­als and tribu­la­tions that so many peo­ple have had to go through in order to get a bet­ter start in this world, and my heart goes out to them.  The forum itself not only pro­vid­ed more infor­ma­tion to the unin­formed, but allowed for a healthy and knowl­edge­able dis­cus­sion for both the informed and unin­formed.  It’s so impor­tant to stand up for what is right and immi­gra­tion rights are, in essence, human rights.  What know­ing indi­vid­ual wouldn’t stand up for human rights?

So, I sup­pose the more impor­tant ques­tion is, what can we do about it?  Well, real­ly, every­one who was able to make it to the forum has already tak­en the first step – stay informed.  It’s as sim­ple as that.  You can make a dif­fer­ence by stay­ing informed, whether that’s catch­ing up on the cur­rent issues on Google News, or join­ing a human rights advo­ca­cy group (GA Deten­tion Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, Rak­sha, SAALT, etc.).  The more allies we have, the big­ger the impact we can have – not to men­tion strate­gic pull.  So, take ten min­utes a day to read what’s going on in the human rights/immigration front and from there, I swear, it will be plen­ty easy to get involved!

For more infor­ma­tion about the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for Civ­il and Immi­grant Rights, vis­it here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

The Importance of Family

Fam­i­ly has been on my mind late­ly. This week is the mid­way point between the Moth­er’s Day and Father’s Day cel­e­bra­tions. My sis­ter just had a birth­day. And I pre­pared for the mad rush of in-laws com­ing into town over Memo­r­i­al Day week­end. Despite my secret (and some not-so-secret) grum­blings about all the phone calls that had to be made, gifts that had to be bought, and accom­mo­da­tions that had to be pre­pared, I feel extreme­ly lucky. I’ve been for­tu­nate to know that loved ones in my fam­i­ly are here with me in this coun­try and I can sim­ply hop on a short flight to see them.

Sad­ly, many South Asian immi­grants in the Unit­ed States do not have the lux­u­ry of liv­ing in the same coun­try as their spouse, par­ents, or sib­lings. South Asians heav­i­ly rely upon loved ones in the Unit­ed States spon­sor­ing their admis­sion into the coun­try. Yet, due to numerical limitations on visas and bureacratic delays, many have to wait years to have their immigration applications approved to be reunited with family members. Here are a few dates and num­bers as food for thought:

  • 5.8 million: Num­ber of immi­grant appli­cants wait­ing for a fam­i­ly visa
  • 211,574: Num­ber of Indi­an, Bangladeshi, and Pak­istani appli­cants wait­ing for a fam­i­ly visa — in fact, these three coun­tries rank among the top ten coun­tries with the high­est num­ber of appli­cants on the wait­ing list
  • 1998: The year a sib­ling in India of a U.S. cit­i­zen must have filed an appli­ca­tion to be processed today — that’s eleven years!
Often, even spous­es and per­ma­nent part­ners are sep­a­rat­ed from one anoth­er. Take, for instance, the sto­ry of Vivek Jayanand, an engi­neer and green card hold­er in Sil­i­con Val­ley. He has to wait almost five years before his wife, Neethu, can get her own green card. Even if he becomes a cit­i­zen, which could speed up the spon­sor­ship process, he would still have to wait three years. And it is almost impos­si­ble for her to get a tourist visa to even vis­it him in the U.S. So, that means they spend years living separate lives all because of an outdated and inefficient immigration bureacracy.

For­tu­nate­ly, pend­ing leg­is­la­tion such as Con­gress­man Hon­da’s and Sen­a­tor Menen­dez’s ver­sions of the Reunit­ing Fam­i­lies Act will alle­vi­ate the visa back­log to help those like Vivek and Neethu. As momen­tum around immi­gra­tion reform builds, it is important for South Asian community members to weigh in with members of Congress about the creating a just and humane immigration system that keeps families together.

The Reuniting Families Act

Today, Deepa (SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor), Priya  (SAALT’s Pol­i­cy Direc­tor), and I attend­ed a press con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill where Con­gress­man Michael Hon­da intro­duced  the Reunit­ing Fam­i­lies Act, a bill that advo­cates hope will become a key com­po­nent of broad­er immi­gra­tion reform in Con­gress. Lead­ers from a diverse array of var­i­ous immi­grant and civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions and faith com­mu­ni­ties attend­ed the con­fer­ence to express their sup­port for the bill, includ­ing Hilary Shel­ton from the NAACP, Karen Narasa­ki from the Asian  Amer­i­can Jus­tice Cen­ter (AAJC), Rachel Tiv­en from Immi­gra­tion Equal­i­ty, Lizette Olmos from the League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens (LULAC) , and many oth­ers. Many mem­bers of Con­gress also appeared and spoke in sup­port of this bill.

Per­son­al­ly, as an intern observ­ing the brief­ing, it was excit­ing to see the sheer num­ber of peo­ple who appeared at the event (the room was packed, and the crowd of peo­ple stand­ing in the back led all the way out the door). But more impor­tant­ly, it was inspir­ing to see the breadth of sup­port for the bill, from con­gress­men, to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of numer­ous orga­ni­za­tions, to indi­vid­u­als who have had per­son­al expe­ri­ences with cur­rent fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion poli­cies. See­ing such a wide com­mu­ni­ty of indi­vid­u­als come togeth­er for a sin­gle cause was real­ly excit­ing.

So,  what exact­ly does the bill do?  Speak­ing on a tele­phon­ic brief­ing with  Con­gress­man Hon­da after the press con­fer­ence, Deepa broke down the bill into its major com­po­nents. The bill will recap­ture unused visas pre­vi­ous­ly allo­cat­ed by Con­gress for cur­rent­ly back­logged appli­cants.  It also  reclas­si­fies the spous­es and chil­dren of  green card hold­ers  as “imme­di­ate rel­a­tives,” allow­ing them to imme­di­ate­ly qual­i­fy for a visa  rather than wait for years . Anoth­er key com­po­nent of the bill is its expan­sion of per — coun­try lim­its on fam­i­ly and employ­ment-based visas from 7% to 10%.

The speak­ers at the press con­fer­ence pre­sent­ed var­i­ous view­points on the impor­tance of the bill.  Con­gress­man Neil Aber­crom­bie  from Hawaii  point­ed out that the strength and devel­op­ment of a com­mu­ni­ty starts at the fam­i­ly lev­el. Con­gress­man Hon­da also not­ed that the fam­i­ly serves as a crit­i­cal sup­port sys­tem for per­ma­nent res­i­dents; allow­ing immi­grants to reunite with their fam­i­lies would invari­ably lead to health­i­er com­mu­ni­ties and a stronger local econ­o­my, reduc­ing the need for gov­ern­ment-based eco­nom­ic assis­tance pro­grams. Karen Narasa­ki from AAJC also not­ed that pro­longed sep­a­ra­tion from loved ones slows down the abil­i­ty of per­ma­nent res­i­dents to inte­grate into Amer­i­can soci­ety, in addi­tion to inhibit­ing their abil­i­ty to work at their full poten­tial.

A major top­ic today was the por­tion of the bill regard­ing  bina­tion­al same-sex  cou­ples. The bill includes a com­pre­hen­sive def­i­n­i­tion of “fam­i­lies,” includ­ing  gay and les­bian cou­ples and their chil­dren so that U.S. cit­i­zens and green card hold­ers can spon­sor their per­ma­nent part­ners liv­ing abroad.  Mem­bers of Con­gress and orga­ni­za­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives present strong­ly  sup­port­ed this aspect of the bill,  empha­siz­ing  that no one should get left behind in the upcom­ing reform of immi­gra­tion laws.

So, why does this bill mat­ter for South Asians? Approx­i­mate­ly 75% of  the over 2.7 mil­lion South Asians in the US were born abroad. Most impor­tant­ly, indi­vid­u­als from South Asia  are among the top ten coun­tries that rely upon the fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion sys­tem  and wait years for green cards. Cur­rent­ly, fam­i­ly mem­bers abroad  have two choic­es: stay with­in the legal process and wait an unrea­son­able length of time to be with their loved ones; or enter and remain in the US  through unau­tho­rized chan­nels and keep a low pro­file. The choice to fol­low the law should nev­er be a dif­fi­cult one. When the choice is between wait­ing to get immi­gra­tion sta­tus and being with the one you love, a change in poli­cies is clear­ly in order.

Links to Orga­ni­za­tions:

  • NAACP: http://www.naacp.org/
  • LULAC: http://www.lulac.org/
  • AAJC: http://www.advancingequality.org/
  • Immi­gra­tion Equal­i­ty: http://www.immigrationequality.org/