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

 

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

IMG_0484

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>.