DJ Rekha @ the Black Cat

On Fri­day night, myself and oth­er SAALT staff mem­bers attend­ed DJ Rekha’s show at the Black Cat.  First off, I have to say: What an amaz­ing show!! I have always been a fan of DJ Rekha’s beats, but see­ing her live was fan­tas­tic.  I also want to thank Rekha and the Black Cat for let­ting SAALT table at the show.  It was refresh­ing to see many famil­iar faces and to know that so many Desis in D.C. already know about SAALT’s work.  I am a fan of Rekha, not only because she is a tal­ent­ed artist, but because she uses her music as a tool for social change.  While it is inspir­ing to see artists like Rekha get­ting involved in the South Asian move­ment, you don’t have to be a DJ to work for change for your com­mu­ni­ty.  Vol­un­teer for Be the Change, orga­nize an event in your local com­mu­ni­ty, or if you haven’t already, become a mem­ber of SAALT.  Thanks again to DJ Rekha for her con­tin­ued sup­port of SAALT and involve­ment in our work!

Anjali Chaudhry is the Mary­land Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor for SAALT.  To learn more about SAALT’s Mary­land Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment Project and ways you can get involved, email anjali@saalt.org.

Aadi­ti Dubale, SAALT Fel­low (left) and myself (right) tabling at the Black Cat.

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?

Dispatch from New Jersey: Town Hall and Legislative Visits!

In an effort to get the local South Asian com­mu­ni­ty engaged around immi­gra­tion reform, SAALT-NJ, along with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners, held a  ‘Town Hall for South Asians on Immi­gra­tion & Civ­il Rights’ in Jer­sey City on July 27th at the Five Cor­ners Library.   The event, part of the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign, was the sec­ond in a series of com­mu­ni­ty forums that will be held nation­wide as a part of the cam­paign.

The town hall brought togeth­er not only a diverse group of folks with­in the com­mu­ni­ty, but also a diverse coali­tion of local com­mu­ni­ty part­ners, includ­ing: Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee, Andolan, Asian Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund, the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR-NJ), Govin­da San­skar Tem­ple, Man­avi, New Jer­sey Immi­grant Pol­i­cy Net­work, and the Sikh Coali­tion.

Although the focus of the dis­cus­sion at large was around immi­gra­tion reform, the con­ver­sa­tion cov­ered a vari­ety of issues, such as the effects of visa lim­i­ta­tions and back­logs on low-income work­ers and women fac­ing vio­lence in the home; and deten­tion cen­ters and the grow­ing num­ber of detained immi­grants. The con­ver­sa­tion was at once chal­leng­ing and emo­tion­al, as par­tic­i­pants shared per­son­al sto­ries illus­trat­ing how immi­gra­tion laws have neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed their lives and the lives of their loved ones.   Nev­er­the­less, the con­ver­sa­tion end­ed on a pos­i­tive note with ways to stay involved with the cam­paign, and to get more civi­cal­ly engaged around the immi­gra­tion reform con­ver­sa­tion.

In fact, on August 19th, SAALT mem­bers, along with coali­tion mem­bers from NJIPN and New Labor, con­duct­ed an in-dis­trict meet­ing with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Don­ald Payne’s office in Newark, New Jer­sey.  Par­tic­i­pants met with a senior staff mem­ber at the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s office to dis­cuss issues around immi­gra­tion and health­care reform.

The del­e­ga­tion high­light­ed key con­cerns to both the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty and the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty at large, such as (1) the increase in deten­tion and depor­ta­tions post 9–11 and its impact on immi­grant fam­i­lies in the US; (2) fam­i­ly- and employ­ment-based visa back­logs and the need for just and humane immi­gra­tion reform to pre­vent fam­i­lies from being torn apart in the process; and  (3) more con­crete mea­sures in place for immi­grant inte­gra­tion to address issues such as lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al bar­ri­ers in access­ing ser­vices, and, as a result, becom­ing active and par­tic­i­pat­ing mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty.

The meet­ing was a great expe­ri­ence – it illus­trat­ed to the mem­bers present the sig­nif­i­cance of civic engage­ment, and how impor­tant it is to reach out to our respec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives about issues con­cern­ing us. In a polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic cli­mate that seems so anti-immi­grant, it was cer­tain­ly refresh­ing to be able to sit down with the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s office to active­ly advo­cate for issues that deeply impact the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty.  I look for­ward to meet­ing with oth­er local offices in the com­ing month and encour­age oth­ers to try to sched­ule meet­ings with your respec­tive Rep­re­sen­ta­tives while they are home for August recess.

To learn more about SAALT-NJ’s work, please email qudsia@saalt.org

Look­ing for ways to get involved? Here are some ideas:

• Call your mem­ber of Con­gress to express your sup­port for immi­gra­tion reform and strong civ­il rights poli­cies. Find out who your mem­ber of Con­gress is by vis­it­ing www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.

• The Cam­paign to Reform Immi­gra­tion for Amer­i­ca has launched a text mes­sag­ing cam­paign that sends alerts to par­tic­i­pants when a call to action, such as call­ing your Congressman/woman, is urgent­ly need­ed. To receive text mes­sage alerts, sim­ply text ‘jus­tice’ to 69866.

• Stay in touch with local and nation­al orga­ni­za­tions that work with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty.

• Share your immi­gra­tion or civ­il rights sto­ry with SAALT by fill­ing out this form or send­ing an email to saalt@saalt.org.

Intro to ISNA

This past July 4th week­end, the Islam­ic Soci­ety of North Amer­i­ca (ISNA) host­ed its 46th Annu­al Con­ven­tion in DC, fit­ting­ly named “Life, Lib­er­ty and the Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness.” It was my first ISNA expe­ri­ence, and I was in awe of the huge crowd. Thou­sands of peo­ple were in atten­dance as var­i­ous speak­ers and pan­elists dis­cussed top­ics rel­e­vant to the mod­ern Amer­i­can Mus­lim. Many of those infor­ma­tive ses­sions were geared towards young peo­ple, as part of the MSA Nation­al and MYNA por­tions of the con­ven­tion. While there was def­i­nite­ly a strong inter­est in the ISNA Mat­ri­mo­ni­als event, many atten­dees were drawn to the DC Con­ven­tion Cen­ter by the dynam­ic speak­ers and the vari­ety of goods and art avail­able at the Bazaar.

It was excit­ing to see the num­ber of Mus­lims who came to DC for the event, and I was par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed by the num­ber of South Asians I observed attend­ing the con­ven­tion. Throngs of desis could be found in Chi­na­town restau­rants, out on DC streets, and strolling the Nation­al Mall. My own cousins came to DC for the first time from Cal­i­for­nia and Okla­homa specif­i­cal­ly for ISNA week­end, and they were sur­prised by the num­ber of South Asians in DC. So was I! While there are many South Asians liv­ing and work­ing in and near the Dis­trict, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before. ISNA had a strong pull for our com­mu­ni­ty, with ses­sions geared specif­i­cal­ly towards South Asian Mus­lims, fea­tur­ing South Asian speak­ers or mod­er­at­ed by South Asians, as well as many, many bazaar stalls that were put up by South Asian small busi­ness own­ers and artists.

I liked that there were net­work­ing events, such as the Mus­lim Lawyers net­work­ing social that I attend­ed Fri­day night, and info ses­sions, such as the one about get­ting jobs at fed­er­al agen­cies, that involved Mus­lims help­ing oth­er Mus­lims. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, many of the faces at both those events were South Asian. It’s great to see peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty tak­ing inter­est in men­tor­ing oth­ers!

New Jersey SAALT Circle volunteers with Habitat for Humanity

I’ll admit: I almost regret­ted it. You would, too, if you had to be up at 7AM on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing for work.  What was I think­ing to sched­ule a ser­vice project so ear­ly in the AM?

It was­n’t long before my spir­it rose — I was greet­ed by three car fulls of smil­ing ready-to-work-hard vol­un­teers.  And what a diverse group it was! South Asian, African Amer­i­can, Mus­lim, Hin­du, Chris­t­ian — all com­ing togeth­er for the com­mon cause of help­ing those in need.  This was def­i­nite­ly worth the ear­ly ris­ing.

Every month, the New Jer­sey SAALT Cir­cle con­ducts a com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice project — last month, we helped pack lunch­es and gro­cery bags for a local food pantry.  This month, we worked in con­junc­tion with Habi­tat for Human­i­ty of Hud­son Coun­ty to assist in the build­ing of two homes in Jer­sey City.  When we first showed up at the build, the site coor­di­na­tor was so over­whelmed by how many of us came, he almost turned us away!  But he soon had a change of heart and we were all put to work.

We sand­ed down walls. We paint­ed ceil­ings. We primed walls.  We swept away piles of dust and debris (If you’re look­ing to tone those arms, for­get the gym — sign up for a habi­tat build and you’ll be in shape in no time!).  There’s some­thing so sat­is­fy­ing about work­ing with your hands and actu­al­ly being able to see the impact of your hard work.  It was a great expe­ri­ence — and although it was most cer­tain­ly a phys­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing activ­i­ty, I’m pret­ty sure that we all came away with a sense of pride and accom­plish­ment.

Thanks to all that ded­i­cat­ed their Sat­ur­day to ser­vice — we tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed your hard work, and look for­ward to hav­ing you help out in upcom­ing ser­vice projects!

If you’d like to get involved with the New Jer­sey SAALT Cir­cle, email me at qudsia@saalt.org or call (201) 850‑3333.

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>.

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/

2009 Asian American Health Initiative Conference “A Time for Change”

Last week, I got the chance to attend the Asian Amer­i­can Health Con­fer­ence, spon­sored by Asian Amer­i­can Health Ini­tia­tive. It was a great expe­ri­ence meet­ing pub­lic health advo­cates and experts (as well as allies, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and more) and hear­ing about the rel­e­vant issues in the Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. Asian Amer­i­can Health Ini­tia­tive does great work in Mont­gomery Coun­ty ensur­ing that Asian Amer­i­cans enjoy equi­ty and access to qual­i­ty health­care and the con­fer­ence gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn more about their work, but also the work of oth­er health-relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions around the coun­try.

AAHI con­duct­ed a needs assess­ment sur­vey of Asian Amer­i­cans in Mont­gomery Coun­ty and one of the pre­sen­ta­tions at the con­fer­ence was devot­ed to their process and find­ings. Mont­gomery Coun­ty has the high­est per­cent­age of Asian Amer­i­cans in Mary­land mak­ing up near­ly 14% of the pop­u­la­tion. The AAHI needs assess­ment uti­lized focus groups with major ethnic/national ori­gin groups as well as a few of the small­er ethnic/national ori­gin groups. Focus groups were made up of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers from all walks of life from pro­fes­sion­als to retirees and seniors. More­over, they also con­duct­ed a young adults focus group made up of mixed ethnic/national ori­gin youths. Par­tic­i­pants iden­ti­fied a num­ber of stres­sors from strug­gling to fit in (young adults) to iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness (seniors). In terms of obsta­cles to health care acces, the study iden­ti­fied finan­cial, phys­i­cal, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cul­tur­al bar­ri­ers. Per­sis­tent gaps that I picked up dur­ing this pre­sen­ta­tion, and real­ly, all the ple­nar­ies and break­out groups were the need for lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al pro­fi­cien­cy, the lack of dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data about Asian Amer­i­can health out­comes and the lack of access to afford­able health insur­ance. To read the whole report, vis­it AAHI <http://www.aahiinfo.org/english/programs/needsAssesment.php>

Arthur Chen, Chief Medical Officer-Alameda Alliance for Health

Arthur Chen, Chief Med­ical Offi­cer-Alame­da Alliance for Health

Anoth­er high­light from the event was the keynote speech from Arthur Chen, Chief Med­ical Offi­cer of the Alame­da Alliance for Health. Chen’s remarks gave a very con­tex­tu­al and com­pli­cat­ed view of the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the unequal access to qual­i­ty health­care for Asian Amer­i­cans and oth­er minori­ties. From civic engage­ment to hold­ing leg­is­la­tors account­able to fis­cal and mon­e­tary man­age­ment, access to health­care is deeply inter­twined with the oth­er issues we are expe­ri­enc­ing as a nation. More­over, to address gaps in health­care ade­quate­ly we must be ready to tack­le oth­er per­sis­tent inequal­i­ties in our coun­try and around the world.

The theme of the whole con­fer­ence was “A Time for Change: Trans­form­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties into Action” and I think every­one was excit­ed to see what we as a com­mu­ni­ty can do to make a real, pos­i­tive change for health­care acess for all.

Join the Summer of Service!

On Wednes­day, May 20th Michelle Oba­ma will roll out “the vision of ser­vice for the Admin­is­tra­tion for the sum­mer” in Wash­ing­ton DC. SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Deepa Iyer, will be in the audi­ence to hear about the sum­mer of ser­vice and learn how orga­ni­za­tions like SAALT and the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty as a whole can get involved. Are you inspired by Michelle’s mes­sage of ser­vice? How are you get­ting involved and engaged this sum­mer?

May Day Rally for Immigration Reform in Washington DC

On May 1st, peo­ple from com­mu­ni­ties all over the coun­try com­mem­o­rat­ed Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Day to call for fair and equi­table reform to the immi­gra­tion sys­tem. There were ral­lies in many major cities, includ­ing Wash­ing­ton DC. I went down to the ral­ly with Poon­am, our intern. Being at the march was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. Walk­ing down 14th Street, where mount­ed police shut down one direc­tion of traf­fic to accom­mo­date the crowd, sur­round­ed by com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and advo­cates, was a sin­gu­lar expe­ri­ence. I did­n’t par­tic­i­pate in the immi­gra­tion reform ral­lies in 2006 and 2007 so this was my first time get­ting the May Day expe­ri­ence. The mood was over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive with the speak­ers at Lafayette Park acknowl­edg­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties that com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers encounter as part of the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem but ulti­mate­ly focus­ing on how com­mu­ni­ties-of-col­or can work togeth­er to push for reform. I used one of our nifty new Flips to cap­ture some of the sights and sounds of the ral­ly, below you can check out a quick video fea­tur­ing some inspir­ing words from Rev. Hagler of the Ply­mouth Con­gre­ga­tion­al Unit­ed Church of Christ: