Domestic Workers and Diplomats: Struggle for Justice Continues

Photo credit: Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice

Pho­to by Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Jus­tice

By Elizabeth Keyes

When I heard the sto­ry about Sangee­ta Richard, the remark­ably coura­geous domes­tic work­er demand­ing her just due from a sys­tem set up to fail her, I could­n’t help think­ing of “Mary.” Mary, too, worked for a diplo­mat, and she was one of my first clients when I grad­u­at­ed from law school a decade ago. Among the oth­er hor­ri­fy­ing details I learned about Mary’s sto­ry, I learned that the diplo­mat’s wife told Mary, while beat­ing her with a shoe, “go ahead and call the police. I am a diplo­mat.”

The sys­tem tru­ly is set up to fail work­ers like Mary and Sangee­ta. What I saw from han­dling many, many such cas­es between 2004 and 2011 were fail­ures at every lev­el. Diplo­mats entered into con­tracts that they had no inten­tion of hon­or­ing, con­tracts that almost uni­form­ly promised 40 hour work­weeks and com­pen­sa­tion at or above the U.S. fed­er­al min­i­mum wage. The U.S. con­sulates over­seas approved the visas dur­ing inter­views when some­times only the diplo­mat talked, or where the diplo­mat act­ed as the inter­preter for the work­er. With only one excep­tion, the for­eign embassies in the Unit­ed States sided with the diplo­mat, not the work­er, and did not even attempt to bro­ker solu­tions to resolve the con­flicts. And for far too long, the State Depart­ment sat idly by as com­plaints were filed by the rel­a­tive­ly small por­tion of work­ers who found their way out (an even small­er sec­tion of whom found legal coun­sel).

I have heard every excuse in the book about why exploit­ing them is “justified”–they are bet­ter off in Amer­i­ca, they are treat­ed “like fam­i­ly,” their wages are worth a lot back home, or the diplo­mat does not earn enough to pay the con­trac­tu­al wage. None of these excus­es in any way jus­ti­fies what hap­pens to the peo­ple, who come here hop­ing to work hard and earn mon­ey to help improve their lives and the lives of their fam­i­lies. And none of these excus­es in any way changes the way the diplo­mats are com­mit­ting fraud in issu­ing these con­tracts and secur­ing these visas.

  • Are work­ers “bet­ter off” in Amer­i­ca? Hard­ly. My clients were paid any­where from 35 cents an hour to zero cents an hour, while work­ing all hours of the day, and some­times well into the night. For exam­ple, on top of pro­vid­ing child­care, cook­ing and clean­ing dur­ing the day, Mary had to sleep with the fam­i­ly’s baby in the liv­ing room of the small Green­belt apart­ment, so she could tend to the baby at night when the child awoke. In return, the diplo­mats threat­ened them with depor­ta­tion if they com­plained, beat them, some­times sex­u­al­ly assault­ed them, and/or threat­ened the lives of fam­i­ly mem­bers back home. That is not what I call being “bet­ter off.”
  • Are work­ers “like fam­i­ly?” Maybe, but only because fam­i­ly, too, can be exploit­ed. In some of the coun­tries where my clients came from, elite families–the very kinds of fam­i­lies that might join the diplo­mat­ic corps at some point–had tra­di­tions of bring­ing dis­tant rel­a­tives in from the coun­try­side to work in the fam­i­ly home. Tech­ni­cal­ly, yes, this was fam­i­ly. But the pur­pose was to obtain cheap, com­pli­ant labor and exploit it for the fam­i­ly’s com­fort and pres­tige. The visa sys­tem for bring­ing work­ers here mere­ly mir­rors that prac­tice from the home country–but with the stamp of approval of our gov­ern­ment.
  • Are the pal­try wages in the U.S. worth a lot back home? Yes, but utter­ly beside the point. If they want­ed to earn those wages, they could have stayed home, clos­er to fam­i­ly and friends who would have been a source of sup­port for them if the employ­ment turned abu­sive.  Work­ers incur a huge cost leav­ing home to do what will like­ly be long, hard, dif­fi­cult and pos­si­bly abu­sive labor. Earn­ing the promised wages would have made that cost worth­while. Every sin­gle client of mine expressed her feel­ing that if she had known what it would be like here, she would have stayed home to earn the same wage with­out los­ing their safe­ty net.
  • Diplo­mats do not earn enough to pay the con­trac­tu­al wage? The enti­tle­ment demon­strat­ed by this “excuse” is not so much buried as shin­ing bright­ly in tall neon let­ters. I, too, do not earn enough to pay a full-time domes­tic work­er the min­i­mum wage. But some­where along the way, prob­a­bly well before I was ten years old, I learned that if you can’t afford some­thing, you don’t get to have it. The diplo­mats talk them­selves into believ­ing that they can­not do their jobs with­out these work­ers tak­ing care of the home front, sit­ting for the chil­dren while they attend evening func­tions, cook­ing for lav­ish par­ties diplo­mats are expect­ed to host, and so forth. And I know these work­ers do make the diplo­mats’ jobs and lives eas­i­er. Of course they do. But there is sim­ply no way to jus­ti­fy leap­ing from that truth to the moral­ly bank­rupt propo­si­tion that “there­fore” work­ers do not deserve the full pay promised. My want­i­ng an eas­i­er life does not let me rob a work­er of her wages—it real­ly is just that sim­ple.

Mary, like Sangee­ta, knew what was hap­pen­ing to her was wrong, and she fled. She fled with­out her belong­ings but with her sense of jus­tice and worth so ful­ly intact that one of the first places she went was a court; with only an out­raged clerk to steer her to the right forms, she sued to get her pass­port. She won, at which point the diplo­mat informed the court that he was immune to suit. Judg­ment dis­missed.

But let us not dis­miss our own judg­ment of these diplo­mats who exploit their work­ers.  Groups like Mujeres Acti­vas y Unidas, Adhikaar, CASA de Mary­land, the Human Traf­fick­ing Pro Bono Legal Cen­ter, Domes­tic Work­ers Unit­ed, and the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­er Alliance are hold­ing diplo­mats’ feet to the fire in a vari­ety of ways: pub­licly sham­ing them, pri­vate­ly seek­ing resti­tu­tion, work­ing with the gov­ern­ment to find bet­ter ways to pre­vent abus­es. And occa­sion­al­ly find­ing a brave ally like the pros­e­cu­tor in Ms. Richard’s case, Preet Bharara, who (like Ms. Richard her­self) is with­stand­ing stri­dent crit­i­cism from many, includ­ing some of Ms. Richard’s com­pa­tri­ots in India and from the Indi­an dis­apo­ra. Hap­pi­ly, groups like SAALT, and the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions, are stand­ing firm­ly in sup­port of Ms. Richard and Mr. Bharara.

Mr. Bharara sees through all these excus­es at least as clear­ly as I do, and had the courage to do some­thing about it. May we all be moved to see things as clear­ly.

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

Sci-Fi Age of E‑Verify

I recent­ly attend­ed a ses­sion at the Migrant Pol­i­cy Insti­tute that focused on E‑Verify, the sys­tem that would require employ­ees to ver­i­fy their iden­ti­ties and legal sta­tus through an elec­tron­ic pro­gram. The Migrant Pol­i­cy Insti­tute dis­cus­sion focused on pos­si­ble ways to expand this sys­tem and per­haps bet­ter it for every­one involved. The only peo­ple who don’t seem to ben­e­fit from the expan­sion of E‑Verify are the employ­ees. They would have to jump through addi­tion­al hoops to main­tain or obtain employ­ment.

I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised by the types of solu­tions offered by MPI to improve E‑Verify, as they seemed very inva­sive and expen­sive, not to men­tion Big Broth­er­ish. Pos­si­ble solu­tions includ­ed bio­met­ric cards and reg­is­ter­ing for a per­son­al­ized PIN that would be pro­vid­ed to employ­ers who could then access a data­base that ver­i­fied iden­ti­ties.

While MPI said it was try­ing to address issues of iden­ti­ty fraud in order to pro­tect employ­ees, I real­ly don’t think that the work­ers’ inter­ests are at the heart of these pro­pos­als or the E‑Verify sys­tem. Anoth­er con­cern is how E‑Verify might be used to check the sta­tus­es of cur­rent estab­lished employ­ees as well as new-hires, which would require peo­ple set­tled in their employ­ment to go over the same hur­dles as a new-hire. There must be a bet­ter way to reg­u­late employ­ment prac­tices than to strike fear in the hearts of immi­grant employ­ees who just want to cre­ate a new life for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

Shah Rukh Khan — Bollywood Border Stop

This piece by Deepa Iyer (SAALT) has also been post­ed at Race Wire (www.racewire.org)

The Shah Rukh Khan inci­dent at Newark Inter­na­tion­al Air­port over the week­end has elicit­ed a range of view­points and opin­ions. Shah Rukh Khan, a famous Bol­ly­wood actor, was detained for over an hour, and inter­ro­gat­ed by U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­ders Pro­tec­tion (CBP) author­i­ties at Newark Inter­na­tion­al Air­port where he had land­ed. Mr. Khan believes that he was detained and inter­ro­gat­ed because of his last name and his reli­gious affil­i­a­tion. The CBP (a part of the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty) claims that offi­cials were fol­low­ing stan­dard pro­to­col.

Mr. Khan’s inci­dent might be gain­ing inter­na­tion­al atten­tion because he is a celebri­ty, but the truth is that ordi­nary Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and immi­grants here in the Unit­ed States grap­ple with racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing rou­tine­ly at air­ports. Espe­cial­ly since Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2001, South Asian, Arab Amer­i­can, Mus­lim and Sikh trav­el­ers have been sub­ject­ed to arbi­trary sec­ondary inspec­tions, deten­tions, and inter­ro­ga­tions while trav­el­ing.

Recent­ly, the Asian Law Cau­cus and the Stan­ford Law School Immi­grant Rights’ Clin­ic pub­lished a report that details inci­dents of intru­sive ques­tion­ing that many US cit­i­zens and legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents have faced when return­ing to the Unit­ed States from trips abroad. The report pro­vides infor­ma­tion about the abuse of watch­lists and first-hand accounts of pro­fil­ing, as well as rec­om­men­da­tions to safe­guard civ­il rights.

Racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing must be elim­i­nat­ed whether it hap­pens on the streets, on our high­ways, at bor­ders, or at air­ports. Pro­fil­ing peo­ple based on their last name, skin col­or, accent, or reli­gious affil­i­a­tion is an inef­fec­tive enforce­ment tech­nique that vio­lates civ­il rights pro­tec­tions. In fact, the use of pro­fil­ing tac­tics has not been an effec­tive law enforce­ment strat­e­gy in either the War on Drugs or the War on Ter­ror.

The Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion and Con­gress have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to review and strength­en cur­rent admin­is­tra­tive anti-pro­fil­ing poli­cies, and to pass fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion that bans pro­fil­ing [the End Racial Pro­fil­ing Act is set to be intro­duced in Con­gress again this year]. These are impor­tant steps in ensur­ing that the civ­il rights of every­one – whether a celebri­ty or ordi­nary Amer­i­can – are pre­served.

Deepa Iyer is Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that address­es civ­il and immi­grant rights issues. Learn more at www.saalt.org.

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.7)

Final ses­sion of Net­roots (for me with my flight home this after­noon, every­one else looks to be get­ting down with the offi­cial part-ay tonight by Dai­lyKos), and its about a core issue, immi­gra­tion reform. It’s great that we have a ses­sion about this top­ic, which is so impor­tant to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, but I’m a lit­tle bummed to see that, while it has a pret­ty good turnout, its not burst­ing at the seams. This is the only ses­sion I could find that dealt explic­it­ly with immi­gra­tion reform (there have def­i­nite­ly been oth­ers that touched upon it) and I had real­ly hoped that more of the Nation would come out about this.

Any­ways, the pan­el has rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Break­through, Amer­i­ca’s Voice, FIRM and SEIU. Thus far, its been most­ly con­text-set­ting and talk­ing about what each orga­ni­za­tion is doing in the area. Nico­la from fIRM shared that what got their orga­ni­za­tion into online orga­niz­ing was actu­al­ly sto­ry­telling. After the New Bed­ford raids, they need­ed a way to get the sto­ries out to peo­ple since the media was­n’t pay­ing any atten­tion. Now they’re work­ing to build social net­work­ing tools that are more respon­sive and are able to “go offline.” Joaquin from SEIU showed advo­ca­cy efforts SEIU has under­tak­en to high­light the plight of DREAM Act stu­dents fac­ing depor­ta­tion.

Since this is my final post from Net­roots, I’ll bring togeth­er some of my obser­va­tions and thoughts from the week­end. Being here at Net­roots and see­ing the groundswell of sup­port and resources that exist in the pro­gres­sive move­ment is def­i­nite­ly an amaz­ing thing. It can feel, some­times, that we’re the lit­tle guy and we’re out­gunned and out-resourced by “the oth­er side” which obvi­ous­ly shifts debate to debate and issue to issue. Its not that Net­roots has shown me that we’re drown­ing in easy, acces­si­ble resources. Instead, it showed me how pro­gres­sives have and con­tin­ue to fight against entrenched elites using what­ev­er’s avail­able and chang­ing the rules of the game. Its that spir­it of “nev­er say die” that I will take back with me. A lot of the peo­ple here aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly involved and active in the same issues, there is def­i­nite­ly inter­est and will to work togeth­er to make things hap­pen in each oth­ers’ areas. Ulti­mate­ly, we have to use what­ev­er tools are out there to make things like immi­gra­tion or health­care reform, strength­en­ing civ­il rights, fight­ing racial pro­fil­ing hap­pen. Peo­ple all over Amer­i­ca are suf­fer­ing right now and it’s up to us to bring these issues up and bring about progress.

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.6)

Hey y’all, after a great ses­sion with Valerie Jar­rett (you can check out all the action at Net­roots here), I’m at “Artic­u­lat­ing a The­o­ry of Change.” In this ses­sion (with New Orga­niz­ing Insti­tute and Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee), we’ve been talk­ing about how artic­u­lat­ing a the­o­ry of change plays a role in online orga­niz­ing. Most peo­ple’s expo­sure to online orga­niz­ing is get­ting emails that say, “do this now.” Well, how does artic­u­lat­ing a the­o­ry of change that is com­pelling and acces­si­ble help make that ask more effec­tive? Some­thing I am always fas­ci­nat­ed by, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of the work that SAALT does, is to find uni­fy­ing the­o­ries-of-change that go beyond “do this to let so-and-so know that peo­ple care about what­ev­er issue” to real­ly show how doing these actions come togeth­er to cre­ate a bet­ter soci­ety and world. Because the ask changes, but the the­o­ry of change, in a macro sense, should stay the same. We come togeth­er around cer­tain val­ues and online orga­niz­ing is all about bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er to take actions towards a world that is clos­er to those val­ues.

Eco­nom­ic town­hall with Corzine next, then the immi­gra­tion reform ses­sion, more to come!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.3)

Third ses­sion of the day and it’s Who’s Being Left Out of Online Orga­niz­ing. This pan­el was all about who’s not part of all these shiny, awe­some online spaces we’ve been talk­ing about all day at Net­roots. The pan­el’s actu­al­ly still going on, but I thought I’d put out some quick obser­va­tions:

-What does it mean to be left out? Left out of what? If its “the dis­course” or “democ­ra­cy”, then the online orga­niz­ing is sim­ply a tac­tic. If its only about online polit­i­cal spaces, maybe we’re miss­ing the point.

-We need to meet peo­ple where they are. It’s not just a mat­ter of whether cer­tain pop­u­la­tions pre­fer MySpace or Face­book, its whether SMS or text mes­sages are what peo­ple actu­al­ly use. We’ve seen inno­v­a­tive ways that cer­tain pro­gres­sive cam­paigns have sought to inte­grate things like cell phones which is used in real­ly inter­est­ing, sub­tly dif­fer­ent ways by com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and women.

-Some­one shared an anec­dote that dur­ing the past elec­tion, a cer­tain can­di­date’s cam­paign suc­cess­ful­ly used online orga­niz­ing tools only when they were tar­get­ed towards offline actions (donat­ing mon­ey, call­ing some­one, etc). Can we have a con­ver­sa­tion about online advo­ca­cy that isn’t miss­ing the essen­tial whole of what par­tic­i­pa­tion and orga­niz­ing means.

-Cost and access came up over and over dur­ing the pan­el, whether its along racial, gen­der, geo­graph­ic or age lines. Ulti­mate­ly, if we want to break open the doors of the inter­net to those miss­ing from the cir­cles of pow­er and agency, maybe phil­an­thropic advo­ca­cy needs to be on our radar so that work gets fund­ed.

Pres. Bill Clin­ton keynot­ing tonight!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.2)

Sec­ond ses­sion of the day: Blog­ging the Eco­nom­ic Bat­tles. It was a great ses­sion with pan­elists from OurFuture.org. The pan­elists broad­ly dealt with three issues: the cur­rent health­care debate, the bogey­man of deficits and neg­a­tive trig­ger words. There were a cou­ple of real­ly inter­est­ing obser­va­tions that I took from the pan­el.

1. one of the msot neg­a­tive aspects of the cur­rent polar­ized nature of the debate is that it shifts per­cep­tions such that the cen­trist or just-left-of-cen­ter posi­tions get cast as the far-left when the rhetoric of the far-right is so “wingnut”-y as some pan­elists and audi­ence mem­bers not­ed.

2. as pro­gres­sives, we have to reframe the debate from its cur­rent­ly defen­sive posi­tion. In ref­er­ence to the bogey­man of bud­get deficits, one of the pan­elists, Dig­by, not­ed that when asked how deficits per­son­al­ly affect them, most peo­ple have no answer. Now ask them how health­care affects them, they have a ready answer. We need to remind peo­ple that gov­ern­ment does great things for them. Don’t believe it? Get off the inter­state! We need to stop just fight­ing this notion that things like deficits are poi­son, we need to start from a place where peo­ple have to acknowl­edge that the gov­ern­ment does cer­tain things real­ly well and we should­n’t have to act like that isn’t a patent truth. Get­ting gov­ern­ment out of one’s Med­ic­aid would be hard, would­n’t it?

3. Not refram­ing the debate and get­ting out of our defen­sive posi­tion keeps us back as a coun­try from tru­ly speak­ing and fight­ing for every per­son, espe­cial­ly those who are most dis­em­pow­ered by the cur­rent sys­tem’s inequities. We can’t fig­ure out how to address Rust Belt work­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia when we’re trapped in a black-and-white par­a­digm where “trade” is good no mat­ter what and “pro­tec­tion­ism” is bad no mat­ter what it actu­al­ly refers to.

4. The abil­i­ty to bal­ance the debate is in our hands. The sto­ries of how, say, the health­care sys­tem is fail­ing peo­ple is in our back­yards. If we want to counter over-heat­ed rhetoric that los­es sight of the actu­al stakes, show them the real sto­ries you know. I found a great exam­ple of exact­ly this in a sto­ry from the Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor from a pro­fes­sor in the town where I went to col­lege (from the rival school, no less). Now its a main­stream media out­let, but tech­no­log­i­cal advances have made it pos­si­ble for us to get our voic­es out there in ways I could­n’t have imag­ined years ago, no one’s going to do it but us!

Any­ways, just some thoughts, but I took away a real man­date to take up our own roles to counter the neg­a­tiv­i­ty we find in the dis­course. Stay tuned for more ses­sions!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.1)

So I am at the Net­roots Nation con­fer­ence in gor­geous Pitts­burgh (where its an incred­i­bly pleas­ant 81 degrees which is a nice change from the swamp that DC has been for the last few days) . The con­fer­ence brings togeth­er pro­gres­sive activists and advo­cates, many of whom are par­tic­u­lar­ly tech­no­log­i­cal­ly-ori­ent­ed. I thought since the con­fer­ence is all about blog­ging and SAALT has a blog, what a nat­ur­al fit!

After a short flight and a very long bus ride into the city, I bare­ly made the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus ses­sion. There were about 10 peo­ple in the ses­sion and we spent most of the time iden­ti­fy­ing how we could work in issues like health­care and Cen­sus 2010 in the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. I heard a lot of great ideas, from bring­ing Asian Amer­i­can caus­es to main­stream online spaces to crit­i­cal­ly ana­lyz­ing how to use tech­nol­o­gy to reach audi­ences like school kids to get to non-tech­no­log­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed old­er Asians.

While it was great to be able to share the space with fel­low Asian Amer­i­can activists and blog­gers, I some­times won­der whether these sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tions some­times hold us back from cast­ing these actu­al­ly main­stream, impor­tant issues as broad­ly as they could be. Any­ways, I’ll keep post­ing as much as pos­si­ble from beau­ti­ful Pitts­burgh!

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.)

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!