Collective Statement from South Asian Leaders on Abortion & Reproductive Justice

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — 24 May 2022

The recently leaked draft majority opinion from SCOTUS threatens an alarming reversal of federal protections for abortion rights. Amidst grief and rage, we know — as South Asian survivors, immigrants, community-based organizations, and movement leaders — that we must act swiftly and unitedly to protest and prevent this from passing.

Build­ing upon decades-long attacks on repro­duc­tive jus­tice, the pend­ing deci­sion to over­turn Roe v Wade could gut abor­tion rights in near­ly half of the Unit­ed States. Unde­ni­ably, this would have a dev­as­tat­ing impact on South Asian fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties — espe­cial­ly on sur­vivors, immi­grants, queer and trans peo­ple, and work­ing class people.

“Abortion restrictions in this country have always targeted, and fall hardest on, people of color and low-income people. They are meant to keep people like us powerless and in our place. Abortion bans are racial violence. They are gender-based violence. Abortion bans are class warfare.” - Shiv­ana Jorawar, Esq., Co-Direc­tor, Jaha­jee Sisters

In the face of these unprece­dent­ed restric­tions, it is imper­a­tive that we push for bold solu­tions that ensure afford­able and acces­si­ble abor­tions for every­one. With­out the right to abor­tion, the health and well-being of preg­nant peo­ple, entire fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, and future gen­er­a­tions are at risk.

In con­trast to mod­el minor­i­ty stereo­types, South Asians face per­va­sive sys­temic bar­ri­ers includ­ing eco­nom­ic, legal, lan­guage, and cul­tur­al hur­dles to access­ing repro­duc­tive health­care. Though there is a dearth of data on abor­tion rates among South Asians, a recent study found that Indi­an Amer­i­can women in New York City have the high­est rate of abor­tion amongst Asian Americans.

“South Asians are especially vulnerable - without access to resources in the multitudes of languages we speak, and the shame and stigma that comes with accessing reproductive health care, we are marginalized further without policies that support people’s whole lives, including better access to hospitals and clinics, healthcare provided by people our communities trust, insurance that actually covers our real needs, and policies that eliminate barriers to care because of racism and inequities.” - Sharmin Hos­sain, Cam­paign Direc­tor, Lib­er­ate Abortion

In 2012, Savi­ta Halap­panavar, a South Asian den­tist liv­ing in Ire­land, trag­i­cal­ly died after being denied a time­ly abor­tion. In 2014, Purvi Patel, a South Asian woman from Indi­ana, was one of only two women to be pros­e­cut­ed under the statewide feti­cide bill. Her case demon­strates the vio­lent hypocrisy of the U.S. gov­ern­ment, which has a well doc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry of forced ster­il­iza­tions of women of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly Black women, while at the same time crim­i­nal­iz­ing abor­tion, as demon­strat­ed through racist sex-selec­tive abor­tion bans. If those in pow­er were to pri­or­i­tize well-being, they would address the short­age of baby for­mu­la, lack of paid fam­i­ly leave, denial of access to health­care, and the short­age of afford­able and free child­care in this country.

“This moment is painstakingly triggering for survivors who are all too familiar with stolen consent and the violation of bodily autonomy. The fight for reproductive justice and survivor justice are intricately interconnected as both are working to advance a world abundant with care, resources, and choices.” - Denise Beek, Chief Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer, me too. International

For South Asian sur­vivors who live at the inter­sec­tion of mul­ti­ple oppres­sions, the con­se­quences will be even more grave. Peo­ple in abu­sive rela­tion­ships are far more vul­ner­a­ble to sex­u­al assault, birth con­trol sab­o­tage, repro­duc­tive coer­cion or con­trol, and mis­in­for­ma­tion about their repro­duc­tive rights, and homi­cide, fre­quent­ly by a part­ner, is the lead­ing cause of mater­nal death dur­ing preg­nan­cy and the post­par­tum period.

"As organizations in the southern states, we face some of the toughest abortion restriction policies. This rollback of rights is extremely concerning because it threatens the livelihoods for survivors and people who already have limited access to resources, transportation, and healthcare." - Aparna Bhat­tacharyya, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Rak­sha and SOAR Board Member

With­in South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, the pre­vail­ing stig­ma, shame, and silence that hin­der dis­cus­sions of sex­u­al and repro­duc­tive health are iso­lat­ing and dan­ger­ous. Unless we nor­mal­ize our choic­es and needs, we are jeop­ar­diz­ing the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al health and safe­ty of South Asians.

As we mobi­lize in the com­ing weeks and months, we look to the South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Black, Brown, Lat­inx, Indige­nous, and Asian lead­ers at the fore­front of the repro­duc­tive jus­tice move­ment. Across the South Asian & Indo-Caribbean dias­po­ra, HEART to Grow is sus­tain­ing a repro­duc­tive jus­tice fund for Mus­lims, Jaha­jee Sis­ters is lead­ing actions and host­ing con­ver­sa­tions on abor­tion access, and Sakhi for South Asian Women and oth­er gen­der-based vio­lence orga­ni­za­tions are increas­ing access to con­tra­cep­tion for survivors.

“Make no mistake -- banning abortion does not end the need for abortion care. Abortion is normal, common and one of the safest medical procedures. Banning abortion will not only have devastating effects on women, pregnant people and their whole families but it will have the greatest impact on low-income people of color. As a movement, we are prepared for what's to come and I'm proud to say that we are stronger than ever. We won't give up.” - Dr. Meera Shah, Chief Med­ical Offi­cer of Planned Par­ent­hood Hud­son Pecon­ic, Med­ical Direc­tor of Whole Women’s Health Alliance of South Bend, Indi­ana, and Sakhi Board Member

This is not only a fight to save Roe v. Wade, but also a pivotal moment to reimagine the future of reproductive justice and freedom for all. We must act to ensure that abortion is legal, accessible, affordable, and supported for everyone regardless of income, race, gender, sexuality, caste, religion, and more.

The solidarity and voices of South Asians are needed, now more than ever, to take action, speak out, donate, and to protect choice and freedom for ourselves and the generations to come.

Organizational & Individual Signatories

  • AFSSA (Texas)
  • Ashiyanaa (Mary­land)
  • Daya (Texas)
  • Jahajee Sisters (New York)
  • Raksha Inc. (Geor­gia)
  • Sakhi for South Asian Women (New York)
  • Sanctuary for Families (New York)
  • SEWA-AIFW (Min­neso­ta)
  • South Asian SOAR (Nation­al)
  • Manavi (New Jersey)

Letters to Congress from Community Members

From Atif Akhter

The tragedy of 9/11 and the fol­low­ing War on Ter­ror has deeply affect­ed South Asian, Arab, and Mus­lim Com­mu­ni­ties across the globe. Recent­ly, through explor­ing the work done by orga­ni­za­tions such as the Jus­tice for Mus­lims Col­lec­tive (JMC) as well as South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), I can bet­ter vocal­ize the pain I have felt as a mem­ber of both of these com­mu­ni­ties. Their work encour­ages us, as young peo­ple who do not remem­ber a world before Mus­lims were con­sid­ered a per­ma­nent ene­my. State-spon­sored vio­lence has tak­en a toll on my peo­ple as we have been bru­tal­ized and vil­lainized over the course of 20 years due to poli­cies which sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and explic­it­ly tar­get us. These decades have not slowed the onslaught of sur­veil­lance that is almost tan­gi­ble and this con­cur­rent demand that we prove that we are patri­ot­ic, even if we were born here and after the attack on the Twin Tow­ers. We desire not only safe spaces and heal­ing, but also to see such dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and racist poli­cies repealed and con­demned.

Islam­o­pho­bia is deeply ingrained into our cul­ture now. Even today on the streets of the most diverse city in the world, women who wear the hijab fear retal­i­a­tion from Islam­o­phobes. But beyond this vil­fi­ca­tion of our cus­toms and tra­di­tions has been an effort to spy on our fam­i­lies in an effort to val­i­date law enforce­ments’ pre-exist­ing igno­rant assump­tions. In the years imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing 9/11, with­out cause, author­i­ties came fre­quent­ly to our mosques and New York City uni­ver­si­ties’ Mus­lim Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tions. We real­ized intu­itive­ly that ally­ship could often be super­fi­cial, or more dan­ger­ous­ly, covert mon­i­tor­ing.

As a South Asian and Mus­lim stu­dent at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, it also became quick­ly clear that if there was any pos­i­tive out­come from these years of cen­sure, it has been that our sense of com­mu­ni­ty had expand­ed to oth­ers who are not Mus­lim or not South Asian, but have shared expe­ri­ences because of how Islam­o­pho­bia often affects peo­ple because of how they are per­ceived. In many ways, there is new sol­i­dar­i­ty amongst Sikh, Hin­du, and Jain youth as well as with Black and Arab Mus­lims.

We have lost too many peo­ple to sense­less attacks, endured too much scruti­ny and harass­ment, and had to tell our par­ents that in spite of their Amer­i­can Dreams, we still face chal­lenges that they nev­er could have imag­ined would affect us still. Not a sin­gle suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tion should have to live under the War on Terror.

From Has­san Javed

I am a Mus­lim Pak­istani-Amer­i­can. To present myself in this iden­ti­ty is a tes­ta­ment to the strength I’ve build over the years. Ever since I was a child, my peers tried to teach me the hard way that this soci­ety war­rants your Amer­i­can iden­ti­ty to be a com­plete recluse from your iden­ti­ties. Mus­lim-Amer­i­can, Pak­istani-Amer­i­can, or what­ev­er else was on the left side of your hyphen­at­ed iden­ti­ty, my peers told me that it was only the Amer­i­can that mat­tered and was wor­thy of their respect. I grew up hear­ing Amer­i­ca was a melt­ing pot — but what good was this melt­ing pot if a few ingre­di­ents dom­i­nat­ed all oth­ers?

Per­haps, it wasn’t even just the “Amer­i­can” that was wor­thy of their respect — it was the only iden­ti­ty safe from their hatred. Every oth­er iden­ti­ty was cause for my teacher to ask me incon­sid­er­ate ques­tions about my identities…my par­ents’ work­place to get its win­dows smashed in an act the police was adamant not to call a hate crime…the unhinged man with a knife on the sub­way to loop around me yelling slurs. Amer­i­ca had accept­ed that my oth­er iden­ti­ties could triv­i­al­ize my sur­vival. I had accept­ed that it could not have been any oth­er way.

And, who was pulling the strings if none oth­er than the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments, both at the fed­er­al and state lev­els. From just 2010–2016, 194 anti-sharia bills were intro­duced in leg­is­la­tion, and they are a tes­ta­ment to how the gov­ern­ment views and por­trays Islam. As Pro­fes­sor Tisa Wenger of Yale Uni­ver­si­ty has said best, these leg­is­la­tions “rep­re­sent a demo­niza­tion of Islam” and invent “a spec­trum of dam­age that doesn’t actu­al­ly exist.” And this faux “spec­trum of dam­age” is all the gov­ern­ment needs to make Islam­o­pho­bic main­stream.

What my peers said to me at school and what I faced out­side of my home was just a micro­cosm of the racial pro­fil­ing the gov­ern­ment made com­mon­place. My peo­ple were sub­ject to sur­veil­lance, deten­tion, and depor­ta­tion sole­ly on the basis of their reli­gious iden­ti­ty. The Mus­lim Stu­dents Asso­ci­a­tion I am involved in here at Colum­bia was sur­veilled exten­sive­ly; what was it about us pray­ing and open­ing our fasts togeth­er that threat­ened Amer­i­ca… that caused Amer­i­ca to look at us under a micro­scope? How do I, along with every Mus­lim-Amer­i­can youth, reel from our gov­ern­ment treat­ing us as if we’re bac­te­ria in their pond­wa­ter?

You stereo­typed me. Your media mis­portrayed me. You taught against me in your schools. You jailed me over unjus­ti­fied sus­pi­cion. You treat­ed me as a less­er. So, the teenage me replied with faux patri­o­tism. If what it took for you to stop treat­ing me like an out­sider was to be patri­ot­ic, or rather, accept your Amer­i­can igno­rance and hatred with­out a word,teenage me did it. But I am no longer my teenage self. I am no longer afraid of your hatred. I am no longer faux patri­ot­ic.

If all you ever want­ed was to make me feel like an out­sider, then let me reclaim being an Amer­i­can. Let me take pride in being Mus­lim-Amer­i­can. Let me take pride in being Pak­istani-Amer­i­can. Let me col­or Amer­i­ca with the iden­ti­ties you can’t stand the exis­tence of. I am reflec­tive of the pow­er in my com­mu­ni­ties. I am reflec­tive of the strength of my peo­ple. Use sur­veil­lance, deten­tion, or what­ev­er you can to make us feel like we do not belong, we will orga­nize and rise against your de fac­to and de jure injus­tice. My ances­tors over­came your impe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism; now, their child will over­come your Islam­o­pho­bia and racism.

SAALT Demands An Action Plan That Protects All Afghans

This week’s news revolves around two truths: Our Afghan com­mu­ni­ties, both here in the U.S. and in Afghanistan, are in dire need of imme­di­ate and sus­tained sup­port that ensures their and their loved ones’ safe­ty in a time of cri­sis – and the Biden administration’s cur­rent rushed with­draw­al plan from Kab­ul has com­pro­mised this. 

As fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als leave Afghanistan, many are land­ing in our inhu­mane deten­tion cen­ters along­side the grow­ing num­ber of Hait­ian refugees, and addi­tion­al­ly fac­ing the numer­ous and entrenched injus­tices of this cru­el system. 

What is most unfor­tu­nate is that our Afghan sib­lings could have expe­ri­enced far less harm, had the evac­u­a­tion process begun ear­li­er – whether it was on May 6, when refugee rights advo­ca­cy groups (includ­ing Human Rights First, the Inter­na­tion­al Refugee Assis­tance Project, No One Left Behind, and the Luther­an Immi­gra­tion and Refugee Ser­vice) met with White House offi­cials and called for a mass evac­u­a­tion plan that did not rely on a severe­ly back­logged SIV pro­gram, or lat­er on June 24th, when Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Seth Moul­ton unveiled a detailed evac­u­a­tion plan to ensure safe­ty for over 17,000 Afghans to Guam. 

As a coun­try with the resources to sup­port evac­u­a­tion and evac­uees, we can and must move now to mit­i­gate harm. Most impor­tant­ly, this is com­pound­ed by the truth that our inter­ven­tion and con­tin­ued pres­ence in Afghanistan, dri­ven fore­most by the desire to uphold U.S. occu­pa­tion, has desta­bi­lized the coun­try and direct­ly put Afghans at fur­ther risk. As such, we have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to change our course of action. 

If we want to ensure the end of a long, violent, and terrible war, we must move with an unwavering commitment to human rights. We at SAALT, following the leadership of Afghan community members and allies in the Evacuate Our Allies coalition, are calling on President Biden to prioritize safe for all Afghans by:

  • Keeping the Kabul airport open for as long as necessary, and allowing military, charter, and commercial airflight.
  • Working with the Department of Defense and the State Department to ensure safe passage for Afghans to and through the airport, and onto flights.
  • Putting out a call for individuals certified for consular services, while continuing consular processing.
  • Providing necessary information to evacuees in as many culturally-relevant languages as possible, including Dari, Pashto, Urdu, and Arabic.
  • Centering the evacuation of vulnerable populations, including refugees, SIV applicants and their families, immigrant visa applicants and their family members (beyond spouses and minor children), P2 referrals, Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders, religious minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups.
  • Expedite the processing of visas for all of the populations listed above and waive all associated fees.
  • Ensure safe arrival of Afghans in the U.S. by facilitating humanitarian parole using DHS parole authority – whether at ports-of-entry or in advance.

As we approach the 20th anniver­sary of 9/11, the news may right­ful­ly focus on the U.S.’s impe­r­i­al his­to­ry and haste of this war, but what Pres­i­dent Biden does today and tomor­row can ensure that next week’s news also speaks to our nation’s will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize the con­se­quences of this “War on Ter­ror” and the cost that our South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, and Arab com­mu­ni­ties have paid as a result both here and abroad, and active­ly work to dis­man­tle the racism and mil­i­tarism baked into all sys­tems of our fed­er­al government.

#ByeBan: SAALT Statement on the Rescission of the Muslim & African Bans

Since Jan­u­ary 27th, 2017, count­less fam­i­lies have been sep­a­rat­ed, detained, and refused fair treat­ment under the Mus­lim Ban – but as of yes­ter­day, hope and jus­tice feel near­er, as Pres­i­dent Biden has signed an exec­u­tive order to end the Ban, repeal­ing an explic­it­ly racist immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy and stand­ing with Arab, Black, and Mus­lim Amer­i­cans.

SAALT spent the last four years as a part of the No Mus­lim Ban Ever cam­paign, mobi­liz­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and elect­ed offi­cials to stand against the Ban, and stand up for our com­mu­ni­ty. Yesterday’s vic­to­ry is the fruit of our col­lec­tive resis­tance to white suprema­cy, and our con­tin­ued defense of (im)migrant rights.

With the rescis­sion of the anti-Black, xeno­pho­bic, and Islam­o­pho­bic pol­i­cy, SAALT and our allies now have a clear­er path to fight for the pro­tec­tion of all migrants and immi­grants, regard­less of their back­ground. Still, of course, the Mus­lim Ban is just one cog in a high­ly flawed immi­gra­tion sys­tem, which must be trans­formed in its entire­ty; the enact­ment of the Mus­lim Ban only high­light­ed the entrench­ment of Islam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia in Amer­i­can cul­ture. Therefore, it is critical that the 118th Congress pass and enact the No Ban Act to limit executive authority from issuing future discriminatory bans based on religion and national origin.

It’s equal­ly cru­cial for our com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize that Pres­i­dent Biden’s rescis­sion of the Ban only marks the begin­ning of an ardu­ous heal­ing process – a chal­lenge which we must come togeth­er to address. This is why SAALT is pri­or­i­tiz­ing and prac­tic­ing restora­tive jus­tice strate­gies in our con­tin­ued fight against insti­tu­tion­al­ized Islam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia. Our col­lec­tive abil­i­ty to hold space for heal­ing will deter­mine the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of our move­ment, and we ask our com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize the harms that these dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies have on the men­tal and phys­i­cal well-being of impact­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers for gen­er­a­tions to come.

As hope and jus­tice draw near­er, we call on Pres­i­dent Biden and his admin­is­tra­tion to con­tin­ue show­ing sup­port for Black, Indige­nous and all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and con­tin­ue to con­demn and act against white suprema­cy and hatred.

SAALT staff and allies at a #NoMus­lim­Ban­Ev­er ral­ly out­side the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States in April 2018.

Please reach out to sruti@saalt.org with any ques­tions or requests.

SAALT Statement on January 6th Events

Yes­ter­day, white suprema­cy was on full dis­play at the US Capi­tol and at gov­ern­ment build­ings across the nation. These attacks rep­re­sent a bla­tant and ille­gal attempt to deter democ­ra­cy and pro­mote white suprema­cist beliefs ​— which harm every­one. All of us have a duty to respond, not only with con­dem­na­tion, but with sus­tained action against the insti­ga­tors and their supporters.

Though Con­gress has cer­ti­fied the results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, they must do more. They must call for the removal of Pres­i­dent Trump and begin impeach­ment pro­ceed­ings ​imme­di­ate­ly. Repub­li­can lead­er­ship must ensure there is a peace­ful tran­si­tion of pow­er on and past Inau­gu­ra­tion Day​, and all mem­bers of Con­gress who incit­ed, encour­aged, or par­tic­i­pat­ed in this attack must be expelled for break­ing their Oaths of Office. Those respon­si­ble for yesterday’s attacks must be held ​equal­ly account­able under the law. 

We must also be care­ful about how to char­ac­ter­ize yesterday’s events. SAALT’s work on nation­al secu­ri­ty and immi­gra­tion issues since 9/11 has made it clear that label­ing acts of extrem­ist vio­lence as ter­ror­ism is dan­ger­ous and paves the way for the tar­get­ing of Black and Brown communities​, as seen through the War on Ter­ror frame­work. We can ​and must stand vig­i­lant against yesterday’s attacks with­out resort­ing to such char­ac­ter­i­za­tions by demand­ing that what hap­pened yes­ter­day is ​char­ac­ter­ized as white suprema­cist vio­lence. SAALT stands with our Black allies, who are right­ful­ly point­ing out the dou­ble stan­dards in how the white suprema­cists behind yesterday’s events are being treat­ed, as com­pared to the peace­ful pro­test­ers dur­ing last summer’s uprisings.

“For our own com­mu­ni­ties, who were retrau­ma­tized by yesterday’s events, we are with you. The past four years have been a relent­less surge of poli­cies and attacks against the bod­ies and rights of so many com­mu­ni­ties, ours includ­ed. SAALT will con­tin­ue to press for the rever­sal of these xeno­pho­bic and racist poli­cies from the Trump era and push for bold solu­tions that will improve the lives of everyone.”

Sim­ran Noor, SAALT Board Chair

As South Asians, we also have work to do with­in our com­mu­ni­ties. There are reports of Indi­an Amer­i­cans being present at ​and encour­ag­ing yesterday’s attempt­ed  coup. Giv­en what we wit­nessed from the ​2020 Howdy Modi event in Texas fea­tur­ing Trump and Modi, this is no sur­prise. We have work to do with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties to raise aware­ness about the links between Hin­du nation­al­ism and white suprema­cy, and the dan­gers of ally­ing with the ele­ments who orches­trat­ed yesterday’s events. Sim­ply put: We can­not con­demn one fas­cist and excuse anoth­er. SAALT calls on its entire com­mu­ni­ty to hold these truths and stand unit­ed against nation­al­ism, fas­cism, and impe­ri­al­ism on all its fronts.

SAALT will con­tin­ue to share news and cov­er­age of the vio­lence, as well as help con­nect those affect­ed by the chaos with local resources. Please reach out to sruti@saalt.org with any ques­tions or requests.


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.

***********************************************************************************************

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!