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

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

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

Read the whole sto­ry here.

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

To brand, or not to brand? — Addressing the MTA’s “turban-branding” policy

Four years ago, Sikh tran­sit work­ers in New York City decid­ed that enough was enough. In response to a “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy that required work­ers, both Sikh and Mus­lim, to brand their tur­bans with the Metro­pli­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty (MTA) logo, Sikh tran­sit work­ers called on the MTA to end this pol­i­cy, deem­ing it an act of reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fur­ther­more, in 2005, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice found that, over the course of three days, there had been two hun­dred cas­es of MTA employ­ees wear­ing some form of head­dress with­out the logo, includ­ing Yan­kees hats, yaar­mulkes, and a num­ber of win­ter hats in fact issued by the MTA. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice con­se­quent­ly filed a dis­crim­i­na­tion suit against the MTA. Yet for years, this issue has been placed on the back burn­er by city offi­cials.

On Tues­day of last week, a major­i­ty of the New York City Coun­cil final­ly spoke out against the “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy. Coun­cil Mem­ber Tony Avel­la said, “It’s time for the City Coun­cil to take action on this mat­ter, and it’s long over­due that the MTA end reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Enough is enough.”

While this issue is being addressed for a small num­ber of Sikhs in New York, it still speaks to a greater issue that many South Asian and Arab indi­vid­u­als in the US face on a day-to-day basis. Even today, the con­cept of reli­gious wear is quite for­eign to Amer­i­can cul­ture. Many do not real­ize that a tur­ban, hijab, or any type of reli­gious wear is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an individual’s spir­i­tu­al life, and is there­fore a very per­son­al and pri­vate enti­ty. Like any arti­cle of faith, it is not some­thing that can just be set aside for appearance’s sake, nev­er mind brand­ed with a cor­po­rate logo.

The law­suit against the MTA has yet to be resolved, and we are hop­ing for an end to this dis­crim­i­na­to­ry pol­i­cy. In the mean­time, it is impor­tant to keep this in a wider con­text and rec­og­nize that if this law­suit goes through, it is a small step in a long jour­ney to address­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against Sikhs and Mus­lims in the Unit­ed States.

Facts and quotes from: New York City Coun­cil Major­i­ty Demands End to MTA’s “Tur­ban-brand­ing” Pol­i­cy from the The Sikh Coali­tion (June 18, 2009)

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/

Undocumented Immigrants, Children and CCPA

Check out this piece from Lavanya Sithanan­dam, pedi­a­tri­cian and trav­el doc­tor in Tako­ma Park and SAALT Board mem­ber about undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, cit­i­zen chil­dren and the Child Cit­i­zen Pro­tec­tion Act:

The non-par­ti­san Pew His­pan­ic Cen­ter released a report yes­ter­day enti­tled ‘A Por­trait of Unau­tho­rized Immi­grants in the Unit­ed States’ .  The report reveals that 4 mil­lion Amer­i­can chil­dren in the Unit­ed States have at least one undoc­u­ment­ed par­ent, which is up dra­mat­i­cal­ly from 2.7 mil­lion chil­dren in 2003.   Chil­dren of unau­tho­rized immi­grants now account for about one in 15 ele­men­tary and sec­ondary school stu­dents nation­wide.  One third of these chil­dren live in pover­ty and close to half (45%) of these chil­dren are with­out health insur­ance.

As a prac­tic­ing pedi­a­tri­cian in Tako­ma Park, MD, these sta­tis­tics are more than num­bers to me.   Some of my patients that I treat in my own office are includ­ed in this data.  What these per­cent­ages and sta­tis­tics do not con­vey is how deeply entrenched these chil­dren and their fam­i­lies have become in this coun­try.  Despite this, I have noticed a dis­turb­ing trend over the past two years, with a grow­ing num­ber of my patients hav­ing to deal with the deten­tion and pos­si­ble depor­ta­tion of a par­ent, friend, or neigh­bor.  This is a night­mare sce­nario for any­one to have to cope with, let alone a young child.

In response to this sit­u­a­tion, I have been work­ing with SAALT and sev­er­al oth­er non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions such as Fam­i­lies For Free­dom to shed light on the plight of such chil­dren and to help them stay unit­ed with their fam­i­lies.   This week is a ‘Week of Action’ in sup­port of HR 182 or the Child Cit­i­zen Pro­tec­tion Act, which will give immi­gra­tion judges dis­cre­tion in depor­ta­tion cas­es involv­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of fam­i­lies with chil­dren who are U.S. cit­i­zens.    Cur­rent­ly, judges have their hands tied and are forced to deport many par­ents unless they meet an ‘extreme hard­ship’ stan­dard–  a dif­fi­cult stan­dard for most to meet.  I ask that you call your local con­gress­men and ask them to sign on to this bill.  Also please try to doc­u­ment any expe­ri­ences that you may be fac­ing with the deten­tion and/or depor­ta­tion of a loved one.  In my own prac­tice I am ask­ing my patients to draw pic­tures of bro­ken hearts (like the one above) to rep­re­sent the pain and suf­fer­ing these fam­i­lies endure when one or both par­ents are deport­ed.   I hope to show these draw­ings and let­ters that I col­lect to my local rep­re­sen­ta­tives as part of SAALT’s annu­al advo­ca­cy day next week.

Tako­ma Park Pedi­atrics Patient, Age 7

Also, check out Dr. Sithanan­dam’s excel­lent Op-Ed pub­lished in the Bal­ti­more Sun.

Another Immigrant Death in Detention–New York Times

I was sent this arti­cle from the front page of the New York Times about anoth­er death in immi­gra­tion deten­tion, this time in New Jer­sey. The heart­break­ing sto­ry, which high­lights the dif­fi­cul­ties in even find­ing an accu­rate account­ing of the deaths that have tak­en place in immi­gra­tion deten­tion. Ahmed Tan­veer’s death was record­ed in a hand­writ­ten note of a fel­low detainee and it took the per­sis­tent efforts of civ­il rights and civ­il lib­er­ties groups and aci­tivists to get details about the case or to even get con­fir­ma­tion that the man had been impris­oned and died while in cus­tody from the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty. Read the whole sto­ry at <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/03/nyregion/03detain.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hp>

“Failing Families” op-ed in Baltimore Sun

Mont­gomery Coun­ty, MD, where the SAALT offices are locat­ed, is a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty with immi­grants from around the world. This op-ed from Dr. Lavanya Sithanan­dam, a pedi­a­tri­cian and trav­el doc­tor based in Tako­ma Park, shows how immi­gra­tion raids have neg­a­tive­ly impact this com­mu­ni­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers: chil­dren. Read the excel­lent piece here:

Failing Families

Immigration enforcement policies unfairly hurt many children who are citizens

by Lavanya Sithanan­dam

When I walked into the exam room, I knew some­thing was wrong. My 8‑year old patient, usu­al­ly an extro­vert­ed, charm­ing boy, was angry. He sat with his arms crossed and refused to look at me. His exhaust­ed moth­er recount­ed how one week ago, her hus­band, after arriv­ing home from a 12-hour shift at work, had been arrest­ed in front of his chil­dren and tak­en away in hand­cuffs. He was now sit­ting in an Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) deten­tion cen­ter in Fred­er­ick. The moth­er asked me to eval­u­ate her son for a one-week his­to­ry of poor appetite, dif­fi­cul­ty with sleep­ing, and wheez­ing.

As a pedi­a­tri­cian work­ing in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, home to the largest immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in Mary­land, I have seen first­hand the dev­as­tat­ing effects that aggres­sive immi­gra­tion enforce­ment poli­cies can have on fam­i­lies. Many of these chil­dren are cit­i­zens, born in the Unit­ed States to at least one undoc­u­ment­ed par­ent. Yet these chil­dren often expe­ri­ence what no U.S. cit­i­zen (or any child, for that mat­ter) should. They live in con­stant fear of aban­don­ment because they have seen and heard of neigh­bors and fam­i­ly mem­bers being picked up and deport­ed with­in days.

My patient, a “cit­i­zen child” him­self, was exhibit­ing symp­toms of depres­sion, and like oth­er chil­dren who have lost a par­ent to deten­tion cen­ters, he per­ceives his father’s arrest as some­how being his fault. His moth­er, who must now take over her hus­band’s 15-year role as the fam­i­ly’s bread­win­ner, is strug­gling to pay the bills, to make the lengthy dri­ve to see her hus­band, and to take her son to the doc­tor. These par­ents are good peo­ple: hard­work­ing and hon­est immi­grants from West Africa who pay their tax­es and take good care of their chil­dren. They strug­gle to make a decent life for their fam­i­ly, despite a gru­el­ing, 70-hour work­week.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, their sto­ry is not unique. There are more than 5 mil­lion cit­i­zen chil­dren in this coun­try — and sad­ly, the like­li­hood that one or both of their par­ents will be deport­ed is increas­ing. In order to meet arrest quo­tas, ICE agents are increas­ing­ly going after “soft tar­gets”: immi­grants such as my patien­t’s father, with no crim­i­nal record and for whom ICE had not issued a depor­ta­tion order. Some of these peo­ple are picked up by chance, at work or at home. Some are vic­tims of “res­i­den­tial raids” where immi­gra­tion author­i­ties knock on door after door with no evi­dence that the inhab­i­tants are undoc­u­ment­ed until they can get some­one to admit that he or she is here ille­gal­ly.

Some­times, racial pro­fil­ing is an issue — as in the case, recent­ly revealed, of a Jan­u­ary 2007 raid on a 7‑Eleven in Bal­ti­more. Offi­cers detained 24 Lati­no men, few of them with crim­i­nal records, in an appar­ent effort to meet a quo­ta for arrests.

The future for fam­i­lies like my 8‑year-old patien­t’s looks grim. My patien­t’s suf­fer­ing will prob­a­bly have no influ­ence on his father’s depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings, giv­en the high legal stan­dards of “extreme hard­ship” that must be met in order for his father to stay with his fam­i­ly. The boy will most like­ly be forced to start a new life in a coun­try he has nev­er even vis­it­ed.

Immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy is com­pli­cat­ed and emo­tion­al­ly charged, but pun­ish­ing cit­i­zen chil­dren should be at the bot­tom of ICE’s pri­or­i­ties. It is time to once again con­sid­er a fair and com­pre­hen­sive approach to immi­gra­tion reform. One promis­ing pro­pos­al is the “Child Cit­i­zen­ship Pro­tec­tion Act” (intro­duced this year by Rep. Jose Ser­ra­no of New York), which would autho­rize an immi­gra­tion judge to pre­vent depor­ta­tion of an immi­grant when it is in the best inter­est of his or her cit­i­zen chil­dren.

It is essen­tial to enact laws that will pro­mote fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion, fair­ness and dig­ni­ty over cur­rent enforce­ment tac­tics that tear fam­i­lies apart.

Dr. Lavanya Sithanan­dam, a pedi­a­tri­cian in Tako­ma Park, immi­grat­ed to this coun­try from India at the age of 4. She is a mem­ber of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a social jus­tice and advo­ca­cy group. Her e‑mail is drsithanandam@gmail.com.

Model Minority? No Thanks!

Asian Amer­i­cans broad­ly and South Asians have long con­front­ed main­stream label­ing as mod­el minori­ties. Here at SAALT, we have a few prob­lems with that. The lat­est exam­ple is a com­men­tary post­ed on Forbes.com by Jason Rich­wine. Check out SAALT’s writ­ten response below (it’s also been post­ed on RaceWire):

Model Minority? No, Thanks!

A Response to Feb­ru­ary 24th  Forbes.com Com­men­tary on Indi­an Amer­i­cans: The New Mod­el Minor­i­ty

Deepa Iyer

In his Feb­ru­ary 24th com­men­tary, Jason Rich­wine presents the “rev­e­la­tion” that Indi­an Amer­i­can immi­grants are the “new mod­el minor­i­ty” (see “Indi­an Amer­i­cans: The New Mod­el Minor­i­ty”).  Using this flawed frame, he then pro­pos­es unwork­able and divi­sive immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy changes.  As a nation­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that works to fos­ter the full civic and polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion of the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, we find these char­ac­ter­i­za­tions to be quite trou­bling.

Rich­wine points to the edu­ca­tion­al and income lev­els of many Indi­an Amer­i­cans (as well as their flair for win­ning spelling bees) as signs that this eth­nic group has reached the high­est ech­e­lons of suc­cess.  Such bench­marks belie the truth about the chal­lenges that many Indi­an Amer­i­cans face, and cre­ate a wedge between Indi­an Amer­i­cans and minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties.

In real­i­ty, Indi­an Amer­i­cans, much like oth­er immi­grants, have diverse expe­ri­ences and back­grounds. Indi­an Amer­i­cans are doc­tors, engi­neers and lawyers, as well as small busi­ness own­ers, domes­tic work­ers, taxi dri­vers and con­ve­nience store employ­ees. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers hold a range of immi­gra­tion sta­tus­es and include nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens and H‑1B visa­hold­ers, guest­work­ers and stu­dents, undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers and green card hold­ers.  Some have access to high­er edu­ca­tion while oth­ers strug­gle to learn Eng­lish in a new coun­try.  As with all com­mu­ni­ties, Indi­an Amer­i­cans do not come in the same shape and form, and can­not be treat­ed as a mono­lith.

Anoth­er dan­ger with the mod­el minor­i­ty label is that it cre­ates divi­sions between Indi­an Amer­i­cans and oth­er immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties.  Beneath the seem­ing­ly pos­i­tive use of the “mod­el minor­i­ty” label is a per­ni­cious racist under­tone: the pur­pose, after all, is to com­pare one set of peo­ple with anoth­er, and the result is to pit minori­ties against one anoth­er.

Com­par­ing Indi­an Amer­i­cans with Mex­i­can Amer­i­cans, as Rich­wine does (“In sharp con­trast to Indi­an Amer­i­cans, most U.S. immi­grants, espe­cial­ly Mex­i­can, are much less wealthy and edu­cat­ed than U.S. natives, even after many years in the coun­try) is an exam­ple of the sort of con­struct­ed divi­sion between immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties that cre­ates cul­tur­al and eth­nic hier­ar­chies.   The use of the mod­el minor­i­ty label results in plac­ing Indi­an Amer­i­cans “above” oth­er com­mu­ni­ties based on cer­tain fac­tors such as edu­ca­tion­al apti­tude or work eth­ic — which are clear­ly shared across eth­nic and cul­tur­al lines.  It fur­ther iso­lates Indi­an Amer­i­cans and makes it chal­leng­ing to build sol­i­dar­i­ty that nat­u­ral­ly aris­es among com­mu­ni­ties that share com­mon expe­ri­ences as immi­grants and peo­ple of col­or in Amer­i­ca.

Using the mod­el minor­i­ty myth to inform immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy can lead to unwork­able solu­tions.  Rich­wine writes that “A new immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy that pri­or­i­tizes skills over fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion could bring more suc­cess­ful immi­grants to the U.S.  By empha­siz­ing edu­ca­tion, work expe­ri­ence and IQ in our immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy, immi­grant groups from oth­er nation­al back­grounds could join the list of mod­el minori­ties” – one that seems to be head­ed up by Indi­an Amer­i­cans.

But even for this so-called mod­el minor­i­ty, immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy reform must include fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion (in fact, fam­i­ly mem­bers of green card hold­ers from India have to wait up to 11 years to be reunit­ed with fam­i­ly mem­bers); legal­iza­tion (Indi­ans ranked among the top ten undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tions in the coun­try in 2008); and pro­grams that enable work­ers – skilled and unskilled – to car­ry out their liveli­hoods with respect and dig­ni­ty.   View­ing immi­grants as com­modi­ties to be used pure­ly for their eco­nom­ic val­ue as a basis for immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy change denies immi­grants the oppor­tu­ni­ties to estab­lish roots, build mean­ing­ful futures, and con­tribute to the diver­si­ty and vibran­cy of our coun­try.

We reject attempts to cre­ate divi­sions, whether they be with­in our own com­mu­ni­ty, or with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties who share sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences, strug­gles, his­to­ries, and val­ues.  We rec­og­nize that our suc­cess and our futures are tied close­ly with that of all immi­grants and peo­ple of col­or.

Deepa Iyer is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion locat­ed in the Wash­ing­ton DC area. Ms. Iyer is an immi­grant who moved to the Unit­ed States from India when she was twelve years old.

Poverty in the Asian American Community in New York Featuring SAYA!

NewsAs the reces­sion deep­ens and more and more peo­ple around the coun­try find them­selves job­less or stretched thin eco­nom­i­cal­ly, its impor­tant to high­light how dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties are being affect­ed in dif­fer­ent ways. This excel­lent piece from My9 News (New York) reporter Ti Hua Chang. Chang pro­files Asian Amer­i­cans and South Asians liv­ing at or near the pover­ty lev­el in New York. Many work for long hours for low wages and have lit­tle cush­ion as the econ­o­my wors­ens. More­over, few­er Asian Amer­i­cans use gov­ern­ment ser­vices; one of the star­tling facts Chang men­tions is that while Asian Amer­i­cans make up 12% of the city’s pop­u­la­tion, they recieve about 1% of the gov­ern­ment or pri­vate fund­ing. From seniors iso­lat­ed to their apart­ments to the Bangladeshi man work­ing two jobs to build a bet­ter future for his chil­dren, the sto­ries are uni­form­ly heart­break­ing and under­score how these com­mu­ni­ties are suf­fer­ing. The Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of an NCSO part­ner SAYA!, Annet­ta Seecha­ran, speaks to the impor­tance of invest­ing in these com­mu­ni­ties and help­ing them build more secure futures. Check the video out at <http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?et=1102477092076&e=001aIe-v1SY2wJtz3gLloLGdx1EKmzkq4MLylD-QY-vhvtPm4PpNI1fizuFNK7DJ9xNvqE7uIqAHfOuwQFZfhlGgbyZXU4mMQErjoOS5BY3c6v1VRiakPRE5d8nicqHS-RMP1dq69Qg8mw=>

Does the Stimulus Bill Impact South Asians?

Nina Baliga, National CAPACD

Nina Bali­ga, Nation­al CAPACD

Check out this blog post from Feb­ru­ary guest­blog­ger, Nina Bali­ga, Devel­op­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er at Nation­al CAPACD. Nina tells us how she thinks the stim­u­lus bill may impact South Asians:

“Know­ing and under­stand­ing the diver­si­ty of our com­mu­ni­ties, it’s hard to say what the final impact of the Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act will have on South Asians across the coun­try.  Per­son­al­ly, I think there are enough stip­u­la­tions in the bill that pro­vide hope for our com­mu­ni­ties.

For exam­ple, $1 bil­lion will go towards the 2010 Cen­sus.   Why does this mat­ter?  Well, the cen­sus pro­vides the back­bone of infor­ma­tion that deter­mines how a lot of pub­lic mon­ey and even pri­vate sec­tor mon­ey is spent.  Part of this $1 bil­lion will be used to increase in-lan­guage part­ner­ships and out­reach efforts to minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties and oth­er “hard-to-reach” pop­u­la­tions.  If more South Asians are count­ed in the 2010 Cen­sus, then there will like­ly be more resources for our com­mu­ni­ties.

We do know that there are some pro­vi­sions that will help low-to-mod­er­ate income indi­vid­u­als, and this will def­i­nite­ly help many South Asian fam­i­lies.  For exam­ple, there is the Make Work Pay refund­able tax cred­it which could give $400 to sin­gle fil­ers and $800 to joint fil­ers in 2009 and 2010.  The bill has also expand­ed Pell grants to a max­i­mum of $5,350 in 2009 and $5,500 in 2010, hope­ful­ly increas­ing access to a col­lege edu­ca­tion to more young adults.  And for those of you who are look­ing to buy their first home, do it in 2009, because you’ll receive up to an $8000 tax cred­it from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

The bill is large and mul­ti-faceted, includ­ing tax cuts for indi­vid­u­als and small busi­ness­es, fund­ing for edu­ca­tion and job train­ing, more mon­ey for trans­porta­tion and health cov­er­age, food assis­tance, fund­ing for states and local gov­ern­ments, and so much more. The final impact on our com­mu­ni­ties is yet to be seen.  We can tru­ly hope for the best dur­ing this eco­nom­ic cri­sis, and pray that this mas­sive injec­tion of cap­i­tal into the country’s econ­o­my will prove worth­while.”

So what do you think? How will this stim­u­lus bill impact the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty? What do you like about the bill and what do you wish it did/did not include?

Nina Bali­ga joined the Nation­al CAPACD staff as the Devel­op­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er in 2007.  Nina devel­ops our com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gies, and over­sees our out­reach to mem­bers, fun­ders and oth­er stake­hold­ers. Pri­or to Nation­al CAPACD, Nina worked as a Research Ana­lyst for SEIU Local 11, orga­niz­ing con­do­mini­um work­ers in South Flori­da. In 2004, she worked as the Can­vas Direc­tor of the Mia­mi office of Amer­i­ca Com­ing Togeth­er, where she mobi­lized tens of thou­sands of vot­ers in the largest vot­er con­tact pro­gram in his­to­ry.  She began her polit­i­cal career head­ing up Flori­da PIRG’s Clean Water Cam­paigns.  Nina has served on the Board of Direc­tors of SAAVY (South Asian Amer­i­can Vot­ing Youth) as the Fundrais­ing Chair, and men­tored SAAVY fel­lows at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da as part of a larg­er South Asian Youth Vot­er mobi­liza­tion movement.Nina grad­u­at­ed from New York Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Soci­ol­o­gy and Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies and recent­ly received her Mas­ters in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da.

The Good and the Bad in the Stimulus Bill

After weeks of intense debate and nego­ti­a­tions, Con­gress passed an eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus pack­age that is head­ed to Pres­i­dent Obama’s desk for his sig­na­ture today. The final law includes spend­ing for domes­tic infra­struc­ture projects, fund­ing to state and local gov­ern­ments, and tax relief in the form of cuts and cred­its. The gov­ern­ment knew that it need­ed to take quick action to pull the econ­o­my out of its down­ward spi­ral, which has affect­ed everyone’s lives – from immi­grants and cit­i­zens, to stu­dents and seniors, to the wealthy and the work­ing-class.

No one can claim to be unscathed by the reces­sion that we are going through, includ­ing H‑1B work­ers. Vast num­bers of South Asians rely upon this visa, includ­ing lawyers, engi­neers, artists, and sci­en­tists. Yet many fear los­ing not only their jobs, but also their immi­gra­tion sta­tus, dur­ing these rough eco­nom­ic times. Take, for instance, Shali­ni, whose sto­ry was cap­tured by Lit­tle India

Shali­ni (name altered), who came to New York City from Mum­bai one year ago to work with Ernst & Young, is cop­ing with just such an even­tu­al­i­ty. With­in a few months she was pro­mot­ed from assis­tant man­ag­er to man­ag­er in her divi­sion. How­ev­er, in Novem­ber, the com­pa­ny let her go. Her first thought was, “How am I going to find anoth­er job in the next six weeks in this kind of envi­ron­ment?”

Shali­ni is on an H1‑B work per­mit, which means that if she does­n’t find work with­in 30 to 60 days, she has to leave the coun­try. Her prospects are bleak. Most com­pa­nies in the U.S., India and across the world have either frozen hir­ing or are sack­ing their work­force. Shali­ni has real­ized that there is no safe­ty net in the U.S. with­out a Green Card or cit­i­zen­ship. So she is fol­low­ing the exam­ple of sev­er­al NRIs [non-res­i­dent Indi­ans], who have applied to non‑U.S. com­pa­nies, sent resumes to con­tacts in cor­po­rate India, put up notices to sell their homes and fur­ni­ture, and post­poned plans to get mar­ried or start a fam­i­ly.”  [Lit­tle India]

These work­ers help build the vibrant inno­va­tion of this coun­try. In fact, Thomas Fried­man had a thought-pro­vok­ing piece in The New York Times recent­ly about how we need more immi­grants, not less, because it’s good for the Amer­i­can econ­o­my …

“We live in a tech­no­log­i­cal age where every study shows that the more knowl­edge you have as a work­er and the more knowl­edge work­ers you have as an econ­o­my, the faster your incomes will rise. There­fore, the cen­ter­piece of our stim­u­lus, the core dri­ving prin­ci­ple, should be to stim­u­late every­thing that makes us smarter and attracts more smart peo­ple to our shores. That is the best way to cre­ate good jobs.” [New York Times]

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Con­gress went the oth­er way on this issue. As part of the stim­u­lus bill, finan­cial insti­tu­tions receiv­ing fund­ing through the Depart­ment of Treasury’s Trou­bled Assets Relief Pro­gram (or TARP) intend­ed to sta­bi­lize the finan­cial mar­kets, must jump through extra hoops before they can hire H‑1B work­ers. Giv­en the immense con­tri­bu­tions of H‑1B work­ers to help Amer­i­ca remain on the cut­ting-edge, it makes you won­der if this is not only bad news for South Asians, but bad news for the econ­o­my.