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


Photo Credit: Bao Lor, SEARAC

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. This past weekend, to commemorate this important occasion, Asian American organizations joined thousands of people who gathered in the nation’s capital to participate in a march and rally titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream March”.. The purpose of this march and rally was not just to remember the legacy of Dr. King and the progress since his speech over 50 years ago, but to show that even today in 2013, inequality persists.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT staff rallying in solidarity

Among the Asian American organizations present at the March were representatives from SAALT, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). And as part of the program on Saturday, Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF spoke and shared the stage along with other civil rights leaders.

The work still continues, especially within the South Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities when it comes to decreasing hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and racial profiling following 9/11, and the tremendous disparities within South Asian communities from the standpoint of access to educational equity, jobs, and health care.

SAALT Programs Intern and recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Victoria Meaney, reflected on the significance of the March, “Attending the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was monumental to me as a South Asian American. My ability to participate, in collaboration with SAALT really exemplifies the progress that has been made, based on the work of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their examples show the importance of the individual’s voice, and, by allying with others, the steps to a just society are possible. My hope is that future marches to come will have an even greater representation of South Asians and Asian Pacific Americans, because civil rights belong to all, but we will not be heard if we do not advocate for ourselves.”

We marched and rallied in solidarity for jobs, justice, peace and equality along with Americans of all races, faith and backgrounds.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

In giving her reasons for the importance of this March, Roksana Mun a DRUM Youth Organizer reflected on the theme of the March in 1963, which was “the need for jobs and the ever growing economic and social inequality between people of color communities and white communities”. And today she notes, “…we’re living at a time when the same exact issues of working-class, people of color are struggling to find jobs, decent pay (or in many cases any pay), increased cuts to education, health care and social service systems still persist. The Poor People’s March is still needed”

We showed that even though 50 years has passed since Dr. King’s speech calling for equality and justice we still have yet to pursue that dream.

As Fahd Ahmed, Legal and Policy Director of DRUM states, “It was important for DRUM to have a presence at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington because we have directly benefited from gains made by the Civil Rights movement. Both in terms of actual rights, won, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, but also in having learned strategies and tactics. Our current struggles for immigrant rights, racial justice, and worker’s rights, are a continuation of that legacy.”

Let us reflect and recommit as SAALT Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, notes “South Asians are indebted to the civil rights movement and the African American leaders and community members who marched today 50 years ago. The pivotal anti-discrimination and immigration laws that were enacted in 1965 have preserved the rights of millions of people of color and immigrants. Now, 50 years later, South Asians must continue to be a critical and visible constituency in the ongoing struggle for equity.”

So today, on the actual date of the March on Washington, as we commemorate Dr. King, his legacy and the struggles that were endured to defend our civil rights, let us not forget that problems still persists and that we are still in pursuit of the “Dream”.

AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

SAALT Policy Connection (May 2009)

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SAALT Policy Connection  (May 2009)

In This Issue

Immigration Policies

Hate Crimes Legislation Passes House!

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

At the Table: Meetings with Policymakers

Community Resource: Race and Recession

Support SAALT!

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the full and equal civic and political participation of South Asians in the United States. SAALT is the coordinating entity of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 36 organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of the South Asian community across the country.

The SAALT Policy Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on current policy issues. To learn more about SAALT’s policy work, contact us at

Immigration: Policies from the Administration and Congress

Federal policymakers are continuing to consider immigration policies that will affect South Asian community members. With over 75% of the community born outside of the U.S., South Asians possess a range of immigration statuses, including temporary workers, green card holders, asylum-seekers, dependent visaholders, and undocumented immigrants. Any changes in immigration policies will affect the South Asian community. In order to promote the full integration of South Asians into this country’s economy and society, just and humane immigration reform is necessary.

The Administration:

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration made various statements and instituted several policies relating to immigration:

  • In April, Administration officials stated its commitment to immigration reform, including legalization of nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants during 2009.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that DHS will prioritize enforcement raids and prosecutions on abusive employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. However, worksite raids may still continue which impact the lives of many immigrants working in various sectors of the economy.
  • During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, DHS Secretary Napolitano stated her commitment to review profiling and searches of electronic devices at the border that have affected many Muslims and South Asians returning from trips abroad, as documented in recent reports by the Asian Law Caucus and Muslim Advocates.
  • DHS has continued and expanded implementation of a troubling enforcement program, “Secure Communities” that would allow immigration status checks be conducted for individuals who are apprehended by local police at the time of arrest. It will also allow immigration authorities to place “detainers” (notification to immigration authorities prior to release from jail that can lead to detention). Such programs raise cause for concern given that checks may done, regardless of guilt or innocence, and further open the door for profiling. For more information about Secure Communities and the negative impact on immigrant communities, check out this factsheet by the National Immigration Law Center.

On June 8, President Obama will be meeting with various members of Congress to discuss immigration and immigrant rights advocates as well as community members will be looking to see what next steps may be decided following the meeting


Congress has also recently re-focused its attention on finding solutions to address the broken immigration system:

  • Various Senators, including Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, have introduced the Reuniting Families Act. This bill strives to reduce family visa backlogs that keep many South Asians separated from loved ones abroad, by reclassifying spouses and children of green card holders as “immediate relatives”, raising per-country visa allocations, and allowing unused visas from previous years to be applied to the backlog. Community members are urged to contact their Senators to encourage them to support this bill.
  • In April and May, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, held hearings on immigration issues focused on border security policies and comprehensive immigration reform.
  • On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024), which would allow U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration. This bill would be a vital step towards countering discrimination that exists in the current immigration system against LGTBIQ South Asians in binational couples.
  • The DREAM Act, which would allow certain undocumented students to legalize their status if they attend college or join the military, has been introduced in the House and Senate.

Civil Rights: Hate Crimes Legislation Victory

South Asian community members often confront bias and discrimination in the form of hate crimes as a result of post-9/11 backlash, anti-immigrant sentiment, and xenophobia. In a recent victory in the movement towards preventing hate crimes and protecting its survivors, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) in May. This Act expands current federal hate crimes laws to include violence motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability. It would also provide greater resources to state and local law enforcement investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration and community members are urged to contact your Senators to encourage them to support this bill (S. 909).

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

Health care reform has jumped to the top of the agenda for Congress and the Obama Administration. The need for affordable coverage and linguistically and culturally accessible health care is vital for the South Asian community. In fact, approximately 20 percent of South Asians lack health coverage plans leaving affordable health care out of reach for many community members. In addition, linguistic and cultural barriers prevent many limited English proficient South Asians from being able to communicate effectively with health care professionals and obtain emergency assistance when needed. To get a background on health issues affecting South Asians, check out the health section of the National Action Agenda, a policy platform developed by the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, and a recent piece in SAMAR by Sapna Pandya and Pratik Saha of the South Asian Health Initiative at New York University.

President Obama has urged Congress to enact health care reform before the end of 2009 and convened a White House Forum on Health Care Reform. To learn more about the White House’s commitment to health care reform, visit The Senate Finance Committee are expected to start working on a health care reform bill in mid-June.

Community Issues at the Table

As part of SAALT’s policy work, we participate in various meetings and briefings with governmental agencies and legislators at the local, state, and federal level to raise issues about policies that affect the South Asian community. During April and May, SAALT participated in the following meetings to convey the concerns of South Asians regarding various policy initiatives:

  • Roundtables with Various Government Agencies during South Asian Summit: Community members and representatives of South Asian organizations had an opportunity to dialogue with various government agencies at the South Asian Summit in late April. Participating agencies included the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Office on Violence Against Women. During these meetings, participants raised local issues of concern and learned about the agencies’ policy priorities for this year.
  • White House Religious Liaison Meeting: SAALT met with the Religious Liaison at the White House Office of Public Engagement in May to discuss and highlight issues of importance to faith-based communities. SAALT identified issues ranging from discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion to the need for greater funding and support for faith-based institutions at the meeting. For more information, please contact us at

Community Resource Spotlight: Race and the Recession

A new report from the Applied Research Center, “Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules” tells the stories of people of color who are disproportionately affected by the recession. It uncovers root causes of long-term racial inequrities that fed into the economic crisis and proposes structural solutions to change a system that threatens future generations. Read the report online and check out the “Race and Recession” video to learn more and take action.

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South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Non-profits brace themselves for 2010

Check out this article in the SF Gate about the struggles of non-profits in the Bay Area in these challenging economic times.

Bay Area nonprofits brace for 2010 shakeout

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Nonprofits are seeing an alarming drop in funding and increased demand for help this year, setting the stage for a complete shakeup of the sector in 2010.

Unlike recessions past, this one could permanently alter the nonprofit landscape, say nonprofit CEOs, forcing possible closures and mergers as the sector restructures to survive.

Hardest hit will be the Bay Area, home to one of the highest concentrations of nonprofits in the nation. There are 25,000 nonprofits in the region; 7,000 in San Francisco alone. Among them are 10,000 charitable nonprofits with budgets above $25,000. Their combined budgets account for 14 percent of the Bay Area’s gross national product – twice the national average.

Click here to read the full article.

The article discusses the constant fears of non-profits around the country including bracing themselves for a significant drop in funding in 2010. Many non-profits feel comfortable with their budgets for 2009 because funding was acquired before the economic downturn – but 2010 proves to be quite a challenge. Funding from most sources is being cut – foundations are scaling back grant amounts, government agencies are revisiting funding priorities, corporations are facing their own budget cuts, and most individuals are feeling more hesitant to donate money instead of saving it for a “rainy day” that might occur at any moment.

“The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the leading newspaper of the nonprofit world, surveyed 73 of the nation’s largest foundations in December about their 2009 grant making plans and found 39 percent expect to decrease the amount they contribute to charities this year.”

However, it is important to note that these are generalizations and that some entities are actually increasing funding because they recognize the increased need for non-profit services during this time. A need which does not necessarily correlate with an increase in funding.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest in the world with assets estimated at $30 billion, plans to raise its giving from $3.3 billion in 2008 to $3.8 billion in 2009 to help charities survive. The San Francisco Foundation plans to give the same amount to charities that it did last year, despite a shrinking endowment.”

As funding sources and amounts shrink, this is a crucial time for non-profits to think creatively and explore different options for fundraising. Check out these links for some useful tips:

If you are interested in attending some workshops around fundraising during these tough times – register for the 2009 South Asian Summit to have access to those workshops and much more!

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 <>

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.

How the Economic Downturn is Affecting Nonprofits

In times of economic crisis, non-profit organizations often see an increase in the need for services. SAALT’s partners who provide services to South Asian community members are observing an increased need for housing, job training, and benefits due to layoffs, lack of jobs, and the downturn in the economy.  At the same time, non-profits too are facing the burden of the economic crisis and are having to lay off staff, reduce programming, and dip into reserve funds.

As Daniel Gross, a financial editor at Newsweek, pointed out as early as June of 2008, donations from individual donors are down from what they used to be. And with 80 percent of support to non-profits coming from 20 percent of the people in America, any reduction in giving can have a significant impact on non-profit groups.

How can South Asians who are able to give support the non-profits that are so critical in our local communities? Why give at all? Read an excerpt from a post from Sayu Bhojwani (former Executive Director of South Asian Youth Action and former Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs for New York City on the South Asian Philanthropy Project blog about the importance of strategic giving within the South Asian community:

South Asian philanthropy has until recently meant contributing to causes in the home country and to regional and religious associations here in the U.S. As the community matures, accumulates wealth, and increases in number, more South Asian Americans are contributing to institutions in the United States, targeting resources to issues of concern in the community. Strategically utilized, the “brown dollar” can boost the capacity of fledgling organizations that serve the needs of minority communities across the U.S. and can play a critical role in shaping perspectives about South Asians in the broader American community.

In the fifteen years or so that I have been working in the South Asian community and in philanthropy, I have been frustrated by the piecemeal approach that people often take to philanthropy. South Asians who give, whether they are wealthy or not, are like most others who give—responsive to a personalized request from a friend or colleague, drawn by a personal connection to an issue or organization, or motivated by the need to meet a certain end-of-year level of giving

Read more here <>