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 We desire not only safe spaces and heal­ing, but also to see such dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and racist poli­cies repealed and con­demned.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.

Statement on H‑4 EADs

On Tues­day, Jan­u­ary 26, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty with­drew its pro­pos­al to rescind H‑4 work autho­riza­tions (EADs). This means that more than 100,000 H‑4 EAD recip­i­ents, the major­i­ty of whom are women of col­or, keep their abil­i­ty to work. This move to pre­serve the pro­gram sig­nals the Biden-Har­ris administration’s com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing immi­grant women work­ers who play an essen­tial role as we con­tin­ue to bat­tle the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

Despite this hope­ful news, SAALT con­tin­ues to hear from com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who have been adverse­ly impact­ed by sig­nif­i­cant delays in the pro­cess­ing of H‑4 work autho­riza­tion doc­u­ments. These peo­ple must be pro­tect­ed, and the Biden admin­is­tra­tion must uni­lat­er­al­ly extend the valid­i­ty peri­od of all expired H‑4 EADs and resolve USCIS pro­cess­ing delays.

Hope­ful­ly, we will see these exten­sions come with the intro­duc­tion of the Cit­i­zen­ship Act of 2021 in the com­ing weeks. It seeks to for­mal­ize work autho­riza­tion for H‑4 EAD visa recip­i­ents, cre­ate an acces­si­ble and equi­table path­way to cit­i­zen­ship (espe­cial­ly for undoc­u­ment­ed essen­tial work­ers), and com­mit to a struc­tur­al trans­for­ma­tion of our bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem that address­es and resolves back­logs. Pres­i­dent Biden and Con­gress must work togeth­er to pass clean immi­gra­tion and essen­tial work­er bills. 

Learn more about the cur­rent sta­tus of the H‑4 EAD rule, and take action: 

This is a long over­due moment of hope for immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy; let’s make it count and #ProtectH4EAD.

#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 Marks Historic 2020 Election

Elec­tion win opens up greater poten­tial for push­ing poli­cies that mat­ter to South Asian com­mu­ni­ties
Novem­ber 9, 2020: SAALT con­grat­u­lates Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden and Vice-Pres­i­dent-elect Kamala Har­ris on their his­toric win and we look for­ward to the oppor­tu­ni­ty to push for pro­gres­sive and inclu­sive poli­cies for South Asian Amer­i­cans across the U.S with the new Admin­is­tra­tion. Despite attempts by the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion to thwart the demo­c­ra­t­ic process, the hard work of orga­niz­ers, poll work­ers, and vol­un­teers ensured greater account­abil­i­ty around vot­er sup­pres­sion than ever before. Ulti­mate­ly, this led to a clear and deci­sive vic­to­ry for the Biden cam­paign.

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT, said: “This elec­tion opens up greater poten­tial for push­ing the poli­cies that mat­ter to our com­mu­ni­ties. We will rely on the same vig­i­lance that pro­pelled his­toric vot­er turnout and accu­rate vote counts to hold this Admin­is­tra­tion account­able to our com­mu­ni­ties. This means a com­plete over­haul of our immi­gra­tion sys­tem that ensures a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for all, COVID-19 relief pack­ages that include immi­grants of all sta­tus, increased lan­guage access resources, an end to deten­tion and the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of U.S. bor­ders, and the trans­for­ma­tion of polic­ing as we know it. We will cel­e­brate and heal, but we also know the work of undo­ing the immense harm of the last four years and affir­ma­tive­ly lay­ing the ground­work for mean­ing­ful sys­tems change requires inten­tion and polit­i­cal will. In order for this Admin­is­tra­tion to tru­ly acknowl­edge the Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties whose years of orga­niz­ing deliv­ered this weekend’s vic­to­ry, beyond rep­re­sen­ta­tion, we expect them to exer­cise that polit­i­cal will to the full extent on behalf of our com­mu­ni­ties.“

The his­toric vot­er turnout and inspring shifts of tra­di­tion­al­ly con­ser­v­a­tive states were a direct result of years of orga­niz­ing by Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties who felt the brunt of the Trump Administration’s xeno­pho­bic and racist polices and dan­ger­ous rhetoric. In par­tic­u­lar, a grow­ing and increas­ing­ly engaged South Asian pop­u­la­tion played a crit­i­cal role in Geor­gia. The South Asian pop­u­la­tion in the South tripled from 2000 to 2014, and of the top ten met­ro­pol­i­tan areas in the U.S. that expe­ri­enced the largest South Asian pop­u­la­tion growth, five were in the South. Groups like Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Asian Amer­i­cans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, and Project South, work­ing to imple­ment Stacey Abrams’ strat­e­gy of appeal­ing to dis­en­fran­chised vot­ers of col­or instead of rely­ing on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s usu­al out­sized focus on mod­er­ate white vot­ers, har­nessed the polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing pow­er of com­mu­ni­ties of col­or across the state. This crit­i­cal shift in pri­or­i­ties should inform the Biden-Har­ris Admin­is­tra­tion. 

How­ev­er, giv­en the nar­row mar­gin of vic­to­ry in this elec­tion that took days to deter­mine, it is clear that there remains defin­i­tive sup­port for racist and xeno­pho­bic poli­cies and that white suprema­cy is a dan­ger­ous force that will remain a threat to our com­mu­ni­ties. This is paired with the vio­lent Islam­o­pho­bia and Hin­du nation­al­ism aimed at many South Asian pop­u­la­tions. Dis­man­tling these inter­linked sys­tems of insti­tu­tion­al­ized vio­lence is an impor­tant part of the work we now have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to direct­ly address with the new admin­is­tra­tion, espe­cial­ly giv­en Vice Pres­i­dent Har­ris’ iden­ti­ty.  At SAALT, we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to build com­mu­ni­ty pow­er, strength­en­ing coali­tions across com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and advo­cat­ing for just and equi­table fed­er­al poli­cies along­side the new Admin­is­tra­tion. 

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SAALT condemns Trump Administration’s latest expansion of immigration restrictions

Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: As the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion inten­tion­al­ly fails to address a nation­al health cri­sis that has already claimed the lives of over 120,000 peo­ple in the U.S., they con­tin­ue to dou­ble down on crim­i­nal­iz­ing immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties while still exploit­ing their labor to car­ry us through the pan­dem­ic. This week’s exec­u­tive order extend­ed the 60 day ban on the issuance of green cards announced in April and fur­ther expands the ban to H‑1B, H‑2B, L, and cer­tain J non-immi­grant visas through the end of the year. This pri­mar­i­ly tar­gets high-skilled and guest work­ers, under­min­ing fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion and diver­si­ty visa pro­grams. 

SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran said,“Over 70 per­cent of H1B visa hold­ers in the U.S. are from South Asian coun­tries. Our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and their fam­i­lies con­tin­ue to be jeop­ar­dized because of these restric­tions. If the goal was to pro­tect U.S. work­ers, they would be giv­en PPE, sick days, and health­care in the midst of this dead­ly pan­dem­ic. From the Mus­lim Ban to tar­get­ing a range of immi­grant pop­u­la­tions from H‑1B visa­hold­ers to DACA recip­i­ents, this admin­is­tra­tion’s racist and anti-immi­grant agen­da under­scores their abysmal fail­ure in lead­er­ship.”

For more infor­ma­tion on who will be impact­ed by this lat­est exec­u­tive order, check out this fact sheet from the Cen­ter for Immi­grant Rights Clin­ic at Penn State Law.

Con­tact: sophia@saalt.org

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ACTION ALERT: ICE Raids Indian Restaurant in DC

UPDATE, July 10th

Ear­li­er this week, we put out a call for vol­un­teers to assist with an out­reach effort to pro­vide food and restau­rant work­ers from the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty with “know your rights” resources. The alert was prompt­ed by com­mu­ni­ty reports about an immi­gra­tion enforce­ment action tar­get­ing work­ers in the restau­rant indus­try over the past week in DC. Out of respect for those direct­ly affect­ed, we are not pro­vid­ing any addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion at this time. We will con­tin­ue our work to pro­tect and defend our com­mu­ni­ties, espe­cial­ly at a time when immi­grants are being tar­get­ed, whether at work­places and homes or at the bor­der.

July 8, 2019

An Indi­an restau­rant in DC was raid­ed by ICE last week. Sev­er­al Hin­di speak­ing employ­ees were tak­en to the Mont­gomery Coun­ty jail in Mary­land. 

Giv­en the prospect of immi­gra­tion raids in the DC area, we are call­ing for vol­un­teers to join us for an out­reach effort on July 13th and 14th.

SAALT is seek­ing vol­un­teers to help with out­reach, trans­la­tion, and legal coun­sel. Click here for imme­di­ate steps you can take.

 

 

 

Communities on Fire: Resisting Hate Violence and Xenophobic Political Rhetoric

SAALT’s 2018 report doc­u­ments hate vio­lence and xeno­pho­bic polit­i­cal rhetoric aimed at our com­mu­ni­ties from Elec­tion Day 2016 to Elec­tion Day 2017. SAALT doc­u­ment­ed 302 inci­dents of hate vio­lence and xeno­pho­bic polit­i­cal rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, Hin­du, Mid­dle East­ern, and Arab com­mu­ni­ties in the Unit­ed States, of which an astound­ing 82% were moti­vat­ed by anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment. The 302 inci­dents are a more than 45% increase from the year lead­ing up to the 2016 elec­tion cycle, lev­els not seen since the year after Sep­tem­ber 11.