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.

Young Leaders Institute (YLI)

SAALT’s Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI) is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for under­grad­u­ate stu­dents and oth­er young adults to build lead­er­ship skills, con­nect with activists and men­tors, and explore social change strate­gies around issues that affect South Asian and immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in the U.S. The 2018–2019 YLI cohort will iden­ti­fy strate­gies and craft projects to sup­port those high­ly impact­ed at their aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions and/or local South Asian com­mu­ni­ties. We encour­age projects that cen­ter and uplift caste oppressed, undoc­u­ment­ed, work­ing class and poor, Mus­lim, and Sikh groups. All projects should also incor­po­rate a civic engage­ment and social media com­po­nent.

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

STOP AND FRISK, SOUTH ASIANS, AND KAL PENN’S TWEETS

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in Col­or­lines on August 16, 2013

Note from Deepa Iyer, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, SAALT and Rinku Sen, Pres­i­dent, Applied Research Cen­ter:

When the Twit­ter­ver­sy around Kal Penn’s tweets about the NYPD’s stop and frisk pol­i­cy arose, we felt that it was impor­tant for South Asians to share our view of racial pro­fil­ing and its impact. We wrote some­thing and asked some peo­ple to sign on. That state­ment is below.

Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, we reached out to Kal Penn to express our dis­ap­point­ment and con­cern over his tweets. We start­ed a con­ver­sa­tion that result­ed in his endors­ing this state­ment. Penn has also agreed to engage in a process of dia­logue, learn­ing, engage­ment and action on racial pro­fil­ing and stop and frisk poli­cies with the insti­tu­tions and com­mu­ni­ties work­ing on this issue, includ­ing Col­or­lines and SAALT. You’ll find Penn’s own state­ment at the bot­tom of ours.
_________________________________________________________________________

This week, news of actor Kal Pen­n’s tweets appar­ent­ly sup­port­ing the NYPD’s stop and frisk pro­gram has gen­er­at­ed a debate about which we – South Asian activists, schol­ars, writ­ers, artists and lawyers – have strong opin­ions. In his fol­low-up yes­ter­day, Penn asks: “As peo­ple of col­or is this [stop and frisk pro­gram] effec­tive? Does it have mer­it? How do we make our own com­mu­ni­ties of col­or safer?”

Our unequiv­o­cal answers to these ques­tions are: no, no and not with stop and frisk.

Sikh Coali­tion

Stop­ping, inter­ro­gat­ing, detain­ing or search­ing peo­ple based on char­ac­ter­is­tics such as their actu­al or per­ceived race, nation­al ori­gin, immi­gra­tion sta­tus or reli­gion is racial pro­fil­ing. In a democ­ra­cy, there has to be a rea­son to stop and search some­one. Being a per­son of col­or isn’t a good enough rea­son.

Stop and frisk sounds so benign yet it cov­ers up the vio­lent humil­i­a­tion expe­ri­enced by hun­dreds of thou­sands of young black and brown men annu­al­ly. Beneath the num­bers is the human impact of this sort of polic­ing. It involves being thrown to the ground face down. It involves cops dump­ing your belong­ings on the street while they taunt you with pre­dic­tions that you’ll nev­er amount to any­thing. It involves hav­ing this hap­pen to you a dozen times before you’re 16 years old, and con­tin­u­ing into your adult­hood. This sort of police enforce­ment not only hurts the indi­vid­ual, but also entire com­mu­ni­ties whose mem­bers are treat­ed as “oth­ers” and auto­mat­i­cal­ly deemed unwel­come sus­pects in their own neigh­bor­hoods.

Accord­ing to the New York Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union, New York­ers, pre­dom­i­nant­ly blacks and Lati­nos, have been stopped and inter­ro­gat­ed on the street by police more than 4 mil­lion times since 2002, and nine out of 10 of those stopped have been com­plete­ly inno­cent. Facts cit­ed by U.S. Dis­trict Judge Shi­ra Scheindlin in the Floyd v. City of New York case,

which was brought by the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights, include that between 2004 and 2009, cops searched 2.28 mil­lion peo­ple for weapons, and that 2.25 mil­lion of them (98.5 per­cent) had none. Out of 4.4 mil­lion stops, only 6 per­cent led to an arrest, which means that cops were wrong 16 times more often than they were right.

These num­bers con­firm that there is absolute­ly no evi­dence that stop and frisk reduces crime. New York City’s crime rate had start­ed falling before stop and frisk was ever insti­tut­ed, and cities and states across the coun­try have also reduced crime rates with­out using such an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al and destruc­tive practice.The neg­a­tive racial impact and inef­fec­tive­ness of stop and frisk would be rea­son enough to oppose it. And, South Asian com­mu­ni­ties have an addi­tion­al stake in this debate.

DRUM 10

Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing

Espe­cial­ly since Sep­tem­ber 11th, South Asians are rou­tine­ly tar­get­ed as would-be ter­ror­ists in many set­tings. Plen­ty of peo­ple say that South Asians, Sikhs and Mus­lims com­mit more ter­ror­ist acts to jus­ti­fy that pro­fil­ing. South Asians have endured harass­ment at air­ports and at the bor­der, inter­ro­ga­tions and deten­tions by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties in the name of nation­al secu­ri­ty, and sur­veil­lance of Mus­lim Stu­dents Asso­ci­a­tions, mosques, and restau­rants. In fact, the NYPD is fac­ing law­suits for their sur­veil­lance of Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.

A recent report by South Asian Amer­i­can orga­ni­za­tions in New York City and nation­al­ly reveals the deep impact of racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing on South Asian New York­ers, many of whom are young, work­ing class peo­ple who strug­gle with being sin­gled out by author­i­ties, includ­ing the NYPD.  Indeed, plen­ty of young South Asians them­selves have been vic­tims of stop and frisk poli­cies – in both ter­ror­ism and non-ter­ror­ism relat­ed con­texts — even in schools.

We urge South Asians to join the grow­ing mul­tira­cial move­ment to bring stop and frisk prac­tices, as well as oth­er poli­cies that crim­i­nal­ize and tar­get com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, in New York City and across our coun­try to a speedy end.

(Affil­i­a­tions Pro­vid­ed for Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Pur­pos­es Only)
Rinku Sen, Pres­i­dent of the Applied Research Cen­ter, pub­lish­er of Col­or­lines
Deepa Iyer, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT)
Seema Agnani, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Chhaya CDC
Chi­tra Aiyar, Board Mem­ber, Andolan — Orga­niz­ing South Asian Work­ers
Chan­dra S. Bhat­na­gar, Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union
Shahid But­tar, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Bill of Rights Defense Com­mit­tee
Malli­ka Dutt, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Break­through
Ami Gand­hi, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, South Asian Amer­i­can Pol­i­cy & Research Insti­tute (SAAPRI)
Vani­ta Gup­ta, Deputy Legal Direc­tor, Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU)
Sameera Hafiz, Pol­i­cy Direc­tor, Rights Work­ing Group
Aziz Huq
Chaum­toli Huq, Academic/Law@theMargins
Vijay Iyer, Musi­cian
Anil Kalhan, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Law, Drex­el Uni­ver­si­ty Ear­le Mack School of Law
Aminta Kilawan J.D., Co-Founder, Sad­hana: Coali­tion of Pro­gres­sive Hin­dus
Jameel Jaf­fer, Deputy Legal Direc­tor, Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union
Prami­la Jaya­pal, Dis­tin­guished Tacon­ic Fel­low, Cen­ter for Com­mu­ni­ty Change
Saru Jayara­man, Co Direc­tor, Restau­rant Oppor­tu­ni­ties Cen­ters Unit­ed
Sub­hash Kateel, Radio Show Host, Let’s Talk About It!
Farhana Khera
Kalpana Krish­na­murthy, Pol­i­cy Direc­tor For­ward Togeth­er
Man­ju Kulka­rni, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, South Asian Net­work (SAN)
Rekha Mal­ho­tra (DJ Rekha)
Mon­a­mi Maulik, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing (DRUM)
Samhi­ta Mukhopad­hyay
Vijay Prashad, Author, Uncle Swa­mi: South Asians in Amer­i­ca Today, and Kar­ma of Brown Folk
Naheed Qureshi
Luna Ran­jit, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Adhikaar
Hina Sham­si, Direc­tor, Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Project, Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU)
Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder and Direc­tor of Pro­grams, Sikh Coali­tion
Sivaga­mi Sub­bara­man, Direc­tor, LGBTQ Resource Cen­ter, George­town Uni­ver­si­ty
Man­ar Waheed, Pol­i­cy Direc­tor, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT)
*********

From Kal Penn: “I sup­port the state­ment from South Asian com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers on the impact of racial pro­fil­ing. I have and still do oppose racial pro­fil­ing in any form. I want to thank SAALT and Applied Research Cen­ter for reach­ing out and start­ing to edu­cate & dia­logue with me about these issues. I plan on being in reg­u­lar con­tact with these great com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and allies around the issue of racial pro­fil­ing, and to dia­logue with and engage oth­ers about it. It’s impor­tant for all our com­mu­ni­ties to be edu­cat­ed, informed, and mobi­lized.”

Supreme Court Watch: Fisher v. UT Austin and the South Asian Community

On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its rul­ing in the case of Abi­gail Noel Fish­er v. Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin, involv­ing the university’s use of race in its admis­sions pol­i­cy. Here at SAALT, we eager­ly await­ed the Supreme Court’s rul­ing, as we had joined an ami­cus brief filed by the Asian Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Advanc­ing Jus­tice in the Fish­er case last year in sup­port of the UT-Austin admis­sions pol­i­cy.

In its deci­sion, the Court upheld the broad­er prin­ci­ples from exist­ing prece­dent from Grut­ter v. Bollinger, which allowed for race to be used as one of var­i­ous fac­tors giv­en the com­pelling state inter­est in pro­mot­ing diver­si­ty with­in edu­ca­tion. How­ev­er, rather than rul­ing on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas’ pol­i­cy itself, the Court returned the case to the 5th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court asked the low­er court to review whether the con­sid­er­a­tion of race in the admis­sions pol­i­cy in ques­tion was nar­row­ly tai­lored and nec­es­sary in order to achieve edu­ca­tion­al diver­si­ty.

Despite com­mon mis­per­cep­tions to the con­trary, South Asians sup­port and ben­e­fit from holis­tic race-con­scious admis­sion poli­cies like the one imple­ment­ed by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas. South Asian stu­dents, along with all oth­er stu­dents, enjoy a rich­er learn­ing envi­ron­ment when they are immersed in a diverse edu­ca­tion­al set­ting.  The abil­i­ty to learn from stu­dents and peers var­i­ous back­grounds helps bet­ter pre­pare them for the work­force and the real world. In fact, in light of ongo­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion that South Asians encounter in this coun­try, it is vital that stu­dents from oth­er racial back­grounds learn about our expe­ri­ences and we, in turn, learn about theirs. It is also impor­tant for us to remem­ber that it was not too long ago in our own recent his­to­ry that our com­mu­ni­ty has been denied equal oppor­tu­ni­ty in this coun­try and race-con­scious admis­sions poli­cies bring us clos­er to equal­i­ty. In fact, Asian Amer­i­cans, includ­ing South Asians, strong­ly sup­port affir­ma­tive action and race-con­scious poli­cies in edu­ca­tion­al set­tings, as shown by recent polling from the Nation­al Asian Amer­i­can Sur­vey.

We are heart­ened by the Supreme Court’s deci­sion to uphold prece­dent regard­ing holis­tic race-con­scious poli­cies and are con­fi­dent that the low­er court will uphold the pol­i­cy upon its review of the case.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assis­tance in pro­vid­ing analy­sis and writ­ing.

The Community Safety Act: Accountability for the NYPD and Its Importance to the South Asian Community

On June 27, 2013, the New York City Coun­cil passed two bills of the Com­mu­ni­ty Safe­ty Act, intro­duced last year, which curbs dis­crim­i­na­to­ry polic­ing prac­tices and estab­lish­es account­abil­i­ty mech­a­nisms for the New York City Police Depart­ment (NYPD). One of the bills, the End Dis­crim­i­na­to­ry Pro­fil­ing Act (Intro. 1080), would estab­lish an enforce­able ban against pro­fil­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion by the NYPD; expand the bases for pro­hib­it­ed pro­fil­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion (cur­rent­ly, race, eth­nic­i­ty, reli­gion, and nation­al ori­gin) to include age, gen­der, gen­der iden­ti­ty or expres­sion, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, immi­gra­tion sta­tus, dis­abil­i­ty or hous­ing sta­tus; estab­lish a pri­vate right of action allow­ing pro­fil­ing vic­tims to file law­suits against the NYPD; and allow indi­vid­u­als to file claims based on inten­tion­al dis­crim­i­na­tion and/or dis­parate impact. The sec­ond bill, the NYPD Over­sight Act (Intro. 1079), would grant inde­pen­dent over­sight author­i­ty over the NYPD to the Com­mis­sion­er of the Depart­ment of Inves­ti­ga­tion through reviews of the police depart­ment and require pub­lic reports regard­ing its find­ings. SAALT applauds the pas­sage of the Com­mu­ni­ty Safe­ty Act as well as the efforts of local orga­ni­za­tions in New York City, such as DRUM — Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing, to ensure these bills become law.

The pas­sage of the Com­mu­ni­ty Safe­ty Act is vital for all res­i­dents of New York City – includ­ing African Amer­i­can and Lati­no indi­vid­u­als who have been sub­ject­ed to an exor­bi­tant and dis­pro­por­tion­ate per­cent­age of stop-and-frisk encoun­ters. Most notably, since Sep­tem­ber 11th, South Asian com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers have been sim­i­lar­ly sub­ject­ed to arrests, ques­tion­ing, and harass­ment sim­ply based upon race, reli­gion, and appear­ance.  In a joint report released in March 2012, In Our Own Words: Nar­ra­tives of South Asian New York­ers Affect­ed by Racial and Reli­gious Pro­fil­ing, by DRUM, The Sikh Coali­tion, UNITED SIKHS, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Coney Island Avenue Project, Coun­cil of Peo­ples Orga­ni­za­tion, and SAALT, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers’ per­son­al expe­ri­ences revealed the toll that such dis­crim­i­na­tion has tak­en on their lives. Inter­ac­tions with NYPD includ­ed that of a young Bangladeshi man, while sim­ply wait­ing for his friends, being sub­ject­ed to war­rant­less search­es by police; a police offi­cer ask­ing a South Asian stu­dent about his reli­gion; and an Indi­an Hin­du indi­vid­ual being asked about his eth­nic­i­ty and whether he had drugs. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers have also been asked whether they are Mus­lim, where they pray, and even been pres­sured to spy on their own com­mu­ni­ties and report on “ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty.” Indeed, reports from the Asso­ci­at­ed Press in 2011 revealed the wide­spread spy­ing and sur­veil­lance by the NYPD on Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and stu­dent asso­ci­a­tions, both with­in and beyond New York City. (In fact, the New York Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union, the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union, and the CLEAR Project at the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York, recent­ly filed a law­suit chal­leng­ing the dis­crim­i­na­to­ry sur­veil­lance prac­tices of the police depart­ment.) As a result, indi­vid­u­als report­ed that such inter­ac­tions harmed their rela­tion­ships with friends and fam­i­ly and, also, made them more hes­i­tant to reach out to police in times of need.

SAALT has joined our part­ner orga­ni­za­tions in New York City in call­ing for the enact­ment of robust and expan­sive anti-pro­fil­ing poli­cies and strength­en­ing gov­ern­ment and civil­ian over­sight of law enforce­ment agen­cies in the city. We com­mend the City Council’s pas­sage of the leg­is­la­tion, which would go into effect in Jan­u­ary 2014, if enact­ed, and urge the May­or to sign the bills into law.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assis­tance in pro­vid­ing analy­sis and writ­ing.

 

Supreme Court Watch: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the South Asian Community

On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shel­by Coun­ty, Alaba­ma v. Hold­er, the Supreme Court inval­i­dat­ed Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights of 1965 rul­ing it uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. SAALT strong­ly con­demns the Supreme Court’s deci­sion to inval­i­date Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights Act which has been piv­otal in pro­tect­ing minor­i­ty vot­ers’ abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in the Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. In Jan­u­ary 2013, SAALT joined an ami­cus brief in the case, along with 27 oth­er Asian Amer­i­can orga­ni­za­tions, argu­ing in favor of the Vot­ing Rights Act, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en its impor­tance relat­ed to lan­guage access and polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

With the back­drop of egre­gious racial dis­crim­i­na­tion against minor­i­ty vot­ers, Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights Act artic­u­lates a for­mu­la to deter­mine which juris­dic­tions are required to have any changes in their vot­ing laws pre-cleared by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice or a fed­er­al court (under Sec­tion 5 of the leg­is­la­tion) to ensure that minor­i­ty vot­ers’ abil­i­ty to vote is not dimin­ished. The trig­ger for­mu­la used to des­ig­nate such juris­dic­tions, as out­lined in Sec­tion 4, is based on var­i­ous fac­tors, includ­ing his­tor­i­cal evi­dence of racial­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry vot­ing prac­tices, impact on lan­guage minor­i­ty groups, and low minor­i­ty vot­er turnout. While the Court rec­og­nized that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion con­tin­ues to plague the abil­i­ty for many to vote, it stat­ed that the cov­er­age for­mu­la used in Sec­tion 4 was “out­dat­ed” in light of recent increased minor­i­ty vot­er turnout, dis­ap­proved of states being treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly under the law, and sug­gest­ed that Con­gress update the for­mu­la in order to pass con­sti­tu­tion­al muster. This coun­ter­in­tu­itive rea­son­ing ignores that Sec­tions 4 and 5 have been piv­otal in pro­mot­ing enfran­chise­ment, con­sid­er­able evi­dence proves racial dis­crim­i­na­tion at the polls con­tin­ues, and fed­er­al leg­is­la­tors have rec­og­nized the impor­tance of keep­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act in effect. In fact, the Vot­ing Rights Act, includ­ing Sec­tion 4, has increas­ing­ly enjoyed sig­nif­i­cant bipar­ti­san sup­port with­in Con­gress over the years and was most recent­ly reau­tho­rized almost unan­i­mous­ly in 2006.

The right to vote has been a long-fought bat­tle for com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in the Unit­ed States. The Vot­ing Rights Act is an his­toric and cru­cial piece of leg­is­la­tion that was borne out of our country’s Civ­il Rights Move­ment and the pio­neer­ing strug­gles of the African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty in the 1960s. Indeed, the South Asian community’s own path to attain nat­u­ral­iza­tion, con­fer­ring the right to vote, has been a rocky one. In 1923, the Supreme Court then ruled that South Asians were not con­sid­ered white by the com­mon per­son and thus could not be con­sid­ered cit­i­zens; this remained in effect until leg­is­la­tion was enact­ed decades lat­er. In more recent years, as doc­u­ment­ed by elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing and exit polling efforts, South Asian and oth­er vot­ers of col­or con­tin­ue to encounter bar­ri­ers at the polls because of race, reli­gion, and lan­guage abil­i­ty and restric­tive vot­er iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­pos­als con­tin­ue to threat­en the right to vote. South Asians will not be immune from today’s dis­ap­point­ing rul­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en our community’s over­all size and growth in juris­dic­tions pre­vi­ous­ly cov­ered under the Sec­tion 4 for­mu­la, includ­ing Ari­zona, Geor­gia, Texas, and Vir­ginia.

This rul­ing is a grave set­back for vot­ing rights and equal­i­ty in the coun­try that ignores both the his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary evi­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tion that minor­i­ty vot­ers face. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are encour­aged to join a peti­tion call­ing for an amend­ment to pro­tect the rights of all vot­ers. Look­ing for­ward, SAALT will con­tin­ue to work with allies when Con­gress devel­ops a new cov­er­age for­mu­la in light of today’s rul­ing and ensure that it address­es dis­crim­i­na­tion against racial, eth­nic, and lan­guage minori­ties.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assis­tance in pro­vid­ing analy­sis and writ­ing.