Between Deals and Decisions, SAALT Reaffirms the Need for Real, Clean Solutions on Immigration

Jan­u­ary 22, 2019

The Supreme Court’s deci­sion today to omit hear­ing the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) case is wel­come news, as it keeps the pro­gram alive and allows cur­rent DACA recip­i­ents to con­tin­ue sub­mit­ting renew­al appli­ca­tions. While this is encour­ag­ing, the work ahead remains clear – we need a clean DREAM Act and per­ma­nent leg­isla­tive solu­tions that do not include harm­ful pro­vi­sions, as pro­posed by the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion last weekend.

The Administration’s immi­gra­tion “deal” from this week­end is no deal at all – it’s a sham. The Admin­is­tra­tion is claim­ing to rein­state two pro­grams – DACA and Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) — that the Admin­is­tra­tion itself made a deci­sion to evis­cer­ate last year. These so-called pro­tec­tions to TPS and DACA hold­ers are half baked at best and do lit­tle to actu­al­ly pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties. The “deal” leg­is­la­tion that the Sen­ate will like­ly intro­duce this week excludes entire com­mu­ni­ties. Any­one with TPS sta­tus from Nepal, Guinea, Sier­ra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Soma­lia and Syr­ia would not be pro­tect­ed.  The bill only cov­ers a frac­tion of all DREAM­ers and does not pro­vide per­ma­nent pro­tec­tion from depor­ta­tion. Most alarm­ing­ly, it includes a $5.7 bil­lion dol­lar bor­der wall and more bloat­ed increas­es to deten­tion beds and bor­der patrol agents.

“This ‘deal’ offers no con­ces­sions, no solu­tions, and will fur­ther under­mine the rule of law. It will inten­si­fy mil­i­ta­riza­tion on the bor­der and expand deten­tion, while con­tin­u­ing to hurt refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, DACA recip­i­ents, and TPS hold­ers. There are at least 450,000 undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple from India alone, at least 25,000 Indi­an and Pak­istani DACA recip­i­ents, and near­ly 15,000 thou­sand Nepalis with TPS sta­tus who will be direct­ly impact­ed by this leg­is­la­tion,” said Suman Raghu­nathan, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT).

South Asians, along with all immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, deserve a real immi­gra­tion over­haul that serves every­one. Once this sham bill is intro­duced, we will sup­port our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and part­ners to voice our opposition.

CONTACT: Sophia Qureshi

Dispatch from New Jersey: Town Hall and Legislative Visits!

In an effort to get the local South Asian com­mu­ni­ty engaged around immi­gra­tion reform, SAALT-NJ, along with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners, held a  ‘Town Hall for South Asians on Immi­gra­tion & Civ­il Rights’ in Jer­sey City on July 27th at the Five Cor­ners Library.   The event, part of the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign, was the sec­ond in a series of com­mu­ni­ty forums that will be held nation­wide as a part of the campaign.

The town hall brought togeth­er not only a diverse group of folks with­in the com­mu­ni­ty, but also a diverse coali­tion of local com­mu­ni­ty part­ners, includ­ing: Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee, Andolan, Asian Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund, the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR-NJ), Govin­da San­skar Tem­ple, Man­avi, New Jer­sey Immi­grant Pol­i­cy Net­work, and the Sikh Coali­tion.

Although the focus of the dis­cus­sion at large was around immi­gra­tion reform, the con­ver­sa­tion cov­ered a vari­ety of issues, such as the effects of visa lim­i­ta­tions and back­logs on low-income work­ers and women fac­ing vio­lence in the home; and deten­tion cen­ters and the grow­ing num­ber of detained immi­grants. The con­ver­sa­tion was at once chal­leng­ing and emo­tion­al, as par­tic­i­pants shared per­son­al sto­ries illus­trat­ing how immi­gra­tion laws have neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed their lives and the lives of their loved ones.   Nev­er­the­less, the con­ver­sa­tion end­ed on a pos­i­tive note with ways to stay involved with the cam­paign, and to get more civi­cal­ly engaged around the immi­gra­tion reform conversation.

In fact, on August 19th, SAALT mem­bers, along with coali­tion mem­bers from NJIPN and New Labor, con­duct­ed an in-dis­trict meet­ing with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Don­ald Payne’s office in Newark, New Jer­sey.  Par­tic­i­pants met with a senior staff mem­ber at the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s office to dis­cuss issues around immi­gra­tion and health­care reform.

The del­e­ga­tion high­light­ed key con­cerns to both the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty and the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty at large, such as (1) the increase in deten­tion and depor­ta­tions post 9–11 and its impact on immi­grant fam­i­lies in the US; (2) fam­i­ly- and employ­ment-based visa back­logs and the need for just and humane immi­gra­tion reform to pre­vent fam­i­lies from being torn apart in the process; and  (3) more con­crete mea­sures in place for immi­grant inte­gra­tion to address issues such as lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al bar­ri­ers in access­ing ser­vices, and, as a result, becom­ing active and par­tic­i­pat­ing mem­bers of the community.

The meet­ing was a great expe­ri­ence – it illus­trat­ed to the mem­bers present the sig­nif­i­cance of civic engage­ment, and how impor­tant it is to reach out to our respec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives about issues con­cern­ing us. In a polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic cli­mate that seems so anti-immi­grant, it was cer­tain­ly refresh­ing to be able to sit down with the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s office to active­ly advo­cate for issues that deeply impact the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty.  I look for­ward to meet­ing with oth­er local offices in the com­ing month and encour­age oth­ers to try to sched­ule meet­ings with your respec­tive Rep­re­sen­ta­tives while they are home for August recess.

To learn more about SAALT-NJ’s work, please email

Look­ing for ways to get involved? Here are some ideas:

• Call your mem­ber of Con­gress to express your sup­port for immi­gra­tion reform and strong civ­il rights poli­cies. Find out who your mem­ber of Con­gress is by vis­it­ing and

• The Cam­paign to Reform Immi­gra­tion for Amer­i­ca has launched a text mes­sag­ing cam­paign that sends alerts to par­tic­i­pants when a call to action, such as call­ing your Congressman/woman, is urgent­ly need­ed. To receive text mes­sage alerts, sim­ply text ‘jus­tice’ to 69866.

• Stay in touch with local and nation­al orga­ni­za­tions that work with the South Asian community.

• Share your immi­gra­tion or civ­il rights sto­ry with SAALT by fill­ing out this form or send­ing an email to

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.7)

Final ses­sion of Net­roots (for me with my flight home this after­noon, every­one else looks to be get­ting down with the offi­cial part-ay tonight by Dai­lyKos), and its about a core issue, immi­gra­tion reform. It’s great that we have a ses­sion about this top­ic, which is so impor­tant to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, but I’m a lit­tle bummed to see that, while it has a pret­ty good turnout, its not burst­ing at the seams. This is the only ses­sion I could find that dealt explic­it­ly with immi­gra­tion reform (there have def­i­nite­ly been oth­ers that touched upon it) and I had real­ly hoped that more of the Nation would come out about this.

Any­ways, the pan­el has rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Break­through, Amer­i­ca’s Voice, FIRM and SEIU. Thus far, its been most­ly con­text-set­ting and talk­ing about what each orga­ni­za­tion is doing in the area. Nico­la from fIRM shared that what got their orga­ni­za­tion into online orga­niz­ing was actu­al­ly sto­ry­telling. After the New Bed­ford raids, they need­ed a way to get the sto­ries out to peo­ple since the media was­n’t pay­ing any atten­tion. Now they’re work­ing to build social net­work­ing tools that are more respon­sive and are able to “go offline.” Joaquin from SEIU showed advo­ca­cy efforts SEIU has under­tak­en to high­light the plight of DREAM Act stu­dents fac­ing deportation.

Since this is my final post from Net­roots, I’ll bring togeth­er some of my obser­va­tions and thoughts from the week­end. Being here at Net­roots and see­ing the groundswell of sup­port and resources that exist in the pro­gres­sive move­ment is def­i­nite­ly an amaz­ing thing. It can feel, some­times, that we’re the lit­tle guy and we’re out­gunned and out-resourced by “the oth­er side” which obvi­ous­ly shifts debate to debate and issue to issue. Its not that Net­roots has shown me that we’re drown­ing in easy, acces­si­ble resources. Instead, it showed me how pro­gres­sives have and con­tin­ue to fight against entrenched elites using what­ev­er’s avail­able and chang­ing the rules of the game. Its that spir­it of “nev­er say die” that I will take back with me. A lot of the peo­ple here aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly involved and active in the same issues, there is def­i­nite­ly inter­est and will to work togeth­er to make things hap­pen in each oth­ers’ areas. Ulti­mate­ly, we have to use what­ev­er tools are out there to make things like immi­gra­tion or health­care reform, strength­en­ing civ­il rights, fight­ing racial pro­fil­ing hap­pen. Peo­ple all over Amer­i­ca are suf­fer­ing right now and it’s up to us to bring these issues up and bring about progress.

Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no oth­er way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immi­gra­tion. The Sen­ate, through recent amend­ment votes, put their stamp on poli­cies that focus on pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment rather than just and humane solu­tions to fix the bro­ken immi­gra­tion system.

Below is a quick round-up of leg­isla­tive activ­i­ty of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these poli­cies will def­i­nite­ly have a neg­a­tive impact on the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty … in ways that you may not expect. Pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment means that hard­work­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indi­ans alone made up the 10th largest undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. in 2008) will be fur­ther rel­e­gat­ed to the shad­ows out of fear of appre­hen­sion by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. But it also means that many law­ful­ly present immi­grants may inad­ver­tent­ly also be caught up in the web of enforce­ment. Take a look for your­self; the impact may sur­prise you …

Dur­ing debates on the Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty Appro­pri­a­tions Bill (which is basi­cal­ly leg­is­la­tion that allows the gov­ern­ment to spend mon­ey with regard to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty), sev­er­al anti-immi­grant amend­ments passed, including:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amend­ment passed pre­vent­ing funds from being used to rescind the much crit­i­cized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of back­ground, let­ters are sent by the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion to employ­ers when Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers pro­vid­ed by employ­ees do not match gov­ern­ment data­bas­es. Under the rule, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties could use these let­ters as evi­dence than an employ­er should have known than an employ­ee is not autho­rized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in the­o­ry. But, how good can it be when the data­bas­es used are know to be inac­cu­rate and could net a range of work­ers, regard­less of sta­tus? Or when a fed­er­al court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It does­n’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E‑Verify is a pilot employ­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that cer­tain employ­ers use to check the work autho­riza­tion of their work­ers. Again, this might sound good to you in the­o­ry, but one major prob­lem with the pro­gram is that it relies upon data­bas­es with unac­cept­ably high error rates. (Wan­na know more? Check out this resource by the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter for more info on what’s wrong with the pro­gram.) Instead of paus­ing for a moment and assess­ing the prob­lems that exist with­in its data­bas­es, the Sen­ate instead passed an amend­ment mak­ing the pro­gram per­ma­nent for all fed­er­al con­trac­tors; in addi­tion, they man­dat­ed that all employ­ers cur­rent­ly employ­ing E‑Verify to use it on ALL employ­ees, no mat­ter when they start­ed. Can you imag­ine work­ing for a com­pa­ny for over 20 years — even if you have work autho­riza­tion — and your name some­how pops up as being inel­i­gi­ble due to data­base errors or name mix-ups and then you face pos­si­bly los­ing your job all because of this? It’s a fright­en­ing prospect.
In these dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times, South Asians — like all oth­er Amer­i­cans — fear los­ing their jobs and have dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting by. If flawed pro­grams like the SSA No-Match Let­ters and E‑Verify are left unchanged, South Asian work­ers stand to lose, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus. Mea­sures that not only hurt immi­grants, but also the econ­o­my, don’t make sense — call your mem­bers of Con­gress and urge them to sup­port just and humane immi­gra­tion reform rather than set­tling for obsta­cles towards real solutions.

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)

May Day Rally for Immigration Reform in Washington DC

On May 1st, peo­ple from com­mu­ni­ties all over the coun­try com­mem­o­rat­ed Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Day to call for fair and equi­table reform to the immi­gra­tion sys­tem. There were ral­lies in many major cities, includ­ing Wash­ing­ton DC. I went down to the ral­ly with Poon­am, our intern. Being at the march was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. Walk­ing down 14th Street, where mount­ed police shut down one direc­tion of traf­fic to accom­mo­date the crowd, sur­round­ed by com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and advo­cates, was a sin­gu­lar expe­ri­ence. I did­n’t par­tic­i­pate in the immi­gra­tion reform ral­lies in 2006 and 2007 so this was my first time get­ting the May Day expe­ri­ence. The mood was over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive with the speak­ers at Lafayette Park acknowl­edg­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties that com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers encounter as part of the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem but ulti­mate­ly focus­ing on how com­mu­ni­ties-of-col­or can work togeth­er to push for reform. I used one of our nifty new Flips to cap­ture some of the sights and sounds of the ral­ly, below you can check out a quick video fea­tur­ing some inspir­ing words from Rev. Hagler of the Ply­mouth Con­gre­ga­tion­al Unit­ed Church of Christ:

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 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 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.