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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
• 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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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:
Asian Americans broadly and South Asians have long confronted mainstream labeling as model minorities. Here at SAALT, we have a few problems with that. The latest example is a commentary posted on Forbes.com by Jason Richwine. Check out SAALT’s written response below (it’s also been posted on RaceWire):
Model Minority? No, Thanks!
A Response to February 24th Forbes.com Commentary on Indian Americans: The New Model Minority
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.