The Reuniting Families Act

Today, Deepa (SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor), Priya  (SAALT’s Pol­i­cy Direc­tor), and I attend­ed a press con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill where Con­gress­man Michael Hon­da intro­duced  the Reunit­ing Fam­i­lies Act, a bill that advo­cates hope will become a key com­po­nent of broad­er immi­gra­tion reform in Con­gress. Lead­ers from a diverse array of var­i­ous immi­grant and civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions and faith com­mu­ni­ties attend­ed the con­fer­ence to express their sup­port for the bill, includ­ing Hilary Shel­ton from the NAACP, Karen Narasa­ki from the Asian  Amer­i­can Jus­tice Cen­ter (AAJC), Rachel Tiv­en from Immi­gra­tion Equal­i­ty, Lizette Olmos from the League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens (LULAC) , and many oth­ers. Many mem­bers of Con­gress also appeared and spoke in sup­port of this bill.

Per­son­al­ly, as an intern observ­ing the brief­ing, it was excit­ing to see the sheer num­ber of peo­ple who appeared at the event (the room was packed, and the crowd of peo­ple stand­ing in the back led all the way out the door). But more impor­tant­ly, it was inspir­ing to see the breadth of sup­port for the bill, from con­gress­men, to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of numer­ous orga­ni­za­tions, to indi­vid­u­als who have had per­son­al expe­ri­ences with cur­rent fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion poli­cies. See­ing such a wide com­mu­ni­ty of indi­vid­u­als come togeth­er for a sin­gle cause was real­ly excit­ing.

So,  what exact­ly does the bill do?  Speak­ing on a tele­phon­ic brief­ing with  Con­gress­man Hon­da after the press con­fer­ence, Deepa broke down the bill into its major com­po­nents. The bill will recap­ture unused visas pre­vi­ous­ly allo­cat­ed by Con­gress for cur­rent­ly back­logged appli­cants.  It also  reclas­si­fies the spous­es and chil­dren of  green card hold­ers  as “imme­di­ate rel­a­tives,” allow­ing them to imme­di­ate­ly qual­i­fy for a visa  rather than wait for years . Anoth­er key com­po­nent of the bill is its expan­sion of per — coun­try lim­its on fam­i­ly and employ­ment-based visas from 7% to 10%.

The speak­ers at the press con­fer­ence pre­sent­ed var­i­ous view­points on the impor­tance of the bill.  Con­gress­man Neil Aber­crom­bie  from Hawaii  point­ed out that the strength and devel­op­ment of a com­mu­ni­ty starts at the fam­i­ly lev­el. Con­gress­man Hon­da also not­ed that the fam­i­ly serves as a crit­i­cal sup­port sys­tem for per­ma­nent res­i­dents; allow­ing immi­grants to reunite with their fam­i­lies would invari­ably lead to health­i­er com­mu­ni­ties and a stronger local econ­o­my, reduc­ing the need for gov­ern­ment-based eco­nom­ic assis­tance pro­grams. Karen Narasa­ki from AAJC also not­ed that pro­longed sep­a­ra­tion from loved ones slows down the abil­i­ty of per­ma­nent res­i­dents to inte­grate into Amer­i­can soci­ety, in addi­tion to inhibit­ing their abil­i­ty to work at their full poten­tial.

A major top­ic today was the por­tion of the bill regard­ing  bina­tion­al same-sex  cou­ples. The bill includes a com­pre­hen­sive def­i­n­i­tion of “fam­i­lies,” includ­ing  gay and les­bian cou­ples and their chil­dren so that U.S. cit­i­zens and green card hold­ers can spon­sor their per­ma­nent part­ners liv­ing abroad.  Mem­bers of Con­gress and orga­ni­za­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives present strong­ly  sup­port­ed this aspect of the bill,  empha­siz­ing  that no one should get left behind in the upcom­ing reform of immi­gra­tion laws.

So, why does this bill mat­ter for South Asians? Approx­i­mate­ly 75% of  the over 2.7 mil­lion South Asians in the US were born abroad. Most impor­tant­ly, indi­vid­u­als from South Asia  are among the top ten coun­tries that rely upon the fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion sys­tem  and wait years for green cards. Cur­rent­ly, fam­i­ly mem­bers abroad  have two choic­es: stay with­in the legal process and wait an unrea­son­able length of time to be with their loved ones; or enter and remain in the US  through unau­tho­rized chan­nels and keep a low pro­file. The choice to fol­low the law should nev­er be a dif­fi­cult one. When the choice is between wait­ing to get immi­gra­tion sta­tus and being with the one you love, a change in poli­cies is clear­ly in order.

Links to Orga­ni­za­tions:

  • NAACP: http://www.naacp.org/
  • LULAC: http://www.lulac.org/
  • AAJC: http://www.advancingequality.org/
  • Immi­gra­tion Equal­i­ty: http://www.immigrationequality.org/

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 saalt@saalt.org.

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:

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 www.healthreform.gov. 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 saalt@saalt.org.

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)