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 qudsia@saalt.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 saalt@saalt.org.

Shah Rukh Khan — Bollywood Border Stop

This piece by Deepa Iyer (SAALT) has also been post­ed at Race Wire (www.racewire.org)

The Shah Rukh Khan inci­dent at Newark Inter­na­tion­al Air­port over the week­end has elicit­ed a range of view­points and opin­ions. Shah Rukh Khan, a famous Bol­ly­wood actor, was detained for over an hour, and inter­ro­gat­ed by U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­ders Pro­tec­tion (CBP) author­i­ties at Newark Inter­na­tion­al Air­port where he had land­ed. Mr. Khan believes that he was detained and inter­ro­gat­ed because of his last name and his reli­gious affil­i­a­tion. The CBP (a part of the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty) claims that offi­cials were fol­low­ing stan­dard pro­to­col.

Mr. Khan’s inci­dent might be gain­ing inter­na­tion­al atten­tion because he is a celebri­ty, but the truth is that ordi­nary Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and immi­grants here in the Unit­ed States grap­ple with racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing rou­tine­ly at air­ports. Espe­cial­ly since Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2001, South Asian, Arab Amer­i­can, Mus­lim and Sikh trav­el­ers have been sub­ject­ed to arbi­trary sec­ondary inspec­tions, deten­tions, and inter­ro­ga­tions while trav­el­ing.

Recent­ly, the Asian Law Cau­cus and the Stan­ford Law School Immi­grant Rights’ Clin­ic pub­lished a report that details inci­dents of intru­sive ques­tion­ing that many US cit­i­zens and legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents have faced when return­ing to the Unit­ed States from trips abroad. The report pro­vides infor­ma­tion about the abuse of watch­lists and first-hand accounts of pro­fil­ing, as well as rec­om­men­da­tions to safe­guard civ­il rights.

Racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing must be elim­i­nat­ed whether it hap­pens on the streets, on our high­ways, at bor­ders, or at air­ports. Pro­fil­ing peo­ple based on their last name, skin col­or, accent, or reli­gious affil­i­a­tion is an inef­fec­tive enforce­ment tech­nique that vio­lates civ­il rights pro­tec­tions. In fact, the use of pro­fil­ing tac­tics has not been an effec­tive law enforce­ment strat­e­gy in either the War on Drugs or the War on Ter­ror.

The Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion and Con­gress have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to review and strength­en cur­rent admin­is­tra­tive anti-pro­fil­ing poli­cies, and to pass fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion that bans pro­fil­ing [the End Racial Pro­fil­ing Act is set to be intro­duced in Con­gress again this year]. These are impor­tant steps in ensur­ing that the civ­il rights of every­one – whether a celebri­ty or ordi­nary Amer­i­can – are pre­served.

Deepa Iyer is Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that address­es civ­il and immi­grant rights issues. Learn more at www.saalt.org.

Celebrating 5 Years!

It’s been five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office. We want­ed to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect back on the past five years and look for­ward to many more. I’ll be putting up entries from SAALT staff and Board as well as past interns and staff.

From Deepa Iyer, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT:

“Has it been five years already? When we opened our first office in New York City, just a few blocks from Penn Sta­tion, in a rent­ed space at Cit­i­zens NYC, I was hope­ful but unsure about what the first five years would hold.  Thanks to the hard work and ded­i­ca­tion of a num­ber of peo­ple, includ­ing staff (cur­rent and for­mer), Board mem­bers, interns, vol­un­teers, and donors, we have been able to build a strong foun­da­tion for a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion.  When I start­ed at SAALT five years ago, I was very sen­si­tive to the mod­el that we would cre­ate — how could we devel­op a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion that would be informed by the expe­ri­ences of peo­ple who were fac­ing inequity on a dai­ly basis? It took years of trust-build­ing, con­ver­sa­tions, a bit of strug­gle, flex­i­bil­i­ty, and faith for the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions to emerge, and for SAALT to have a mean­ing­ful pres­ence at pol­i­cy tables.

In many ways, I think of anoth­er anniver­sary that is com­ing up — the ten year anniver­sary of Sep­tem­ber 11th. I remem­ber in the days and months after 9/11, won­der­ing how our com­mu­ni­ty would be able to weath­er the unprece­dent­ed back­lash, immi­gra­tion enforce­ment tac­tics, and pro­fil­ing that we faced.  At that point in time, there was no for­mal net­work, no real ties that orga­ni­za­tions had to one anoth­er. As we approach the ten-year anniver­sary of 9/11, the com­mu­ni­ty feels stronger, more con­nect­ed, a bit more cohe­sive. If SAALT has had a part in that, I think we have achieved quite a lot! Here’s to the next five years!”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take Two!

Con­tin­u­ing our series com­mem­o­rat­ing the fifth anniver­sary of the open­ing of SAALT’s first staffed office, let’s hear from two SAALT Board mem­bers, Lavanya Sithanan­dam and Anous­ka Ched­die (respec­tive­ly).

“Five years ago SAALT opened its first office and hired staff in New York City.  In that short time, SAALT has grown tremen­dous­ly.  My involve­ment with SAALT began dur­ing those same five years, and what this orga­ni­za­tion has giv­en me is invalu­able.   SAALT has pro­vid­ed me with the inspi­ra­tion and the tools to speak up as a physi­cian activist, advo­cat­ing on behalf of immi­grants both inside and out­side of my med­ical prac­tice.   I con­tin­ue to be inspired and moti­vat­ed by the hard work of the staff, the ded­i­ca­tion of the NCSO mem­bers, and the vision of the orga­ni­za­tion.  I feel con­fi­dent that SAALT will con­tin­ue its won­der­ful work over the next five years and will become an even stronger voice both with­in and out­side our South Asian com­mu­ni­ty.”

“SAALT is com­mu­ni­ty. It’s about col­lab­o­ra­tion.  SAALT is trust. It’s about par­tic­i­pa­tion.  SAALT is empow­er­ment. It’s about rep­re­sen­ta­tion. SAALT is inclu­sive. It’s about includ­ing the dias­po­ra.

With SAALT, I know that local grass­roots groups have a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion that they can work with to ensure our com­mu­ni­ty has a strong pro­gres­sive voice that is heard in DC and around the coun­try.

This is just the begin­ning.”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take Three!

We have more to come from our series com­mem­o­rat­ing five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office, but I want­ed to put in my two cents:

To me, SAALT is where we come togeth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty and fight for the change we want, both for our­selves but also in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties-of-strug­gle. SAALT is an open and inclu­sive hub that invites the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, allies and part­ners to envi­sion a world that is tru­ly free and equi­table. More­over, SAALT is vehi­cle to help indi­vid­u­als make these lofty aspi­ra­tions a real­i­ty. In five years, I see us doing this with ever more empow­ered, engaged peo­ple. This is only the begin­ning!

Celebrating 5 Years! Take five!

Anoth­er set of reflec­tions about the 5 year anniver­sary of SAALT open­ing its first staffer office. Now we’re hear­ing from Imrana Khera, SAALT’s Pro­gram Man­ag­er from 2004–2005.

“SAALT rep­re­sents the very diverse South Asian com­mu­ni­ty liv­ing in the Unit­ed States, a chal­leng­ing job for any orga­ni­za­tion.  SAALT push­es our com­mu­ni­ty for­ward by advo­cat­ing for change with­in a social jus­tice frame­work.  SAALT’s strength is its respect­ful and effec­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion with orga­ni­za­tions that are work­ing with South Asian com­mu­ni­ty at a local lev­el across the coun­try.

My expec­ta­tion is that SAALT will con­tin­ue to grow over the next five years and con­tin­ue to effect change on behalf of our com­mu­ni­ty — through edu­ca­tion, pol­i­cy, and research — like the award-win­ning Rais­ing Our Voic­es DVD,  through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Wash­ing­ton DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Cap­i­tal (July 2009) .”

One Community United Kickoff Town Hall in Atlanta

From Niralee, one of our amaz­ing sum­mer interns:

On Tues­day, June 16th, SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Deepa Iyer, along with NCSO part­ner Rak­sha, Indus Bar, the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union of Geor­gia, and Khabar, launched the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign with an inau­gur­al town hall in Atlanta. The event was the first in a series of com­mu­ni­ty forums to be held through­out the coun­try as part of the cam­paign.

The town hall took place at the Glob­al Mall in Atlanta on Tues­day evening, and about forty peo­ple attend­ed the event. The group was very diverse, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of South Asian orga­ni­za­tions, local stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and mem­bers of local places of wor­ship.

The heart of the dis­cus­sion was immi­gra­tion and human rights. From the very begin­ning, par­tic­i­pants eager­ly engaged in the dis­cus­sion, address­ing issues rang­ing from the rights of immi­grant work­ers, to deten­tion and depor­ta­tion, to the reuni­fi­ca­tion of fam­i­lies. Par­tic­i­pants also dis­cussed how the human rights of immi­grants are often vio­lat­ed in this coun­try. The event closed with a call to action, encour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pants to con­tact their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress, stay in touch with orga­ni­za­tions work­ing with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, and stay up to date on immi­gra­tion issues.

Many who attend­ed walked away feel­ing inspired to take action on immi­gra­tion reform in their com­mu­ni­ties. Van­dana said, “The town hall was extreme­ly eye-open­ing and thought pro­vok­ing… I am going to chalk-out a plan of action… and def­i­nite­ly con­tact some peo­ple that I know will share the same enthu­si­asm for the [Be the Change] project.” Noshin, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Refugee Reset­tle­ment and Immi­gra­tion Ser­vices of Atlanta, said he would “keep up with bills intro­duced and con­tact [his] rep­re­sen­ta­tives “ and “share [his] immi­gra­tion sto­ry with SAALT.” Many oth­ers expressed a strong desire to go back to their com­mu­ni­ties and address the issues dis­cussed at the town hall.

SAALT left the event look­ing for­ward to future town halls, to be host­ed in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, Chica­go, New Jer­sey, and Wash­ing­ton DC. It was great to see so many Atlanta com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers com­ing togeth­er to express their sup­port for immi­gra­tion reform. Over­all, the event was a very excit­ing kick-off for SAALT’s One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign.

For more infor­ma­tion about the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for Civ­il and Immi­grant Rights, vis­it here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

More Reflections from Atlanta Town Hall for Civil and Immigrant Rights

Here are more reflec­tion on the kick-off town hall in Atlanta, GA of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions’ One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for civ­il and immi­grant rights. This time we’re hear­ing from Nureen Gula­mali, intern at ACLU-Geor­gia  (one of the cospon­sors of the town hall):

I’m lucky to be intern­ing at the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU) of Geor­gia this sum­mer and was grate­ful to be a part of the SAALT/ACLU forum.  After attend­ing the Immi­gra­tion Forum, my per­spec­tive has been enlight­ened and tru­ly widened.  Immi­gra­tion is a hot top­ic in today’s world – tell me some­thing I don’t know.  But how it affects the actu­al immi­grants is tru­ly the issue at hand.  I’ve heard accounts of the tri­als and tribu­la­tions that so many peo­ple have had to go through in order to get a bet­ter start in this world, and my heart goes out to them.  The forum itself not only pro­vid­ed more infor­ma­tion to the unin­formed, but allowed for a healthy and knowl­edge­able dis­cus­sion for both the informed and unin­formed.  It’s so impor­tant to stand up for what is right and immi­gra­tion rights are, in essence, human rights.  What know­ing indi­vid­ual wouldn’t stand up for human rights?

So, I sup­pose the more impor­tant ques­tion is, what can we do about it?  Well, real­ly, every­one who was able to make it to the forum has already tak­en the first step – stay informed.  It’s as sim­ple as that.  You can make a dif­fer­ence by stay­ing informed, whether that’s catch­ing up on the cur­rent issues on Google News, or join­ing a human rights advo­ca­cy group (GA Deten­tion Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, Rak­sha, SAALT, etc.).  The more allies we have, the big­ger the impact we can have – not to men­tion strate­gic pull.  So, take ten min­utes a day to read what’s going on in the human rights/immigration front and from there, I swear, it will be plen­ty easy to get involved!

For more infor­ma­tion about the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for Civ­il and Immi­grant Rights, vis­it here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

Join the Summer of Service!

On Wednes­day, May 20th Michelle Oba­ma will roll out “the vision of ser­vice for the Admin­is­tra­tion for the sum­mer” in Wash­ing­ton DC. SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Deepa Iyer, will be in the audi­ence to hear about the sum­mer of ser­vice and learn how orga­ni­za­tions like SAALT and the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty as a whole can get involved. Are you inspired by Michelle’s mes­sage of ser­vice? How are you get­ting involved and engaged this sum­mer?

Hear about the 2009 National South Asian Summit from the Attendees Themselves!

Dur­ing the Sum­mit, SAALT staff and interns used our handy Flip cam­eras to hear from atten­dees about their expe­ri­ences. We’re are cur­rent­ly in the process of post­ing these clips on our YouTube chan­nel. Hear what Sum­mit par­tic­i­pants learned, what they hope to bring back to their com­mu­ni­ties and more!

Taha Gaya:

Taz Ahmed:

Check out all the Sum­mit Snap­shots here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=DFD50F179385221B