PRESS RELEASE: SAALT hosts Congressional Briefing “Detention, Hunger Strikes, Deported to Death”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEAESE

April 2, 2019

On April 2, SAALT and immi­grant jus­tice part­ners UndocuBlack Net­work, Deten­tion Watch Net­work, Unit­ed We Dream, Free­dom for Immi­grants, Sikh Coali­tion, Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (SALDEF) host­ed a Con­gres­sion­al Brief­ing on Capi­tol Hill to draw imme­di­ate atten­tion to the rise in South Asians seek­ing asy­lum in the U.S. to escape vio­lence, per­se­cu­tion, and repres­sion along­side migrants from African, South­east Asian, Cen­tral Amer­i­can, and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries.

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, Inter­im Co-Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of SAALT opened the brief­ing say­ing, “We are all here today to say loud and clear that immi­gra­tion is a Black issue, immi­gra­tion is a Lat­inX issue, immi­gra­tion is a South Asian issue, immi­gra­tion is an LGBTQ issue. It is the prac­tice of sol­i­dar­i­ty and local orga­niz­ing that we hope to uplift today for Capi­tol Hill to see, to under­stand immi­grant deten­tion, and to address the litany of vio­la­tions and abus­es faced by detained indi­vid­u­als.”

A pan­el of expert com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and advo­cates includ­ing Jen­nifer Apo­da­ca, of the Detained Migrant Sol­i­dar­i­ty Com­mit­tee in El Paso; Ruby Kaur, an attor­ney for two of the #ElPaso9; Deep Singh, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Jakara Move­ment; Patrice Lawrence, Nation­al Pol­i­cy Direc­tor of UndocuBlack Net­work; Car­los Hidal­go, Immi­gra­tion Rights Activist and mem­ber of Free­dom for Immi­grants lead­er­ship coun­cil; and Sanaa Abrar, Advo­ca­cy Direc­tor of Unit­ed We Dream high­light­ed a series of abus­es and civ­il rights vio­la­tions doc­u­ment­ed in deten­tion facil­i­ties from Ade­lan­to, CA to El Paso, TX. They cit­ed cas­es of med­ical neglect, inad­e­quate lan­guage access, denial of reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions, retal­i­a­tion for hunger strikes, and the prac­tice of soli­tary con­fine­ment. Advo­cates urged Mem­bers of Con­gress and their staff to take imme­di­ate action through spe­cif­ic leg­is­la­tion, over­sight, and appro­pri­a­tions rec­om­men­da­tions.

Quotes from Mem­bers of Con­gress:

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Judy Chu (CA-27): “I want to com­mend SAALT for putting togeth­er today’s brief­ing to high­light the diverse com­mu­ni­ties impact­ed by the xeno­pho­bic poli­cies of the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion and our bro­ken immi­gra­tion and deten­tion sys­tem. Over the past few years, we have seen a spike in the num­ber of indi­vid­u­als seek­ing asy­lum from India, Bangladesh, Pak­istan, and Nepal who have suf­fered from neglect and abuse at the hands of our own fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. This is unac­cept­able. As Chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus, I will con­tin­ue to work with my col­leagues to push for greater trans­paren­cy, account­abil­i­ty, and over­sight of these facil­i­ties.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Karen Bass (CA-37), Chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Black Cau­cus: “The sep­a­ra­tion of immi­grant fam­i­lies is a vio­la­tion of human rights. This out­ra­geous pol­i­cy along with the Trump Administration’s attempt to deport indi­vid­u­als liv­ing in the Unit­ed States, many of whom now know the U.S. as their home, must be addressed imme­di­ate­ly. I look for­ward to work­ing with my col­leagues and the Tri-Cau­cus on a per­ma­nent solu­tion and a path to cit­i­zen­ship for many of the fam­i­lies impact­ed by these poli­cies.”

Rep Suzanne Bonam­i­ci (OR‑1) said: “Far too often, I hear from Amer­i­cans who are hor­ri­fied by the Trump administration’s treat­ment of peo­ple seek­ing safe­ty at our bor­der. I am grate­ful to South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er and oth­ers for bring­ing con­tin­ued atten­tion to the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion’s ter­ri­ble deten­tion and enforce­ment poli­cies. I saw first­hand how these poli­cies are hurt­ing peo­ple when I vis­it­ed detainees at a fed­er­al prison in Sheri­dan, Ore­gon. We must do every­thing we can to pro­tect the human rights of every indi­vid­ual. When I learned about the hunger strikes in El Paso, I joined Rep. Esco­bar in call­ing for an inves­ti­ga­tion of the con­di­tions at ICE deten­tion facil­i­ties. My col­leagues and I will con­tin­ue push­ing for strong over­sight that holds this admin­is­tra­tion account­able for its appalling treat­ment of those seek­ing refuge and asy­lum.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Grace Meng (NY‑6): “I want to thank SAALT for its lead­er­ship in stand­ing up for the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, and I thank all the part­ner orga­ni­za­tions that are fight­ing tire­less­ly for those who have been unjust­ly abused in deten­tion facil­i­ties through­out the Unit­ed States. The U.S. has always been a nation of immi­grants but Pres­i­dent Trump’s poli­cies and rhetoric toward those who came to our coun­try in search of a bet­ter life has been cru­el and un-Amer­i­can. He has made the tar­get­ing of immi­grants a cen­tral part of his admin­is­tra­tion while per­sis­tent­ly lob­bing big­ot­ed, ver­bal attacks at immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. From sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies to feed­ing only pork sand­wich­es to a Mus­lim detainee, the administration’s actions have been abhor­rent. Our found­ing fathers would be repulsed by what has been tak­ing place over the past two years. As a Mem­ber of the House Appro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on Home­land Secu­ri­ty, I will con­tin­ue to hold Pres­i­dent Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion account­able for the immi­gra­tion poli­cies that they have imple­ment­ed. My pri­or­i­ty is to end these inhu­mane immi­gra­tion enforce­ment prac­tices, and ensure that every­one is treat­ed with dig­ni­ty and respect.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mark Takano (CA-41): “I’m grate­ful for this strong coali­tion of immi­grant rights groups work­ing togeth­er to shed light on the injus­tices and cru­el­ty immi­grants are fac­ing under this Admin­is­tra­tion. I share with them extreme con­cern about how immi­grants, refugees, and asy­lum seek­ers are being treat­ed at the hands of our gov­ern­ment. Con­gress must con­tin­ue to exert its over­sight pow­ers to hold the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion account­able and bring human­i­ty back to our immi­gra­tion sys­tem.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Veron­i­ca Esco­bar (TX-16): “For the past two years, our coun­try has wit­nessed an unprece­dent­ed attack against our immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty. From sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies to force-feed­ing detainees, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has con­stant­ly imple­ment­ed poli­cies that vio­late our laws and Amer­i­can val­ues. That is why, now more than ever, we need to raise our voic­es and share the sto­ries of those impact­ed by cru­el­ty in order to hold the admin­is­tra­tion account­able and ensure this pat­tern of abuse comes to an end.”

For a record­ed stream of the Brief­ing, please click here.

In Col­lab­o­ra­tion with:

Con­gres­sion­al Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus (CAPAC) | Con­gres­sion­al Black Cau­cus (CBC) | Con­gres­sion­al His­pan­ic Cau­cus (CHC) | Con­gres­sion­al LGBT Equal­i­ty Cau­cus | Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus (CPC) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzanne Bonam­i­ci (OR‑1) |Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gil Cis­neros (CA-39) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Judy Chu (CA-27)| Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Veron­i­ca Esco­bar (TX-16) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jaya­pal (WA‑7) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bar­bara Lee (CA-13) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Grace Meng (NY‑6) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (NY-14) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mark Pocan (WI‑2) | Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mark Takano (CA-41)

Hon­orary Co-hosts:

Sen­a­tor Ben Cardin (MD) | Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris (CA) | Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley (OR)

Con­tact: sophia@saalt.org

 

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.

To brand, or not to brand? — Addressing the MTA’s “turban-branding” policy

Four years ago, Sikh tran­sit work­ers in New York City decid­ed that enough was enough. In response to a “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy that required work­ers, both Sikh and Mus­lim, to brand their tur­bans with the Metro­pli­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty (MTA) logo, Sikh tran­sit work­ers called on the MTA to end this pol­i­cy, deem­ing it an act of reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fur­ther­more, in 2005, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice found that, over the course of three days, there had been two hun­dred cas­es of MTA employ­ees wear­ing some form of head­dress with­out the logo, includ­ing Yan­kees hats, yaar­mulkes, and a num­ber of win­ter hats in fact issued by the MTA. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice con­se­quent­ly filed a dis­crim­i­na­tion suit against the MTA. Yet for years, this issue has been placed on the back burn­er by city offi­cials.

On Tues­day of last week, a major­i­ty of the New York City Coun­cil final­ly spoke out against the “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy. Coun­cil Mem­ber Tony Avel­la said, “It’s time for the City Coun­cil to take action on this mat­ter, and it’s long over­due that the MTA end reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Enough is enough.”

While this issue is being addressed for a small num­ber of Sikhs in New York, it still speaks to a greater issue that many South Asian and Arab indi­vid­u­als in the US face on a day-to-day basis. Even today, the con­cept of reli­gious wear is quite for­eign to Amer­i­can cul­ture. Many do not real­ize that a tur­ban, hijab, or any type of reli­gious wear is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an individual’s spir­i­tu­al life, and is there­fore a very per­son­al and pri­vate enti­ty. Like any arti­cle of faith, it is not some­thing that can just be set aside for appearance’s sake, nev­er mind brand­ed with a cor­po­rate logo.

The law­suit against the MTA has yet to be resolved, and we are hop­ing for an end to this dis­crim­i­na­to­ry pol­i­cy. In the mean­time, it is impor­tant to keep this in a wider con­text and rec­og­nize that if this law­suit goes through, it is a small step in a long jour­ney to address­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against Sikhs and Mus­lims in the Unit­ed States.

Facts and quotes from: New York City Coun­cil Major­i­ty Demands End to MTA’s “Tur­ban-brand­ing” Pol­i­cy from the The Sikh Coali­tion (June 18, 2009)

Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ–South Asian Style!

Poon­am Patel, an intern at SAALT was in atten­dance for South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day in Tren­ton, NJ on March 16th. She shares her expe­ri­ence below. If you want to read more about the South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day, check out this great blog post by Son­ny Singh at the Sikh Coali­tion blog!

On Mon­day, March 16th, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend the first South Asian Advo­ca­cy Day in Tren­ton, New Jersey–an inspir­ing expe­ri­ence, to say the least. Grow­ing up in a tra­di­tion­al Indi­an fam­i­ly with the stig­ma that speak­ing to elect­ed offi­cials at any lev­el is fruit­less, it was reas­sur­ing to see leg­is­la­tors not only respon­sive to the issues dis­cussed but also will­ing to take action—research new means of solv­ing fun­da­men­tal prob­lems whether that involved sup­port­ing exist­ing leg­is­la­tion or intro­duc­ing new ideas.

One of the advo­cates talked about a project their orga­ni­za­tion had developed—grading pub­lic schools in a report card for­mat based on their cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy. The leg­is­la­tor that was pre­sent­ed with this idea not only agreed that it was a very effec­tive way of cre­at­ing aware­ness, but also asked for spe­cif­ic details so that the pro­gram could poten­tial­ly be imple­ment­ed in her dis­trict. While I was lis­ten­ing to this exchange take place, it became clear that inno­v­a­tive projects devel­oped by experts in their own fields com­bined with the gov­ern­ment resources can tru­ly have an affect on the com­mu­ni­ty at large.

Fur­ther­more, to see so many com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, advo­cates, and stu­dents col­lec­tive­ly dis­cuss the issues most rel­e­vant to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty shed light to the fact that they cross bound­aries of all sorts–gender, age, and nation­al ori­gin to name a few.  Even though the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty is so diverse in a num­ber of ways, there are sev­er­al issues we can all relate to such as devel­op­ing com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform or cre­at­ing cul­tur­al com­pe­tent resources for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. This is what was at the heart of Tren­ton Advo­ca­cy Day. It wasn’t about each indi­vid­ual advo­cat­ing some­thing unique, but a strong, col­lec­tive voice that caught the ears of state leg­is­la­tors.

SAALT and Community Partners Issue Statement Regarding Recent Bias Crimes Targeting South Asians in New Jersey

You may be sur­prised to learn that near­ly 200,000 South Asians reside in the state of New Jer­sey.  SAALT’s New Jer­sey Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment Project devel­oped from a series of meet­ings in 2004 with South Asian orga­ni­za­tions in New Jer­sey, allies, and con­cerned South Asian indi­vid­u­als.  Through these dia­logues, it became clear that South Asian com­mu­ni­ties in New Jer­sey are under­served and large­ly voice­less in pol­i­cy debates. To learn more about the New Jer­sey Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment Project, or to read our report high­light­ing key issues affect­ing the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in New Jer­sey, “A Com­mu­ni­ty of Con­trasts: South Asians in New Jer­sey,” please check out SAALT’s local ini­tia­tives page.

In response to recent bias-crimes tar­get­ed towards the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in New Jer­sey, SAALT, along with sev­er­al South Asian com­mu­ni­ty part­ners — Man­avi; South Asian Men­tal Health Aware­ness in Jer­sey (SAMHAJ); the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR-NJ); UNITED SIKHS; and the Sikh Coali­tion issued a joint state­ment con­demn­ing all bias crimes.  Read the state­ment below:

“We come togeth­er, as orga­ni­za­tions serv­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ties here in New Jer­sey, to denounce the recent hate crimes and bias inci­dents that have tak­en place in our state.  The South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in New Jer­sey, with a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of 200,000, has long con­front­ed bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, begin­ning in the 1980’s with the attacks per­pe­trat­ed by the ‘Dot­busters’ and the post‑9/11 back­lash.  In addi­tion, our orga­ni­za­tions — Man­avi; the Sikh Coali­tion; the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR-NJ); South Asian Men­tal Health Aware­ness in Jer­sey (SAMHAJ); and UNITED SIKHS — have observed a rise in New Jer­sey, which we believe has fos­tered an envi­ron­ment where bias inci­dents and hate crimes can occur.

Today, we stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty not only with the Gre­w­al fam­i­ly — vic­tims of a cross-burn­ing out­side their home; Mr. Ajit Singh Chi­ma — an elder­ly Sikh man who, on Octo­ber 30th, in Wayne, New Jer­sey, was vio­lent­ly punched and kicked in the face sev­er­al times by an uniden­ti­fied man, and as a result suf­fered sev­er­al frac­tures around his eyes and jaw; Gan­gadeep Singh — a fifth grade stu­dent who, on Octo­ber 8th, was attacked in Carteret, New Jer­sey while walk­ing home from school by an uniden­ti­fied masked assailant that threw him on the ground and cut off his hair — but with all sur­vivors of bias and hate crimes.

We stand togeth­er now because we must say no to any act of bias and intol­er­ance when it hap­pens.  We stand togeth­er to ask our elect­ed offi­cials and law enforce­ment agen­cies to pro­tect sur­vivors of hate crimes and to join us in con­demn­ing them.  As a vibrant seg­ment of New Jer­sey’s neigh­bor­hoods, schools, busi­ness­es, and non-prof­it sec­tors, South Asians raise our voic­es to call for jus­tice and equal­i­ty for all.”

Please join us for a march and ral­ly in sup­port of the Gre­w­al fam­i­ly on Sat­ur­day, Novem­ber 15th at 3PM in Hard­wick, New Jer­sey.  The ‘Uni­ty for the Com­mu­ni­ty’ March will start at the Munic­i­pal Build­ing and end at the Gre­w­al res­i­dence with a ral­ly. 

Satur­day, Novem­ber 5th, 3PM
Hard­wick Munic­i­pal Build­ing
40 Spring Val­ley Road
Hard­wick, NJ 07825
If you’d like to attend but do not have a ride, please con­tact Qudsia:
(qudsia@saalt.org) or call (201) 850‑3333.

Addi­tion­al­ly, if you’d like to learn more about bias and hate crimes, check out a new resource by SAALT:  “Know Your Rights Resource Address­ing Hate Crimes”