The Time is Now! What Immigration Reform Means for the South Asian American Community

“You should take those to the His­pan­ic gro­cery stores,” says Ahmed, a Pak­istani immi­grant who sells phone plans out­side the local Indi­an mar­ket. He says it in an effort to help me improve my out­reach around cit­i­zen­ship resources. He and I have met sev­er­al times, and each time he tells me the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty needs more help becom­ing U.S cit­i­zens. Before he even fin­ish­es his thought how­ev­er, Ahmed calls out to near­by friend in case I have any resources for him. The friend is an Indi­an man in his 70s who, due to a fraud­u­lent attor­ney and employ­er, lost his visa sta­tus, and has been undoc­u­ment­ed for over a decade. He con­tin­ues to work under the table in the U.S., in order to send mon­ey home and sup­port the fam­i­ly hasn’t seen in 17 years. Ahmed’s friend tells me he has worked with sev­er­al lawyers, and is now just wait­ing for the laws to change. He has been pay­ing tax­es through the social secu­ri­ty num­ber he received upon arrival and is hope­ful that with a new law he may gain sta­tus again. Ahmed shakes his head as his friend speaks, clear­ly frus­trat­ed with the sheer injus­tice of the sit­u­a­tion. I won­der how Ahmed can hear sto­ries such as these and still believe that the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty needs more help with cit­i­zen­ship and immi­gra­tion than ours. Yet have South Asian Amer­i­cans engaged enough in the con­ver­sa­tions and push towards com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform?

Last Tues­day night at SAALT’s Mary­land Town Hall on Immi­gra­tion Reform, I thought back to my con­ver­sa­tions with the Ahmed. At the town hall, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear three more com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers tell their sto­ry, and speak on strug­gles they’ve faced due to our cur­rent immi­gra­tion sys­tem. Pratishtha, a stu­dent at UMBC and a DREAM­er, described bar­ri­ers to com­mon rites of pas­sage and earned accom­plish­ments that peo­ple with valid immi­gra­tion sta­tus can take for grant­ed. Being undoc­u­ment­ed she couldn’t cel­e­brate her accep­tances into uni­ver­si­ty or obtain a driver’s license the way oth­er stu­dents could. Yves, anoth­er DREAM­er and activist, shared the sto­ry of his parent’s depor­ta­tion and his ongo­ing sep­a­ra­tion from them. He described emo­tions that don’t quite trans­late into words, includ­ing the sor­row of not being with his par­ents to cel­e­brate their 22nd wed­ding anniver­sary the next day. Final­ly, Mini, stood up and shared how she left behind her fam­i­ly in Ker­ala for a job oppor­tu­ni­ty as a domes­tic work­er. Yet, she was so exploit­ed and mis­treat­ed in her posi­tion that she had to run away, los­ing her visa sta­tus in the process. Today, domes­tic work­er meet­ings at CASA de Mary­land are her life­line and inspi­ra­tion, as she too waits for a new law that will give her path­way to cit­i­zen­ship. The strug­gles that each of these com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers faces is unique, yet an over­ar­ch­ing theme rang strong; in the South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty, the time is now to fix our bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem. Our com­mu­ni­ty, like the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty and many oth­ers, is in dire need of a com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform.

After the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers spoke, the audi­ence had a chance to hear an analy­sis of pieces and ask ques­tions about the Sen­ate immi­gra­tion bill (S. 744) from SAALT’s Pol­i­cy Direc­tor Man­ar Waheed, CASA de Maryland’s Legal Pro­gram Man­ag­er Sheena Wad­hawan, and Case­work­er Angel Colon-Rivera from Sen­a­tor Ben Cardin’s office. Despite the need for a com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform in our com­mu­ni­ty, it was clear from the ques­tions and com­ments made by the audi­ence that there are many flaws in the cur­rent ver­sion bill. Though the Sen­ate Bill rep­re­sents a huge step for­ward in the immi­gra­tion debate and pro­pos­es many pos­i­tive changes, it is still needs much work, par­tic­u­lar­ly in with respect to fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion and an effec­tive and inclu­sive pro­hi­bi­tion on the pro­fil­ing, among oth­ers. As var­i­ous immi­gra­tion bills are cur­rent­ly being debat­ed in the House and the out­comes in the House and Sen­ate still need to be resolved in Con­fer­ence Com­mit­tee, there is still time to ask for changes and make our voic­es heard.

After a pow­er­ful two hours of shar­ing sto­ries, analy­sis from the pan­elists, and ques­tions and com­ments from the South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty on immi­gra­tion reform, it is unmis­tak­able that we need to take action. We need to put a South Asian face to the call for immi­gra­tion reform. Let’s con­tin­ue to share our sto­ries, for the undoc­u­ment­ed senior who hasn’t seen his fam­i­ly in 17 years, and nev­er met his grand­son. Let’s call on our rep­re­sen­ta­tives to take action for the legal per­ma­nent res­i­dents who are tire­less­ly work­ing and wait­ing, some­times decades, for the sib­lings and adult mar­ried chil­dren they spon­sored to gain their visas. Let’s demand that our gov­ern­ment pro­hib­it the base­less and inef­fec­tive mea­sures of pro­fil­ing that vio­late the civ­il rights of all Amer­i­cans. Let’s ral­ly behind Yves, Pratishtha, and Mini who deserve unre­strict­ed access to high­er edu­ca­tion, real liv­ing wages, and fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion. Please join SAALT and engage in the dis­cus­sion around immi­gra­tion reform by shar­ing your immi­gra­tion sto­ry, and join­ing our upcom­ing town halls in Hous­ton and Detroit.

*Some of the names in this entry have been changed to pro­tect the pri­va­cy of the indi­vid­u­als.

SAALT will be host­ing more con­ver­sa­tions on immi­gra­tion reform. View our cal­en­dar of events for more infor­ma­tion.

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Avani Mody
Mary­land Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor, Ameri­Corps
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er, SAALT