South Asian Community Overlooked? A Town Hall on Immigration Reform

On July 24, 2013 ten organizations co-sponsored the first Bay Area Town Hall on the Impact of Immigration Reform on South Asian Americans. Those involved included groups such as ASATA, CAIR-SF and NAPAWF. The town hall touched upon the fact that though the larger immigration debate is focused more on Hispanic and Latino populations, the impact on South Asians is often overlooked. The model minority myth holds strong in this case, yet immigration is a crucial issue in this community.

Priya Murthy, the former Policy Director of SAALT and current board member of NAPAWF moderated the panel and spoke to specific aspects of immigration bills that would affect South Asians, both positively and negatively. One of the biggest negative impacts of the bill would enact limits on family-based immigration options for US citizens to petition for siblings and adult married children over the age of 30. Another negative impact is increased profiling of individuals on the pathway to citizenship based on the country or region they are immigrating from. This type of profiling has continuously had a disproportionate impact on South Asians post 9/11.

The town hall featured personal stories of immigration from community members. Sabahat Ashraf, a tech professional from the Bay Area, spoke of his immigration experience, a process that took over 20 years and which during which time his wife was forced to relocate out of country. Another community member, Meena, spoke of the limitations that H4 visas place on spouses, especially on women. H4 visa holders are not allowed to work and are attached to H1B visa holders. Meena spoke to the problematic aspect of labor and work value lost since spouses cannot contribute economically to the household and are disempowered as a result of the provisions on the visa. It also heightens domestic violence situations, where a battered partner is at the mercy of their immigration status.

The town hall also presented a panel of advocates and lawyers who briefed the audience. Jayashri Srikantiah from Stanford Law School delved into the history of South Asian immigration. Candace Chen from NAPAWF spoke on the impact that immigration has on women and their families.  Anoop Prasad from the Asian Law Caucus spoke on state and local efforts around immigration, including anecdotes about clients who faced human rights abuses due to inadequacies within the system. Manar Waheed from SAALT spoke directly on the impacts and effects of immigration issues on the wider South Asian community. Lenine Umali, Congressional Aide from Representative Mike Honda’s office spoke on what was currently happening in the House regarding the immigration bill. Lenine was candid in mentioning that it was unlikely that the bill would pass the house. Yet she encouraged activists and communities to keep pushing for fair immigration reform, pointing out that none of us would be there that day discussing immigration on national platform without these efforts.

The crowd at the forum were eager with questions, and in the end, there were more than could be answered. Immigration issues are complex, even for seasoned advocates and policymakers. It is even more so for community members who’s lives could be directly impacted by any changes, or lack of changes to our current system.

The forum was a step forward, it was a collaboration of organizations who came together for the first time to host an event which informs, engages and takes in the concerns of the South Asian community. Though the conclusion of the current immigration reform is uncertain, efforts like these will only continue to expand and gain traction as we unify for a fair and more just policies for our communities.

Photos by Maya Roy